Germany is a country where prostitution has been legalized and normalized to the degree that over one million men are purchasing sex in the country per day. Nearly half a million women are sold in 3500 brothels, on the streets, in drive-through sex stalls, and other locations. Because of laws that allow men to buy sex with impunity, the sex industry in the country is enormous and sexual exploitation is off the charts.
But things may be about to change.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of German abolitionists and pressure from the international abolitionist community, politicians in Germany are finally coming to the light and recognizing that the country’s policy of legal prostitution has been an epic disaster—one that has fueled sex trafficking and the mass exploitation of women across the nation.
Change is on the horizon for Germany as last week it was announced that two prominent lawmakers came out in public support of partial decriminalization, known as the Abolition (or Nordic/Equality) Model.
Thorsten Frei, the deputy chairman of the parliamentary group of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, speaker for rights and consumer policies for CDU/CSU, both made public statements regarding their intention to implement laws that criminalize sex buyers, pimps, traffickers, and brothel owners in Germany.
Frei shares, “In reality, prostitution means for many women that they are attracted under false pretenses, exploited and abused for years in the most serious ways. That is why we are committed to adopting the ‘Nordic model’ in Germany as well, because according to this, the buyers, but not the prostitutes, are liable to prosecution. Numerous European countries—Sweden, Norway, Iceland, France, Ireland and Northern Ireland—are already using this model. We must ensure that the rug is pulled from degrading services such as sexual flat rate [brothels]. We want to effectively continue the fight against forced prostitution and trafficking started in the past legislative period without criminalizing the prostitutes themselves. For this, we will approach our coalition partners, from whose ranks this proposal has been made, and hope that they support this project.”
…for many men the image of women is dominated by commercialized sex. It is, therefore, necessary that we come to a paradigm shift. Germany cannot be the brothel of Europe.
Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker also declared,“Voluntary self-determined prostitution is the exception. In many cases, prostitutes are sexually exploited in unimaginable ways. We are also affected as a society when for many men the image of women is dominated by commercialized sex. It is, therefore, necessary that we come to a paradigm shift. Germany cannot be the brothel of Europe.”
Both of these public statements mark a monumental moment for Germany as public and official opinion about prostitution is clearly beginning to shift across the country. The changes began after years of campaigning to educate lawmakers on the harms of legalization. But the paradigm shift really kicked off in 2015 when a letter signed by over one hundred international NGOs was sent to Angela Merkel decrying the current prostitution policy and supporting the Abolition Model.
Then in 2017, the documentary Brothel Germany was released on a major TV channel and has been regularly shown since. This was followed in 2019 by a powerful film about the life of prostitution survivor Sandra Norak, shown on another major German TV channel, which reached over six million people across the country. After the release of these impacting films, the World Congress against the sexual exploitation of women and girls was hosted in Germany.
If Germany were to follow Sweden, Norway, Iceland, France, Ireland, and Northern Ireland by adopting an abolitionist law to criminalize demand, it would truly begin to tip the scales in favor of abolition for the whole of Europe. The momentum is beginning to surge and there is now a tangible hope that Germany will one day become a nation where every person can be free.
Photo Credit: Ansgar Scheffold