Women’s Union (Frauen Union) of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, comprises a group of women lawmakers who are responsible for policy oversight on women’s issues. On 14 July 2020, it issued a statement in support of legislation introducing the Nordic Model to Germany, which would overturn the country’s current legislation on prostitution. At present, Germany legalises the sex industry under legislation that was introduced in 2001 by the Greens and the Social Democratic Party of Germany.
The statement says that ‘the Federal Executive Committee of the Women’s Union demands that respect for human dignity and self-determination of women be placed at the center of legislation’, and it insists that ‘women’s body is not a commodity, and prostitution is not work like any other’. Rather, ‘prostitutes require effective ways of protection, and concrete forms of support that guarantee the career alternatives that allow them to leave the sex industry’.
The statement was issued after Frauen Union passed a resolution on 29 June titled, ‘Change of perspective now! For a ban on sex buying and better protection for women’. The resolution describes how sex industry legalisation has failed to achieve any of the promises made at the time of its implementation by Germany’s pro-’sex work’ lobbies and the government of the time. It was promised that legalisation would protect sex workers, reduce their stigma, prevent trafficking, and keep organised crime out of the sex industry, but none of this was realised. The promise that legalisation would prevent trafficking in particular was revealed to the German public as false when the owners of the country’s largest brothel chain Paradise were arrested in relation to large-scale trafficking activity.
While legalisation has promoted sex trafficking and guaranteed large profits for organised crime, on the other hand it has left most prostituted women destitute. When brothels were shut in the recent Corona pandemic, authorities had no choice but to allow women to temporarily live in the venues because their livelihoods, including their accommodation, were destroyed and pimps were threatening to throw them out on the streets.
The Frauen Union resolution also refers to the law to protect people in Germany’s sex industry that was passed in 2016 that ended up achieving very little. Consulting centres and safe shelters for people in the sex industry were set up, but a lack of funding meant they were mostly unable to provide assistance. Also, the 2016 law was long and complicated, which meant that, because most women in Germany’s sex industry are foreigners, it was too difficult for them to understand, and these women are, regardless, under the control of pimps and managers.
The Frauen Union resolution points out that any further tinkering with the 2016 legislation is likely to produce limited results, and as long as legalisation is the underlying premise of the law it won’t be able to effectively protect victims. The resolution declares that only the introduction of the Nordic Model will bring about fundamental improvement for women in the sex industry, and it recommends upholding no penalities for prostituted women, but new legislation that penalises sex industry entrepreneurs and customers, and exit programs for women and concrete guarantees for alternative career paths.
If this proposal is accepted as party policy by the CDU, and Nordic Model legislation is enacted in the German parliament, this will represent a major policy shift for the country. Since Germany fully legalised the sex industry in 2001 it has become known as the ‘brothel of Europe’, and, alongside the Netherlands and Spain, it has seen the trafficking of hundreds of thousands of foreign women into its domestic sex industry as a ‘pimp state’. Germany is Europe’s biggest and strongest capitalist country, and if the Nordic Model is introduced there, alongside France which enacted such legislation in 2016, this will mean Europe’s two big powers are abolitionist. This will have a fundamental influence on policy-making throughout Europe, and also a big effect on the world as a whole.