Julie Bindel is an investigative journalist, author, and feminist campaigner. Her latest book is Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation. She also writes on Substack.
November 16, 2022
Germany is known as the bordello of Europe. It is a hard-won title. With more than 3,000 brothels across the country, and 500 in Berlin alone, its sex trade is worth more than £11 billion per year.
Prostitution, in all its forms, is legal in Germany, and has been since the end of the Second World War. Recently, though, attitudes have been changing. People and politicians are demanding that the government take notice of the “pimp state” and consider the terrible toll prostitution takes on its women and girls.
Germany’s “industrialised prostitution” is horrific, according to those who have survived it. The laws there give licence to pimps; they are referred to as “businessmen” and “managers” as they buy and sell desperate women. Cologne opened the world’s first drive-through brothel in 2001, and since then, more followed. There are “mega brothels” in cities such as Munich and Berlin which can accommodate around 650 punters at one time offering an “early bird” deal of a burger, beer and sex. At quiet times, some brothels offer “two for the price of one” deals, and “happy hours” with discounted rates.
Legalisation has helped expand Germany’s sex trade: there are an estimated 400,000 prostitutes, and around 1.2 million men (the population of Germany is a little over 80 million) who buy sex every day.
However, launched at an international conference in Berlin last week, a new report did much to shift the narrative about prostitution and its harms, in a country that has long defended and promoted the inside of a woman’s body as a suitable workplace. The report, “Men who pay for sex in Germany and what they teach us about the failure of legal prostitution”, was built on data from 96 German sex buyers and it validates much of what sex trade survivors, and legal scholars, have been telling the world for decades.
The men, aged between 18 and 89, were a generally diverse group, ranging from the unemployed and men in unskilled, low-income jobs, through to high-end professionals. The punters provided candid information about their attitudes, behaviours and motivations when it comes to paying for sex. They were asked questions like how does legalisation operate? Does it make the women safer? Has it resulted in a reduction in trafficking?
The research, spearheaded by psychologist Dr Melissa Farley, marks the final part of a six-country study on punters, built on data from lengthy interviews with 763 men in the USA, Cambodia, England, India, Scotland and Germany.
In Germany, the Prostitution Act of 2002 introduced full legalisation which classified the sex trade as a form of labour, and a “job like any other”. Pimps became businessmen, and the women “sex workers”. It swept aside all those post-war restrictions which said prostitution was “not prohibited but… immoral”. And, despite government attempts to regularise the sex trade, barely any pimps paid taxes: as few as 44 (out of 80,000) prostituted women registered themselves as such, despite it being a legal requirement.
By Julie Bindel
In 2017, following lobbying from feminists and testimony from police officers about the rising levels of criminality and violence under the legal regime, the government introduced a number of restrictions: pimps were no longer allowed to dictate which “services” the women should provide to punters; brothel owners had to apply for a licence; and punters were mandated to use condoms.
“Of course, there was no way of enforcing these regulations,” Angie*, a German sex trade survivor tells me. “Pimps are criminals who just want to make money, and [punters] can’t be made to put on a condom. We still had to do what we were told.”
In Germany, prostitution is seen as a necessity for men, and almost good for wider society. As one sex buyer put it: “The nature of men is that they have no control over themselves. But because they can use prostitutes, there are fewer sexual offences.” He couldn’t be more wrong, not only are sexual offences being committed against prostituted women, but in countries with legalised prostitution, rates of male violence tend to be higher than in others.
Many of the German punters interviewed have seen evidence of coercion, terror and violence towards the women. Regardless, they would all pay for sex. “The German system has effectively legalised rape, so long as it’s done to a prostituted woman,” said Alice*, another sex trade survivor.
One argument used by those in favour of legalisation is that if the men know they are not going to be arrested for buying sex, they would be far more likely to report any evidence of trafficking and underage girls being exploited. However, only one of the 96 German punters interviewed had reported evidence of trafficking to police.
