Unintended Consequences

A long expose on prostitution in Der Spiegel uncovers evidence that legal prostitution in Germany may indirectly be fueling sex trafficking. The current number of brothels is estimated to have grown to be between 3000 and 3500 with some 200,000 girls working as prostitutes. It is now a business of about 1.5 billion Euros. Most of the girls come from Romania and Bulgaria, areas where it is hard for them to make a living. They are tricked, sometimes locked up, usually threatened, asked to pay the pimp 800 Euros a week, have 30 customers a day, work up to 18 hours, at times in fenced parking like stalls, still with cement floors. Some brothels advertised all the sex you want in any way you want for however long you want for 100 Euros ($129). One such ad had 1700 responses and online comments afterwards complained that some of the girls gave out after a few hours—men sometimes take drugs to increase performance. The expose goes on with horrendous details and stories detailing the unexpected effect of the law that made prostitution legal. The impetus had been to help and protect sex workers, now because the law decriminalized or minimized certain aspects of prostitution, the long list of abuses related to the suspected sex trafficking are harder to prove and therefore prosecute. In our efforts to combat sex trafficking, and in our beginning to treat prostitutes as victims instead of criminals, we shouldn’t forget Germany’s experience.