The German Union of Sex and Erotic Service Providers (BeSD) has called for protests in several German cities, after the authorities stopped the activities in the branch, right at the beginning of March. Last month, 400 sex workers in Hamburg protested the reopening of brothels, which had been closed since the beginning of the pandemic. In the red light district of the city, prostitutes displayed signs highlighting the difficulties they face: “The oldest profession in the world needs your help” or “Sex work cannot fall into illegality because of the coronavirus.”
Elena is from Romania and works as a prostitute in Germany. He has not been able to work for the last five months, which he says makes his situation difficult, both financially and emotionally. “I have to work and I have to make money,” she says. “I have a daughter and I have to work to support her.” Elena, who works in a “big brothel” in the western metropolis of Cologne, was one of the participants in the protests last weekend.
Sex services are legal in Germany, but were banned when authorities restricted civil and public activities to block the spread of the new coronavirus.
“I really like working in a brothel”
Elena left Romania two and a half years ago to come to Germany. He left at home, with her parents, Natalia, her daughter, who was then two years old. She wants to earn money for her mother, who is seriously ill, and give her daughter a better life, which she describes as “very intelligent.”
Since coming to Germany, Elena has only visited her daughter three times and she misses her little one very much. But he liked working in Germany. “I really like working in a brothel,” she says, smiling, over a black mask decorated with bones. She wears a black T-shirt that says “limitless” and reads “legally, not illegally” on her sign.
The staff in the brothel but also the company of the “other girls” are the reasons why she likes to work there. Almost 65% of the total 400,000 people working in the sex industry in Germany are migrants, according to estimates by the European Network for the Promotion of the Rights and Health of Migrants in the Sex Industry (TAMPEP). Many of these migrants are women from poorer Eastern European countries, Romania or Bulgaria, as is Elena.
Women leave their countries of origin, where they are less likely to work and incomes are very low. According to a survey conducted by TAMPEP in 2019, they sent most of the earnings to the families left at home.
Sexual activity remains a “practical solution” for migrant women who do not speak the language of the host country and have no professional training.
As of August, Bavaria has again allowed sexual services, but brothels must remain closed. Berlin also allows the resumption of the activity from August 8, without accepting its development in brothels.
The rest of the country maintains a ban on prostitution, although most restrictions on spas, tattoo parlors or massage centers have been lifted.“A lot” of money is lost
Elena used to send money home to support her family, but since the pandemic began, she has had major problems and roles have reversed. Her father now sends her 700 euros a month for rent and food.
She’s lost “a lot” of money since she’s not allowed to work, she says. “I spend between 20 and 50 euros a week on food,” explains the young woman, who adds that she has no money left for anything else, so she spends her free time in the park. Elena tried to work without documents at a cleaning company, but failed.
Forced to work illegally
Unable or unwilling to receive state support, some of these women continue to work despite pandemic bans, says BeSd spokeswoman Schulze.
They take risks and go to clients’ homes or other hidden places, where they can be abused or denied payment. Working illegally, these women will not dare to call the police or ask for help for fear that they themselves will be fined, says Schulze.
The lack of a regular income makes prostitutes act risky, Schulze explains. “Accept sexual intercourse with several partners at the same time or without a condom, exposing yourself to a much higher risk.”
Elena does not want to work illegally. He hopes to resume work in September. She says she would not mind wearing a mask while working, as recommended in the hygiene concept developed by BeSD.
If her brothel remains closed, then Elena will have to move to another part of Germany or to a neighboring country, such as Belgium or the Netherlands, where bans on prostitution have been lifted.