By Sarah Ditum
The problem is that, as one john said: “Once you’ve paid, you can do anything you like to her.” The men were asked if they were aware of violence from pimps towards the women. Many were, having seen pimps routinely commit violent acts that meet international definitions of torture. One man said: “There was one [pimp] who really beat up one of his women. With the fist two or three times in the face and thrown her against the wall.” Another reported: “When the women didn’t pay the pimp enough, they had their fingernails pulled off, or they beat the women to a pulp. The women were scared and never said anything.”
The sex buyers showed little to no empathy towards the women. “It’s like having a cup of coffee, when you’re done you throw it out,” said one. “It’s like renting an organ for 10 minutes,” said another.
There is no shame attached to being a john in Germany, which is a large part of the problem. Legalisation is supposed to reduce trafficking, violence, and the underground sex trade, but, as the report highlights, the opposite has happened, with illegal activities burgeoning alongside the legal ones.
To them, prostituted women are “unrapeable” and that if they can’t have sex with who they want, when they want, how they want, they will be compelled to, as one man said, “rape a real woman”. Three-quarters of the interviewees held this attitude. As one said: “Prostitution is good for society because men have an excessive sex drive and men can take it out on them without attacking other women or attacking children.”
Until 2020, Helmut Sporer was a detective police officer responsible for investigating and monitoring prostitution in Germany, including international trafficking. During his career, Sporer saw a steady deterioration in both the conditions for the women involved in prostitution and the response by the criminal justice agencies to effectively deal with the proliferation of organised crime and abuses within the system. For Sporer, this deterioration is not in spite of blanket legalisation — but because of it.
By Kat Rosenfield
German punters seem to understand how abusive prostitution is: “Prostitution only works because the men are dominant,” said one.
So what would deter men from paying for sex? In Germany, it would require a change in the law. Legalisation would need to be repealed and replaced with a law that criminalises the purchase of sex, and assists women out of the sex trade. Incredibly, most men admitted that little else would stop them other than being added to a sex offender register or having a criminal conviction. This law has been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, Ireland, and Israel, and evidence shows that the approach curbs the sex trade in all its forms.
Wouldn’t it be a bitter irony if the German government were so appalled by the words of punters that this gave them the impetus to finally condemn its laws? In the words of Rachel Moran, the Irish sex trade survivor whose powerful speech closed the conference in Berlin:
“These men have validated everything [we] have been saying for years,” she said. “And I never thought I would say this, but ‘thank you’ to the punters of Germany, for giving the German government every bit of ammunition it needs to shut down its sex trade.”
I found this article chilling but then looked to see who wrote it and immediately felt suspicious. The author’s writing is generally extremely biased with a common theme: women are victims and men are monsters. True, in this article some men are victims as well. I have stated before, I am against the de-stigmatisation of prostitution as I would not want anyone I care about to become a prostitute. J B writes as if the women have no agency. Are there no madams – women running bordellos? She writes powerfully but uniformatively. Her extreme bias means she fails to explore the complexities of issues. Prostitution and addiction go hand in hand. A relative of mine was a heroin addict. She managed after two failed attempts and a final successful attempt at rehab to break free of the addiction. She told me what made her seek help, want to quit, was that she knew the next step for her was prostitution (she had conned a lot of people to obtain money for heroin) and for her that was completely unacceptable – a consequence of being raised a Catholic; she had long since rejected Catholicism but instilled attitudes remained. In rehab she learned that her attitude to prostitution was wrong and she condemned Catholicism for its stigmatising stances. She said she was now capable of prostituting herself but chose not to. I was intrigued by the paradox. She abhorred that which saved her.
Indeed. Just one look at link to the new report (page header: ABOLISH PROSTITUTION AND PROVIDE REAL ALTERNATIVES), or the speaker list at the presenting conference, shows that this is not a research report. It is campaign organisation propaganda, about as reliable as Blair’s WMD claims for Iraq. That does not mean that the contents are necessarily wrong, of course, but it does mean we can pretty much discount the report in the absence of evidence from a more neutral source.
