A blazing evening sun lays down on a small group of demonstrators who gathered in Berlin’s Schöneberg district on the occasion of the 45th International Day of Whores. But with Isabelle, a transsexual prostitute from Macedonia, the mood is clearly depressed. “I remember well how it was before,” sighs the young woman.
Cis women would have frequented the streets in the north of a nearby level crossing, transsexual women in the south. Today is different. “I’m depressed,” says Isabelle. “After all, that’s our job, do you understand?” Her colleagues report arrogant police controls, price-raising hotels and clients who demand hair-raising “corona discounts”.
Few other businesses were hit harder by the Covid 19 pandemic than prostitution, which is permitted and largely regulated at least in Germany. Like many other jobs, the German brothels had to shut down in March. But although massage and nail salons have been allowed to open their doors since then, prostitutes are still in limbo condition.
Some of them, like Undine de Rivière from Hamburg, are trying to keep afloat with digital innovations such as fetish videos or recordings of erotic hypnosis. But it is difficult for them to make a living on the Internet. Many other prostitutes also lack the knowledge or equipment necessary for digital work. Numerous migrants from Eastern Europe, who are estimated to make up more than half of the 400,000 to 1,000,000 sex workers in Germany, returned to their home countries before the border was closed.
One-time grant of up to 9,000 euros
The pandemic forced many others into the underground. Emma, a sex worker who recently moved to Germany from America, got a violent enema from two of her regular customers, whom she had offered a secret meeting after the lockdown began. “Now I’m just trying to bring home at least enough money for food,” explains the young woman. Some of the sex workers are also drug addicts or provide part of their income to family members in their home countries.
The German state grants freelancers and the self-employed a one-time grant of up to 9,000 euros. In contrast to many other countries, prostitutes are included. But sex workers with foreign citizenship are usually considered ineligible, many others do not know exactly how the application works, or refuse the application on principle, explains Andrea Hitzke from the Dortmund Midnight Mission eV Many prostitutes are self-employed, so they cannot do short-time work apply for. Lobby groups such as the Professional Association for Sex Work (BesD e.V.) have therefore recently set up poverty funds for prostitutes particularly affected by the crisis.
Professional association developed hygiene concept
Some politicians believe that full legalization of prostitution could fuel violence and human trafficking. Many of them now sense an opportunity for reform. On May 16, several members of the Bundestag spoke out in favor of introducing the “Nordic” model of prostitution, which instead of offering sex work only to criminalize its acquisition, also in Germany. Many prostitutes oppose this idea because they fear that such a law will force them into the underground. Many sex workers are demanding that the state allow them to go back to work.
A hygiene concept developed by BesD e.V. would prohibit prostitutes from kissing their clients or offering other “oral services”. In addition, plastic gloves had to be worn during certain acts and a minimum arm-length distance between the heads of sex workers and their clients had to be maintained. Wearing face masks would be mandatory for both. Freelancers would also be required to leave their names and addresses with the brothels, possibly in a sealed envelope. Similar rules should also apply in Austria if the brothels there open as planned on July 1. “Of course it’s not particularly sexy,” admits Undine de Rivière, “but it is necessary.”
The article appeared in the latest print edition of “Economist” under the title “Germany helps sex workers idled by covid-19” and was translated by Lukas Wahden from English.