German politicians debate about Nordic model to regulate prostitution


Central Europe


High heels are placed on a rail at a brothel in Essen, Germany. Photo EPA, Friedemann Vogel

A room in a German brothel has five emergency buttons. Not just on the bed, but also on the sofa, on the bathtub, and on the sink. It is only an illustration of how unsafe prostitution is for women who work in the branch.

"I left feeling so disgusted", CSU politician Dorothee Bär says in an interview with the leading German magazine Spiegel. "Not from the women I spoke to, but from the place and the atmosphere", she explains. Not the women disgusted her, but the environment prostitutes find themselves in. Ten-litre cans of stain remover were lying around, washable plastic seats stood everywhere, and the buffet looked like one in a cheap hotel, the politician recounts.

The experience in the brothel convinced Bär that a ban on prostitution is necessary. She pleads for the implementation of the so-called Nordic model that criminalises sex buyers but not those who sell the services.

Human trafficking

She argues that a ban would remove the basis for human trafficking, as the market would shrink. "We must make clear: women are not commodities; they should not be bought. Many people on the street don't speak a word of German. We have to help those who can no longer get out of there on their own. But we as a society must also say for the future: we no longer want that in our country."

Renate Künast from the Green Party, however, disagrees with her colleague. "To this day, I still don't understand why women do this job. But after many years of dealing with the topic, I also say I don't have to understand it. It exists. Some say it is the oldest trade in the world. Personally, I don't believe that this can be abolished."

She also points out that forced prostitution, pimping and human trafficking are already forbidden by law. "The crucial question is: do we want to go down the path of banning, or is it about protecting the dignity of women?"


In her opinion, a ban on prostitution does not promote the dignity of women. "As soon as we make prostitution a criminal offence, it will slip completely into the dark, and we will no longer be able to get to the people", she explains. "If a woman says that someone was violent to her, where should she go if she feels like she has done something forbidden?"

However, Bär considers this argument to be absurd. She points out that prostitution thrives on johns (those who buy sex) finding prostitutes. "And if johns find them, the police will find them even more", she argues. In addition, she points out that prostitution has plummeted in Sweden, where a ban has been in force since 1999. "The police have completely different options and are more successful", she says in the interview.


Instead of a ban, Künast pleads for other regulations to prevent abuse in the sex-selling business. This could, for example, be measures to take away barriers women may experience when filing a report against their pimps. "Are witness interviews possible via video? A woman who is afraid does not want to go into the courtroom where she would meet her trafficker. We have to clarify locally what is threatening women. And we have to show women that there are better options than prostitution if they want to work with us."

However, that does not convince Bär. "Germany has a negative reputation worldwide", she says. "That is why I am firmly convinced that with a ban, we are effectively intervening in the market. We send a clear signal for the dignity of women and for equal rights in Germany. And we protect the women who are trafficked to Germany and forced into prostitution here."


There is one issue the two politicians agree on: regulating prostitution has nothing to do with sexuality as a basic need. Bär believes that prostitution is not about sexuality. "It is always about a power relationship", she says, referring to the emergency buttons. "They show that prostitution cannot be a normal profession. For which workplace do I need four or five emergency buttons because I'm afraid for my life and limb? And a security guard in front of the door because I don't know whether the next customer who comes will choke me, almost kill me or abuse me so much that I'll be seriously injured in my private parts or anal area? Prostitution is always based on a power imbalance."

Künast believes that this debate is not about the sexual needs of men. "I don't have to worry about that. My point is that prostitution has always existed; it is simply taking place. And I can't imagine that it won't happen in the future, just because I say I don't want it and I forbid it."



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