For some reason I am unable to comment independently at the moment, but your comment is close to my own thoughts and feelings. I don’t trust the author either, to the point that I rarely read her articles. I find prostitution difficult to be catagorical about. The few prostitutes I have met in my life seemed very hard, I doubt whether that is always true though. There are definitely some good looking women who choose to do it of their own free will, on their own terms. Such women have made fortunes out of their pretty faces and shrewd business sense. But then there are the vulnerable, damaged girls and women who should be protected by us. I wonder if the German system of legalisation affords them better protection. Unfortunately I do not trust Julie Bindel to inform me in an honest way.
Three UK charities which help vulnerable people to avoid becoming prostitutes, or to get out of prostitution if they are already in it, are,
The Salvation Army
Worth a donation this Christmas.
I think women who enter prostitution have to become hard to protect themselves emotionally. I watched a fascinating video on YouTube about prostitution. A very successful high class pimp who after many lucrative years was prosecuted and imprisoned was interviewed (it is part of an extremely interesting series). Three of his comments really struck me and made me really want to know more about and understand the impact of prostitution. He hired beautiful young women who were not prostitutes but wanted to earn a lot of money in a short period of time: college fees, buy a house. He employed them for at most two years – I think they lost their ‘freshness’ after that and the men he was selling to wouldn’t want them because their trade had an impact on them. He said women could prostitute themselves for two or three years and then leave the profession but if they stayed any longer they would be trapped. He said there are a few, very few, women who can be prostitutes without being emotionally and psychologically damaged but the majority of women cannot.
One only has to look at, for example, an expensive day at the races, a big London drinks party, or any other collection of those with revenue and capital to see that the good looking, be-jewelled and expensively dressed woman present , are not remotely matched in the aforementioned, by their male companions… Quod Est Demonstrandum?
Yes, It is a hard one.
I saw some illuminating comments BTL at the Guardian.
There was Ally Fogg, very woke and very left-wing but with strong respect for the truth, who pointed out that once you are hooked on hard drugs there are very few jobs you are capable of doing. Apart form prostitution there is theft, dealing, begging, and scrap metal collection, all of which are about equally soul-destroying. Maybe the main thing is not to stop prostitution, but to provide a better alternative.
Then there was Mechanima, who claimed to be Irish, an ex-runaway and ex-underage-prostitute. She said that she had been extremely reluctant to take up prostitution and had hated every moment of it – which does sound realistic. She also said that she had no resentment or ill-will for the punters; if it had not been for the punters she would not have been alive to write her posts. Her resentment and ill-will was all against her family, the social workers, all those people who could have helped her, but did not.
She also commented on Brooke Magnanti that she was not ‘one of us’, but that what she argued for was the same as what ‘we’ wanted.
BTW – I cannot comment in person either.
I’ve discovered refreshing the page fixes it, except I’m having to do that every time, which is tiresome.
“Yes, It is a hard one.”
Isn’t that the root of the problem?
As a cash-strapped young backpacker in Sydney in the mid-1980s, I was compelled to stay, against advice, in King’s Cross, in which there were legal brothels. The $5 a night hotel in which I stayed was populated almost entirely by drug addicts and prostitutes, some very young. I will never forget the misery I witnessed, and the sight of a hysterically tearful young woman being gently comforted by an older companion whose deeply sad, ravaged features told their own story.
The actual problem is much wider than the author states and is simply one of widespread degeneracy, caused by rampant secularism/individualism. A gay friend of mine visited Berlin a few years ago. I asked him if he enjoyed himself and he told me that he’d visited a wonderful gay club called “Kum Dump.” I immediately looked out of the window to see if the first horseman of the apocalypse had arrived. He hadn’t, but he’s surely saddling up!!!
Agreed. It is ironic that the author, who is a very vociferous advocate for deviant sexual behavior, casts stones at deviant sexual behavior.
Ooh? The Kum Dump? does one have to obtain a large number of signatures in the members book, and be proposed by a considerable number, like be.. cummm…ing a member of White’s, or Brooks’s… or just a couple of masonic slisters like a Kent golf club?
Aphrodite, This above is a very strange argument! We have a Catholic heroin addict who nearly becomes a prostitute but presumably as a result of that church’s teaching throws off addiction only to realise that she can now become a prostitute, but choses not to. Heroin and Catholicism overcome which only shows that that opiate was not her religion or should it be that that religion was not this person’s opiate?
