Today the Prostitutes “Protection” Act is passed. Thoughts on a somber day.

 little over a week ago I was the happiest sexworker in Germany. I had the pleasure of being a part of the Sex Clinic, a performance by Dr. Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens at Documenta in Kassel.
At the Free Sidewalk Sex Clinic sex counselors gave free guidance to interested members of the public. Everyone was welcome to come and take us up on this offer. The qualified counselors are, for example: sex educators and therapists, pornstars, self-proclaimed healers, strippers, dominatrixes, as well as other sexworkers. As should be evident, the range of our collective understanding of sexual “expertise” was very broad.
Originally the event was intended to take place outdoors directly in front of the very prominent installation The Parthenon of Books, itself set on the exact site in which the Nazis burned banned and censored books in 1933. A performative (verbal) act of liberation, a show of strength against censorship.
Eventually, due to a thunderstorm warning, the Sex Clinic was held indoors in the Fridericianum in the Parliament of Bodies, itself the exact site in which a totalitarian regime once gathered to enact their rulings. On the day of the Sex Clinic however, the site was transformed for three hours into a space in which sexuality could be discussed freely, openly, and full of curiosity and intrigue.
And people came. Hundreds of them. Not one of us counselors had even a 5 minute break. That’s how much of a demand there was for the visitors to be able to freely speak about sex, to ask questions, to share. The “Forum of the Fridericianum” became a space of intimate interaction.
I became practically high on this act progressiveness, riding that high all the way back to Berlin, where just a few days later the surprising decision of “marriage for all” was enacted, opening the floodgates. Criticized by opponents as “rushed,” perhaps sort of like a rushing waterfall that comes from the heavens and brings along with it an inner rejuvenation that also rushes away conservative resentments along with it.
A rainbow must have shone over Berlin on the 30th of June this year, in the innocent morning light, pure and true and sent from the God(desses) of (LGBTIQ+) Deliverance after their threat of a Great Flood in Berlin. People fell into the storm drains, tractor-trailer trucks swam like swans, cellars were flooded, and cows drowned around Berlin – just so that homos are finally allowed to marry. We did it!
Yes, there was something to celebrate, and I would have as well, but despite the rainbow in Berlin over the Bundestag, rain still fell. Not a rain that brings a purifying, cathartic, and spectacular Flood, but rather a persistent weeping from the heavens. And in this rain stands an opposition group that is not easy to ignore with their red umbrellas, protesting against the wave of backlash.
The ultraconservative rollback nabs us, leaving us ice cold and drenched, both our nipples and protest signs erect, high heels standing in puddles.
Sexworkers are protesting on lost, soaking grounds against the Prostitutes “PROTECTION” Act that was passed on the 1st of July. The red umbrellas, the symbol of the Whore Movement, gives us more protection from the weather than the destructive law with the deceptive name.
That this law was enacted remains relatively unknown to the public. It seems that only members of our community are suddenly feeling uneasy and concerned. Every day receive nervous and anxious messages from colleagues: What does this all mean now? I have to enter into a registry? With my real name? Should I actually do that? What happens if I don’t register? What happens to my data? What authority do I have to report to? And who are the people that are supposed to do the health counseling? What would they know about me then? Are you going to register?
These colleagues are: tantra masseurs, escorts, dominatrixes, bizarrladies, prostitutes. They also happen to be personal fitness trainers, office workers, translators, artists, unemployed, spouses, students, parents.
I don’t have an answer for every question. I only know one thing: Whenever a marginalized group in Germany can celebrate a success, another group experiences a backlash that puts them into a legal time warp, sending them back to the 1930s.
Sexworkers are the new LGBTIQ+. The debates continue: Which expression of sexualit(y/ies) do we consider to be legitimate when they don’t serve the purpose of reproduction? Which sexual and which verbal acts are allowed and who legitimizes them? Who needs to justify themselves? Who gets controlled, cataloged, registered, regulated, and restricted? And most importantly, by whom?
From today on all sexworkers have to be entered into a registry, with their legal names, in all municipalities in which they work or will work in the future. For the first time since the Nazi regime, Germany has a “Whore Registry.” For all of those individuals that cannot or do not want to register – whether it be due to a precarious visa status, due to fear of government agencies, or due to the impossibility of outing themselves (family, children, profession) – this means the deprivation of their financial livelihoods. Or: the path to illegality, and with that, an entirely unprotected and lawless zone.
