Become a prostitute or lose your benefits in Germany

What? Talk about a case against legalized prostitution!
A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing “sexual services” at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.
…Under Germany’s welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit
The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.

Great, so now the government can be your pimp…Hey Germany, how about giving decriminalization a try?!

Join the Conversation

  • C

    Wait I don’t get it; isn’t prostitution decriminalized in Germany already? And if it isn’t, how does decriminalization of prositution help the woman in the article you cited?

  • Jessica

    I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. There’s a difference between legalization and decriminalization. Check it out:

  • Katha Pollitt

    I’d be very surprised if this ruling holds up. But for me it suggests once again that the feminist enthusiasm for prostitution, which I find so mysterious, has an element of bravado. Somehow prostitution is supposed to be normal, and empowering, or just another job, or maybe not a good job but no more exploitive than working as a waitress or a miner — but when pressure is put on those contentions, it becomes clear that those same defenders think it IS different, that having sex with a stranger is not like serving him a meal or selling him a newspaper. That is why even pro-prostitute posters had trouble with the idea of bringing young women into the work through vocational schools, apprenticeships, internships etc. That is why the idea of mothers introducing their daughters or sons into the business is creepy.
    Decriminalization (as opposed to legalization ie state regulation) would not necessarily save unemployed women from being told to prostitute themselves. Any business has to be regulated — not sex work done in your own apt perhaps, but certainly a brothel would have to have some kind of official business existence as an employer and a workplace, just the way a hotel or a restaurant or a housecleaning service does. Under decriminalization, a bar that offers sex would be legally the same as a bar that didn’t–expecting a barmaid to give blowjobs would be like expecting her to smile. Therefore, this out of work waitress could be told to work in the bar with sex, assuming she could get hired, just the way she could be told to work in any other bar where there was an opening.
    And not to accept job openings from sex businesses would be to discriminate against them — after all what they are offering is not against the law, so what’s the problem? so even if Germany gets around the issue of whether unemployed women should be forced to work as prostitutes on pain of losing her benefits if she refuses, it will still be in the pimping business, providing employees for sex work. It will still be in essence saying to every unemployed woman, how about whoring? We have quite a few openings in that field.
    Now we will surely hear from people who say, well no one should have to take ANY job they don’t want to take, and it is no worse for an unemployed woman to be directed into sex work than for her to be sent to work as an office temp. We’ll see how many unemployed German women feel that way!

  • Omar K. Ravenhurst

    I wouldn’t say that, but getting rid of this “reform” still seems like the obvious solution. I mean, the law seems foolish and tyrannical on the face of it.

  • Zed Pobre

    It’s not that no one should have to take ANY job they don’t want to take; it’s that no one should have to take a job they feel is fundamentally degrading or morally repugnant. It is worse for an unemployed woman with her self-respect tied into the privacy of her sexuality to be directed into sex work than to be sent to work as an office temp typing the same ignored document over and over again (cultural taboos trump boredom), but it might not be much worse than sending a Muslim to work in a pig slaughterhouse, or a pacifist to work in a munitions factory, or an animal-lover to work in an animal testing facility to make better perfumes. At its heart, this isn’t a problem about prostitution; it’s about the inability of the system to avoid putting people in soul-rending dilemmas.
    Like Katha, I’d be very surprised if this is upheld, and because of that, I think that the woman in this story is luckier than many; prevailing social mores will cause the general population to side with her and keep her out of trouble. Worry instead about the woman who gets caught by this law in a choice between watching her children languish from malnutrition, or working in a factory making napalm (or at least its modern “it’s not exactly the same chemical so we can claim we don’t use napalm” variant) to be used on Iraqi civilians. She may find herself without any support at all, and it will probably never even make the news.
    In my mind, the proper solution here is to allow people to register as conscientious objectors to various contentious fields of endeavor and exclude such jobs automatically from the listed choices, not tinker with the laws on prostitution (though tinkering may be merited for other reasons).

  • Zed Pobre

    The law, by the way, is intended to help stem the flow of career welfare recipients who turn down job after job on the grounds that working is less pleasant than receiving even a small check for free.
    There’s some merit to this, but as I said above, it needs exceptions.