Interestingly, I am picking up a lot of downvotes. I do wish Unherd would list up and down votes separately and the people who downvote would comment and help develop the conversation.
One can go here to see Rape statistics by nation.
Germany is well below the US but notice how high Costa Rica is where it is legal; perhaps that is where all the violent Amerikan men go.
“data from lengthy interviews with 763 men in the USA, Cambodia, England, India, Scotland and Germany.”
“they will be compelled to, as one man said, “rape a realwoman’. Three quarters of the interviewees held this attitude.”
A pretty horrifying figure. Unfortunately it lumps together six countries and gives no idea of who these men are, their culture, ethnicity, social position, class, education, etc. Would the research indicate any of this? Because all it does is create collective guilt for men, which I think is unhelpful.
On my way home from touring Scandanavia in the early 80s with a couple of friends, we stopped overnight in Hamburg. Mein Gott, what a den of iniquity it was. Even the main theatre with its neo-Classical facade was advertising a performance involving rubber outfits and whips. It seems that things may have ‘progressed’ even further since then.
The Germans are either seriously weird, or seriously honest. Either way, if it involves the levels of legal exploitation that Julie describes (and she surely meant a population of eighty, not eight million) it’s a damning indictment of the veneer of civilisation that the Germans pride themselves upon, notwithstanding the events of the twentieth century.
Did you visit the notorious “Triangle Cub”?
A must for anyone serving in BAOR.
Is it a bit weird that so many readers are quick to comment on an error about the population of Germany and make no further comment at all on the fascinating and controversial topic of the article?
If all these comments are by men, it seems to be an interesting parallel to the clinical attitude of the German men using prostitutes who see it as merely a service.
No, it’s an interesting parallel to the list-making, analytical, problem solving attitude of men.
That is the basic issue with prostitution – the task of fixing it falls to women, and fairly typical women at that – and they won’t have a solution, just drama and indignation at how “men” are exploiting “women” and how we should just ban it, or better still criminalise men because women are helpless, weepy victims who also deserve to be CEOs.
If you had typical men handling this issue, they might not arrive at the best solution. But at least they will try for one – which night involve regulating the pimps, ensuring basic protections, horsewhipping the small minority of men who do treat the women badly, figuring out backup professions for the women, and maximising taxes on the side. And making lists, lots of lists, because men like that.
The only single element that made BAOR service in Germany bearable were the hookers: it was hated to a man!
That’s a simply appalling situation.
Two thousand years ago it was a little different:
Tacitus, Germania 19-20
In that country, no one finds vice amusing; nor is seducing or being seduced celebrated as a sign of the times. Even better are those communities where only virgins marry and a promise is made with the hope and vow of a wife. And so, they have only one husband just as each has one body and one life so that there may be no additional thought of it, no lingering desire, that they may not love the man so much as they love the marriage. It is considered a sin to limit the number of children or to eliminate the later born. There good customs are stronger than good laws.
What went wrong?
Population 84.5 million not 8 Million.
Data from 96 German sex buyers out of a population of 1.2 million men who buy sex every day is hardly a representative sample. That’s only 0.008 percent and such a small percentage is essentially meaningless.
The Land of “Dichter und Denker” (poets and thinkers) has devolved to the Land of ” Zuhälter und Huren” (pimps and whores).
“So what would deter men from paying for sex?”
Our tabloids camped outside the brothels photographing the customers would certainly stop the professional clients. Given Germany has tabloid press too, I presume Germany’s extreme observance of data protection laws stop them doing this – but very good money to be made for blackmailers I expect.
I had no idea prostitution was so commoditised in Germany, but as the writer says it does rather prove the benefits or otherwise of legalisation. The legalisation of pot in the USA on such a large scale will probably be similarly ‘helpful’.
Didn’t the famed Africa Corps have fully air conditioned field brothels, whilst our lads had ‘the Gut’ in Malta, and even worse in Cairo?
The VD rates of the respective combatants obviously reflected this.
Hong Kong being a particularly bad example in 1942 when the sons of Nippon arrived.
It is the one and only scintilla of enjoyment that BAOR had ! At least the hookers were foreign too!!!
