German researcher warns: Death among prostitutes is higher


Central Europe


Police stand outside a brothel in Frankfurt's red light district during a search of several brothels on suspicion of forced prostitution. Photo EPA, Werner Baum

German brothels are full of violence, says researcher Elke Mack. There is no way to protect the women’s dignity there, and the daily practice of selling sex can even lead to a “psychological death”. She warns of the dark side of prostitution and calls for stricter regulations.

Twenty years after the liberalisation of prostitution, Professor Mack published a book on the result of all this. It is on that occasion that the expert in Christian social ethics from the University of Erfurt gives an interview to Frankfurter Algemeine.

She points out that the problems in prostitution are the result of the current form of German legislation on sex work. "Germany legalised the brothel economy in 2001, contrary to international standards and recommendations of the European Parliament. The sex industry has literally exploded over the years. It is a logical fallacy that the dignity of prostitutes can be guaranteed in this way", Mack says.


According to her, 95 per cent of the women in the sex industry do this under force. And that is no surprise, she argues, based on her study. The researcher, together with two others looked at the consequences of prostitution as currently practised. Their conclusion was clear: "People are abused, and their lives are usually ruined. Physicians report horrible injuries, chronic diseases and many serious physical injuries. The mortality of prostitutes is much higher than in the general population. Daily penetration, in a ruthless, often violent manner, leads to a loss of self-esteem in many of those affected. The consequences can go as far as psychological death. According to psychiatrists, the extent of such post-traumatic stress disorders is similar to that of torture victims and combatants."

There are some women who publicly defend prostitution, Mack acknowledges. However, she is convinced that this is only a small minority of 2 to 5 per cent of the total number of prostitutes. Also, they often benefit from the sex industry because they run their own business. Still, the world of selling sex harms them, too, Mack believes. "Any kind of asymmetrical and one-sided perception of sex is sexual violence. The prostitute must renounce her right to sexual self-determination. She involuntarily becomes an object."


"The system is sexist, classist, and racist", the professor says. "Almost all prostitutes are women; many come from very poor backgrounds, and most are foreigners. Why should there be a trade in Germany in which violence can go unpunished and where clients think they have the right to rape women?"

Therefore, she pleads for the introduction of the Nordic model, which criminalises clients who buy sex while leaving prostitutes free. "It is then clear who is the perpetrator and who is the potential victim", Mack explains. "We want to discourage men who dare to buy asymmetrical and one-sided sex for money. In the countries that practice the Nordic model, sex buying has fallen sharply, human trafficking has ceased, and prostitutes are rarely murdered."


Mack does not buy into the opinion that the Nordic model harms prostitutes by pushing them into illegality. "It is not true that a ban creates a dark field. On the contrary: We now have an extremely dark field. According to the authorities there, the bright field is much larger under the Nordic model. The individual offers that prostitutes make on the internet are just as visible to detectives and prosecutors as they are to customers."

At the same time, Mack thinks that the introduction of a ban in Germany is still far away. Germans are afraid of a paternalistic state, she says. They value human freedom and autonomy very highly, the professor adds. "But then we don't think about whether that is actually guaranteed during the sexual act. We just assume that without looking behind the scenes."



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