  • http://htt:// evelyn

    I can see why they need brothels/strip clubs etc to have access to the JobSeeker database. If they are going to recognise these jobs as legitimate jobs, where they can provide legal protection, safe working conditions (and tax them) they need to.
    As for unwilling job seekers, I don’t really see the problem. Simply in the interview – no I am not willing to perform sexual acts, no I am not willing to take my clothes off, no I can not talk pleasantly with a naked man etc etc. Basically, make sure you make it clear that you won’t be able to perform the duties of the job’s position.

  • Sally

    “As for unwilling job seekers, I don’t really see the problem. Simply in the interview – no I am not willing to perform sexual acts, no I am not willing to take my clothes off, no I can not talk pleasantly with a naked man etc etc”
    I don’t think that would work. The point of these laws is to force welfare recipients to take jobs they don’t want to take. If you can take a backdoor route to refusing the job by insisting that you can’t perform vital job functions, the laws don’t really work. I doubt the law allows people to do that. You probably can’t refuse to do the job unless you have a health excuse or something.
    I think this is a pretty good argument for making or keeping prostitution illegal in Germany. But in the U.S., we don’t deny benefits to people who refuse to take jobs. We deny benefits to people who have been on welfare for a set amount of time, whether there’s a job for them or not. Regardless of whether prostitution is legal, in the U.S., some women are going to face the choice of becoming prostitutes or starving. And I’m not sure how adding the threat of jail to the mix helps those women. I don’t have a problem with prosecuting johns, but I think I would decriminalize selling sex, as opposed to buying it.

  • Tess

    Two quotes from Feministing –
    Loud And Proud: Coming Out As A Sex Worker: Jan 20 05
    ‘Audacia Ray says it well, “…The combination of talking, writing, and doing is really the only way to destigmatize sex work…”‘
    Become a prostitute or lose your benefits in Germany: Jan 31 05
    ‘…job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.’
    Isn’t treating sex work as the same as being, say, a dental nurse, a precise example of sex work being destigmatized? In Germany it is so destigmatized that it’s just another job. If that’s bad, then why? And then if so, how do you destigmatize sex work _and_ allow those who find it repugnant to not work in that field.
    How will you have your cake and eat too?

  • dante

    Sex work isn’t destigmatized in Germany.
    Only 100 of Germany’s 400,000 prostitutes have joined [union for sex workers] so far, and the majority of these have rejected the contract completely because they don’t want to admit what they do for a living.

  • karolena

    “But in the U.S., we don’t deny benefits to people who refuse to take jobs. We deny benefits to people who have been on welfare for a set amount of time, whether there’s a job for them or not.”
    This is a technical point, but unemployment benefits are different from welfare – they’re paid by the employer upon termination for a set period of time (when the termination was for causes other than misconduct or voluntary quitting). Being “unavailable for work” is one of the few reasons you can be denied benefits. Many of the US Supreme Court cases on freedom of religion have revolved around people’s unwillingness to take jobs which would require them to violate their religious customs, and whether they can be denied unemployment benefits on such grounds.

  • Katha Pollitt

    That dental nurse analogy is interesting, because being a dental nurse (hygienist?) is a skilled job you go to school for. Being a prostitute, according to the german authorities in this case, is not a skilled occupation, it’s something apparently any woman can do — that’s why they could demand that the waitress take the job in the sex bar. That is one aspect that is so horrid about this story — it is essentially saying any woman can be a whore,should be a whore, must be a whore if that’s the job that happens to be available. it is making quite a statement about what women are “good for.” it’s as if they were saying, well, you probably already have sex, so what’s the big deal? Behind the pseudo-liberation of legalization is just contempt for women.
    Of course they would never force an unemployed waiter to be a male prostitute for either gay men or straight women.

  • Trish Wilson

    I wonder if Germany would require unemployed men to be prostitutes or lose their unemployment benefits? The focus seems to be on women.