It seems to me that the solution to criminal, actual or moral, behavior is enforcement and modification of the laws.
Criminalising it surely is both immoral (right to self determination etc) and would just drive many problems underground.
Never used a prostitute but 1.2 million per day is incredible. Can it really be true? That would mean 1 in every 35 men every day. Assuming most go twice per week would mean 1 in 10 per week.
For me this whole argument is simple. I have no doubt that men can control themselves (can’t help it, is a patriarchal excuse, a dangerous myth perpetuated out of male self interest) and indeed they ought, just as much as women have to do. To use a prostitute for sex reduces a man to something that smells very bad; if I were religious, I’d say it diminishes his soul. It certainly, as the evidence above shows, is harmful for women and girls who are prostitutes, and those who are not. The latter often being the victim of those men who have lost their souls and now view females as pieces of meat. Masturbation should be encouraged as a healthy way to get relief. That seems to me to be blindingly obvious 🙂
“ It’s like renting an organ for 10 minutes”
10 minutes, yeah right!
Some mistake, surely ? The population of Germany, even after the blood sacrifice of two world wars, is, I suspect, something more than 8 million.
I don’t think the population of Germany is eight million!
Did you also comment on the foie gras that was served on the Titanic?
“an estimated 400,000 prostitutes, and around 1.2 million men (the population of Germany is a little over 80 million) who buy sex every day.”
Am I right in thinking this means that each prostitute does business with three men a day? That doesn’t seem like much of a business.
They get days off too, you monster!
I always admired germans by how they seem to have a well delimited place for everything
I would much prefer an Incel type man have sex with a prostitute legally and safely rather than try to rape one of my daughters one night
We focus on the women who are exploited. But what about the beautiful but poorly educated women who are at the higher end earning 500 to 1000 Euros a night. What are we telling them? Go and work on Aldi instead for 10 euros an hour? (They could do this already if they wanted) I am sure they will thank you Julie for taking away yet another opportunity for women to get rich or find a rich man.
“I would much prefer an Incel type man have sex with a prostitute legally and safely rather than try to rape one of my daughters one night”
But no issue with a stock broker or an attorney?
but not a slister, IT beardie or insurance broker!
Yeah, you know there’s no correlation, right? The article itself states that rates of violence against women are higher in countries with legal prostitution.
Think about it logically. If men get used to being able to do whatever they want to women they’ve paid for, why would they all of a sudden turn into angels with your daughter? Once they’ve bought her dinner, they’ll think they paid for her too, and should be free to do what they like.
Men who get used to treating women like objects will treat all women as objects.
Well, according to the article, he will be more likely to rape your daughter in a society with legal prostitution.
Also, the question should really be if you want to live in a society where prostitution is considered a valid career choice for your daughter.
The population of Germany is not 8 million.
* The population of Germany is 83 million. A typo
the population of Germany is eighty million, not eight million. 1.2 million men that visit prostituties is still a lot though!
With 400,000 women working, if there are a thousand that are mistreated, that might mean there are 399,000 that are making a living. 2,000? 10,000? Who’s counting? The million daily users are obviously advocates so criminalizing prostitution would be an uphill battle.
You obviously have no idea what you are talking about and have never actually met or talked with a prostitute. Through your extreme feminist ideology you disregard what the women want and choose and try to deprive them of options. Many women CHOOSE to do sex work, mainly because they do not want to be tied to a 9 to 5 job for a fraction of the money. Your virtue signaling on their behalf and your crusade to save them may end up depriving them of this option. Religious fascism in the name of your virtue. Chill, live and let live.
One look at most of the women there will tell one why?!
How about anyone found to be willingly involved in the sex trade (i,e. not trafficked or coerced) should be on the Sex Offenders’ Register?
Judging from my much disliked visits there, and having seen the women, I am not in the slightest bit surprised.
As a Welsh Guardsman said once having visited Ukraine ” All the lookers there should wear shirts with no 2 on the back… as they are all hookers”….!!!!!
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Julie Bindel is an investigative journalist, author, and feminist campaigner. Her latest book is Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation. She also writes on Substack.