Sexuality

A German bill would force sex workers to carry IDs and clients to wear condoms

Escorts await customers at Berlin's exclusive Bel Ami club.
Credit: Andreas Rentz

BERLIN, Germany — Some see it as Big Brother of the sex industry.

A proposed law reform would require Germany’s sex workers to carry licenses at all times. It would mandate their clients wear condoms. And it would authorize police to check up on these things without notice.

But the idea is not going down so well.

Sex workers and privacy advocates object to what they’re calling the “Hurenpass” — “whore ID.” They say it would violate their rights and curtail legal prostitution in Germany, an industry that employs 400,000 and services 1 million clients a day, more than anywhere else in Europe, according to the Council of Europe.

“Sex workers would need to register with the police. News travel fast, especially in small towns and villages,” said Undine de Riviere, a sex worker and spokeswoman of the Professional Association of Erotic and Sexual Services based in the northwest city of Wuppertal. “Many sex workers only work part-time. It would be a big problem if their main employer would know about it. You can imagine what the parents of their children’s friends would think.”

The new rules proposed by members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union Party would alter the country’s 2002 Prostitution Act. The act legalized prostitution with the aim of helping sex workers secure proper contracts, public health insurance and other benefits. But only 44 sex workers have enrolled in public insurance, according to the Council of Europe’s figures. And critics say unsavory elements still control the sex industry.

“The prostitution bill from 2002 has failed in practice and the prostitution market has to be regulated in a way that leaves no room for organized crime and prevents forced prostitution,” said Christian Democratic Union spokesman Marcus Weinberg.

Under the proposed new rules, German sex workers would have to register with authorities and carry a special identification card with them at all times starting next year. The measure would help prevent pimps and human traffickers from forcing young women to sell their bodies, said Weinberg.

Violators would receive fines that have yet to be determined, he said.

Sex workers don’t believe the obligatory registration would help anyone.

“The bill wouldn’t solve the problem,” de Riviere said. “A woman who is forced to prostitute herself because she or her family members are threatened would register with the authorities and get her papers straight in order to not attract unwanted attention. If you can pressure someone to hand over hard-earned money, you can pressure her or him to register with the authorities, too.”

Legalization appears to have curtailed exploitation. The Council of Europe found that German authorities prosecuted 636 cases of human trafficking in 2011 — a 30 percent decline from 2001. But the council’s report noted that police can’t raid brothels if they are legal without probable cause, so many cases of trafficking are likely going unnoticed.

Bursting into bordellos out of the blue and without probable cause isn’t the solution to potential exploitation, however, said Juanita Henning, a social worker and founder of Doña Carmen, a Frankfurt organization that campaigns for the rights of sex workers.

“They can enter the room any time without a search warrant, violating personal rights and the constitutional right of inviolability of the home,” Henning said. “This is not a prostitution protection law but a prostitution control law.”

Rather than protecting victims who are forced to work as prostitutes, the proposed bill would also further stigmatize them, legal experts said.  

“Picking out one occupational group and collecting their data in a central registry is a huge invasion of personal rights and the freedom to exercise a profession,” said Percy MacLean, a Berlin-based lawyer and former director of the German Institute for Human Rights.

“This is a job that depends on anonymity, something that the bill would deny women and men working in the industry when they are forced to register with the authorities,” he added. “If there is a data leak, everyone would know what they do for a living.”

The bill would also require every sex worker to receive an annual health consultation and their clients to wear condoms.

Women rights organizations say they advocate for “johns” to use condoms but are against legal enforcement of prophylactics. People have the right to pay for the sexual intercourse they desire, Henning from Doña Carmen said.

“It creates the impression that this kind of sexuality makes people ill but there is no statistical proof that prostitutes are affected more by sexually transmitted diseases than other people,” she said. “It’s stigmatizing and only serves as reason for authorities to control the industry.”

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