  • Thomas

    I agree with you that sex work is not just another job. It may be work, but it’s still sex, and even anonymous sex carries with it an intimacy that does not exist in most kinds of work. I was never a defender of the “just like any other job” position (which may have been VJ’s position alone). So, I think sex work will always be something of a special case, different from jobs with the same skill level and risk.
    However, I am firmly pro-decriminalization. As I said on the last thread, sex work can be generalized as consensual and non-consensual. For those women who are essentially coerced, adding the possibility of criminal sanction only makes their lives worse. Since sex work will be with us for a long time, strategies that improve the lot of sex workers have my support.
    I also said in the last thread that there is a spectrum of consensual sex workers, from women who dislike sex work but like it more than the alternatives, through those women (possibly rare, but they exist) who choose sex work because they find it fulfilling. If we’re speaking of sex work broadly, and not just prostitution as most people view it, then we are talking about a not inconsiderable number of women.
    It is my position, and I think I will get a lot of support for this among the Feministing readership, that a woman has the right to choose any kind of sexual intimacy she wants, with any consenting adult partner(s). Some folks can probably come up with marginal examples where the objections have little to do with sex (e.g. burning down a building for sexual gratification, or disabling self-mutilation), but by and large, I think this principle ought not to admit of exceptions.
    On the consensual spectrum, speaking of women who have other options, I don’t know how to tell them that they can choose any kind of sex with any partner they want for any reason, except for economic reasons. That’s a tough carve-out to fashion.
    I think there are two good explanations for why your hypothetical about internships for young girls in prostitution sounds so disturbing. First, it’s still sex. I’m not okay with adults having non-commercial sexual contact with children, so adding money to it does nothing to make that better.
    Second, and this may be in part what you’re getting at, most women would not want to do sex work and should not be forced to. I don’t think one can pick a young girl and decide that she should learn sex work as a trade because the personal characteristics which would make one okay with that trade are rare. Only an adult woman can be expected to make that decision about herself. Most women — most people — can’t do sex work without it eating away at them.
    So: I’m against the German unemployment policy. I think sex work should be decriminalized, but ought to be thought of as a special case, an “opt-in” only job that most women are conscientious objectors to. That’s probably where German policy will end up. I support destigmatizing sex work so that sex workers can put “sex worker” on their credit card applications, but I do not think the result will be a mad rush to sex work –it’s still sex, and most people won’t do sex work if they have other options. But a few will, and I can’t see telling them not to.

  • Zed Pobre
  • Zed Pobre

    Whoops, looks like you just beat me to this on the main page. It wasn’t in my aggregator when I posted; sorry for the duplication.

  • Thomas

    From Alas, A Blog:
    “Germany has special laws about sex work, including a prohibition of coercing people into sex work, and provision that sex workers can quit at any time for any reason, without working (for example) a period of notice.”
    Now, _that_ sounds like the proper way to decriminalize: 1) respect that it’s not for everyone, and provide that anyone can opt out of it for any reason at any time; 2) have a real welfare state that protects people (women) from the kind of desperation that would push them into sex work; and 3) let the few who really want to do it, and the more who prefer it to the other options (but could do other things if they really hated it) do sex work without having to hide and lie.

  • Sally

    “This is a technical point, but unemployment benefits are different from welfare – they’re paid by the employer upon termination for a set period of time (when the termination was for causes other than misconduct or voluntary quitting).”
    That’s what “unemployment benefit” means in the U.S., but I don’t think that’s what it means in Germany or in Britain, where the article is from. I could be wrong about this, but I think that in Britain and Germany, “unemployment benefit” is money paid by the government to unemployed people, so they don’t starve.

  • Sheelzebub

    This is very off topic, but the whole sex worker debate brings up a lot of things for me, the main one the sexual double-standard.
    I wouldn’t normally give a fig if a consenting adult wanted to work as a prostitute, except for the fact that most sex work is gender apartheid, with women as the sex service industry workers and men as the consumers.
    And make no mistake about it, women who are sexual–even in the societally approved ways that serve men–are referred to as sluts, slatterns, tramps, whores, skanks, hos, and all sorts of other charming epithets. Men who fuck around are just men.
    And this brings me to another question–because I’ve been told in other conversations about sexism and sex work that it’s empowering for women–if women have so much sexual power through using sex and through sex work, why don’t men do it?
    Because men have the cultural power. Why would they work in what is basically the service industry? No one wants service industry jobs, for heaven’s sake, and fantasies of hottie customers aside, the reality of sex work isn’t glamorous or that powerful. It’s far more powerful to be able to have sex with whomever you like and not have your actions come back to haunt you, to be regarded as normal, healthy, and even cool for doing it. Anyone call men who screw around skank hos? No, I didn’t think so.
    I mean, come on, plenty of people go to Starbucks; there’s quite a demand for coffee to go, but I wouldn’t call the cashiers there powerful.
    It’s far more powerful to be in the class that can buy and pay for sexual services than to be in the class that provides them. Women are placed in convienient Madonna and Whore roles, and this puritanical, anti-sex and misogynist double-standard necessitates sex work and female servitude.