Even though there is already free and anonymous counseling, that is also utilized, there will now be the establishment of compulsory health counseling and the so-called Whore Identification Card that will always need to be taken to work. An ID of this kind is stigmatizing and endangers its holder to having their profession be involuntary visible.
Brothel managers are expected to monitor their workers, with all steps in the process to held in exact accordance with the law. That means that this is yet another obligation to personal, involuntary disclosure.
Brothels are now required to have a mandatory permit under massive constraints. They are no longer allowed to exist within residential areas and there are new building requirements that are complicated to fulfill. Due to financial reasons, this is the end of the road for many smaller brothels. These very brothels are often the ones that are run by women or a collective of sexworkers. Larger brothels should however have no problem fulfilling these requirements.
Additionally: The Prostitutes “Protection” Act sets the condom requirement. While it remains unclear however how this shall be monitored or enforced, it is already a shocking prohibition and an assault on sexual self-determination.
But I guess I don’t have to strive to be Foucault in order to proclaim:
The new Prostitutes “Protection” Act is fucking bullshit.
It violates the right to informed self-determination. It discriminates. It stigmatizes. It leads sexworkers into dangerous situations. It deprives many of their financial livelihoods or forces them into illegality. It is anti-migrant and racist. It is sexually repressive. It violates the right to sexual self-determination. It is simply the worst. It is a step backwards, a slap in the face to a stigmatized group who already experience violence in their everyday lives.
“THANKS FOR NOTHING!,” is what I would I would now shout from a podium if anybody in the Bundestag would actually listen to a sexworker.
My hope that this could ever be the case however has has sunk below zero, approximately to the same level as our flooded cellar.
The motivation of whores and their supporters presently also find themselves at this level. For years we have been volunteering our time, fighting with all of our hearts and souls, constantly alongside our not-always-simply-structured self-employment, partially with double lives, and with the risk of being outed by the magazine EMMA.
Not only the whore organizations and counseling sites have spoken out against this law, but also the German AIDS Service Organization (Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe), the National Council of German Women’s Organizations (Deutsche Frauenrat), the German Women Lawyers Association (Deutsche Juristinnenbund), the German STI Organization (Deutsche STI-Gesellschaft), and the official health departments (Gesundheitsämter). They all have given statements that show that this law does not implement any measures that improve the living conditions of sexworkers. None.
“So why then?,” I’m being asked, as if I had passed the law. Stupidity? Ignorance? Hunting for votes? Fear?
Fear seems to be a valid reason to me. Fear makes people irrational, or at least that is often the case. The Prostitutes “Protection” Act is a societal bastion against intruders, against bothersome objects. Loose women, sexually explicit hussies, sluts, migrants, foreigners. Anxious, naïve intellectuals write offensive books about the “Red Light” and the audiences that want to be creeped out buy them and drool themselves silly. The bourgeois dutifully pities the forced prostitutes and act otherwise liberal.
Here cloaked in the name of “protection” is yet another encroachment on basic rights, that once again being sexually different is to be punished, banished to a jungle of misdemeanors, far, far away from the clean, safe self-conceived sense of civility, hidden away, disguised.
“Prostitution, that doesn’t have anything to do with us. They are ‘the others.’ It’s not our husbands that visit brothels, and it’s not our colleagues, classmates, siblings, parents, and friends that offer sexual services.”
Sexwork finds itself smack dab in the middle of society. That can’t possibly be allowed, no way, no how! For that reason we need “protection.”
That Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens were allowed to bring their work to Documenta, that is a political issue. It means a recognition of their work as artists, but it furthermore brings along questions of how open, how explicit, and how direct the communication about sexuality is allowed to be in our communities. Which pictures, which films, which words, which practices, which kinds of touch, which dialogues do we consider to be legitimate and where? In which spaces is what allowed and who is allowed to speak?
At Documenta this year above the entrance to the Fridericianum the inscription has been replaced. When walking into the Parliament of Bodies, there, where usually “Fridericianum” is chiseled in stone, you can now read in the same lettering:
“Being safe is scary.”
It makes you wonder whether the artist already knew about the Prostitutes “Protection” Act.
Thanks to K.M and Mithu Melanie Sanyal helping to edit the text and fabulous Jeff Coons who did the translation!
Further informations:
Dona Carmen e.V. Verein für soziale und politische Rechte von Prostituierten, Frankurt a.M.
Hydra e.V., Beratungsstelle für Prostituierte in Berlin
Marlen about Prostitutes “Protection” Act in Siegessäule