  • Katha Pollitt

    I don’t see prostitutes as powerful people either, any more than a Swedish masseuse or a personal trainer is a powerful person. This seems like a comforting fantasy to me. Even if a masochistic man hires a dominatrix to be cruel to him and humiliate him, he is paying her, she is the employee, she is doing what he wants.

  • Thomas

    Katha and Sheelzebub:
    I completely agree that sex work, even consensual sex work, is done overwhelmingly by women who ought to have better economic options. I do not think that sex work generally is empowering for women. There are those who say it is, _for_them_, and I don’t deny their experiences, but that’s not the norm. Katha, I agree that the economic power in a client/provider relationship almost always lies with the client, and that includes professional domination. In fact, when I have read things written by professional dominatrices, often they have expressed creative frustration and burn-out with clients (always men) who come in and want the service provider to act as an automaton playing out a script in the client’s head instead of having a real, interactive experience.
    On the topic of women’s sexuality and the societal double standard, Sheelzebub, I couldn’t agree more. Virtually all of society’s negative attitudes about sex are expressed in the form of the oppression of women.
    This is one of those areas that ought to provide a platform for raising consciousness among men — among straight men. Patriarchy is like the classic “prisoner’s dilemma” game theory problem. The optimal outcome requires cooperation, but the participants do not trust eachother. So one participant engages in a system that gets him a subopitmal result, but is much worse for the other participant. Patriarchy works for men at women’s expense, but it really limits and lessens all of us.
    It’s tough to get outside the gender-competition framework most of the time, but when the subject is sex, sometimes I can get other men to listen. What I tell them is this, pitched shamelessly to straight men’s self-interest:
    Never make a woman feel bad about sex. Not with a man, not with a woman, not with a giraffe. Women’s sexuality is a resource all straight men depend on, and picking on women who express it is like fouling your own watering hole. When a woman expresses sexuality, she should hear affirmation, affirmation and more affirmation from straight men, if only for self-interested reasons. Criticizing women for wanting, or for having, sex only discourages them, and other women. That just makes the pool of available partners smaller and more hung up — so if you can’t get laid you guys have only yourselves to blame. Think about that the next time some guy is telling a joke about what a slut some woman is.

  • Katha Pollitt

    That’s very clever, thomas. but you are making some assumptions about what these men want. Think of a man who insists on a genitally mutilated bride. He doesn’t care about her pleasure, and maybe he has only a rudimentary idea about his own. But that is less important to him than feeling that he is in charge of her sexuality, that she is less likely to ‘shame” him through infidelity or by making sexual demands he can’t meet, that they are a socially appropriate couple, that her genitals are smooth and “beautiful” not hairy and red etc.
    Perhaps the contempt the men you describe feel for female sexuality and experience is part of their excitement.

  • Thomas

    You are of course right that this approach makes assumptions about the audience. Men who view complete control over a woman’s sexuality as a key component of the relationship are not going to listen to anything I have to say about improving women’s lot in the world. I’m talking about trying to raise consciousness among educated straight men in blue-state America, where outrageous misogyny is usually defended as humor, rather than defended as the divinely mandated order. I’m talking about guys who say they want a relationship between equals, and insist this is true even though they balk at actually treating their partners as equals.
    Now, how to talk to North African men who want women who cannot have a clitoral orgasm — I have no clue. Nor do I really have the patience to “work with them where they are.”

  • Wilhemina

    It sure is heartening to see how much the balance has shifted around issues of sexual exploitation such as prostitution and pornography. It’s finally okay again to take a feminist position in feminist venues! Woo Hoo! I was getting worried there for a few years.

  • Cadiz

    “Germany has special laws about sex work, including a prohibition of coercing people into sex work, and provision that sex workers can quit at any time for any reason, without working (for example) a period of notice.”
    It is not a hyped story really. In Germany girls are ‘leveraged’ into brothel work and prostitution by the state. They are *sent* to brothels for interview without being told it is a brothel they *have* to attend. If they decline the job they have to explain why etc. The primary object is to allow the pimp to get access to vulnerable girls who may be living from hand to mouth and who are vulnerable. In Holland a girl who leaves a brothel of her own accord *definitely* will lose her unemployment benefits. Pimps use the jobcentre networks to sell trafficked girls in bulk. Jobcentres have and publish info on brothels wanting girls and the pimps have girls. In Britain (for example) the Brothels are allowed to put their cell-phone contacts on the Govt. Jobcentre website and pimps can ring the numbers bring a van full of trafficked girls (and hence very cheap) to the club or brothel. Jobcentres are a free gift to organized crime in Europe. In Germany the Green Party are virtually the official sponsors of the Ukrainian Mafia.

  • Cadiz

    Legalization generally allows added value and goodwill to be traded. In Australia or New Zealand that is a very good investment option for the pimps who are competing with Singapore etc. The ideal (for pimps) is also to have brothels which do not factor ‘voiced consent’. Consent is to be negated as a real factor. That is to say the girl does not speak the language of the client. She will therefore never be in the position of saying no to anal sex. That is how they do it in NZ. They generally use lots of Thai and Asian girls in Oceania. That also allows the possibility of paedophile theming with shaved genitalia etc as an additional ‘product’. One brothel in NZ was selling human breast milk as a profitable sideline. Singapore has legal prostitution with juveniles and NZ and Australia serve the same sex tourism market. In Australia and NZ they want to *retain* value and hence they need to have politicians in their lobby. In NZ the pimps simply ordered ‘their’ girls to demonstrate in the street. We had an eye on the party celebrations when the leislation was passed and the festivities featured a horde of gay rights people, lots of pimps and a few gangs and absolutely no prostitutes. We tracked the celebrations to various venues. The back of the legal prostitution campaign was the gay public sex lobby. The pimps lacked the ‘public face’ and ‘political training’ to do it on their own. They had some help from South Africa (that other prostitution success story). The South Africans supplied the strategy to counter the Swedes. Most pro-prostitution campaigns these days will ally themselves to the Queer lifestyle people as their initial starting point.

  • Cadiz

    “I wonder if Germany would require unemployed men to be prostitutes or lose their unemployment benefits? The focus seems to be on women. Posted by: Trish Wilson at February 1, 2005 08:54 AM”
    Strictly speaking in the UK the sex adverts have to be for both sexes without references to age, the reality is that the British Govt. send impoverished, desperate girls, single mothers etc. to unlicenced and illegal flea pits operated by rogues and criminals to do sex shows for two bucks (American). The first batch of (foreign) girls recruited into the sex trade by British officials went missing without a trace, we have only located four out of 18. Since the project went live across Great Britain, the Govt. has been sending girls to premises which exploit children on the premises. To act is to ‘become political’ being the British police explanation for inaction. Once a Govt. official or civil servant is involved in anything the police give up. That is a hard and fast rule for Germany, Holland and the UK.

  • Militant Calvinist

    What can I say, modern society is a sick thing, lecherous pig men are using women for their own sick and lustful nature.
    And the worst part is that some people think sexual promiscuity amongst men or women is somehow acceptable. For men it’s “guys being guys” for women it’s “sexual empowerment” the bible is quite clear on the matter, 1st Corinthians 6:18 “Flee from fornication” it applies to both men and women equally. The rules don’t change just because you’re a guy or a gal.
    As an Old School Baptist (Calvinist) I am greatly offended by what the German government is doing, and I can only hope that God’s wrath will pour down upon that government.
    As a bible literalist as well and just a moral person overall, I believe that any sort of sexual practices outside of marriage are an abomination in the eyes of God and shall be punished greatly (Hebrews 13:4) and as such, I am opposed to any sort of “decriminalization” of something as disgusting as prostitution. Furthermore, celebration of sin (lauding ones sexuality) is just insane (Jeremiah 6:15, Isaiah 3:9, the list goes on)
    Also on a personal note, I find it simply morally repugnant that anybody, particularly women, be forced into an occupation against their will (particularly one as evil and emotionally damaging as prostitution).
    The bible I use is the King James 1611 version by the way.
    Jeremiah 6:15 Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD.
    Isaiah 3:9 The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.