feminism

Open Letter to Amnesty International from Swedish National Committee for UN Women

Translated from Swedish

Original published by the Swedish National Committee for UN Women at unwomen.se on 29 January 2014

Open Letter to Amnesty International

To Amnesty International,

The Swedish National Committee for UN Women has learned that you, as a respected international organization, have started a discussion to affirm prostitution as fully legal employment. To us, this is just as outrageous as if you had endorsed the reintroduction of slavery.

Since time immemorial we have known that it is poverty and patriarchal ruthlessness that drives women and children into the prostitution market. It is not about their free choices. The only one who genuinely has a choice is the buyer!

This is why the UN Women national committee of Sweden wishes to distance itself on the strongest terms from Amnesty International’s ideas about accepting prostitution as a profession. It is not acceptable!

We urge Amnesty International to join us in continuing the fight for human rights.

Margareta Winberg, Chairwoman
Swedish National Committee for UN Women

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Interview with Sabine Constabel: “Sex has become consumer goods”

Translated from German

Original by Mathias Bury and Viola Volland published at stuttgarter-zeitung.de on 18 March 2014

Interview with Sabine Constabel: “Sex has become consumer goods”

Every day about 500 women in Stuttgart sell their bodies. The conditions in the oldest profession have become harsher. Sabine Constabel, who runs the prostitutes’ café La Strada, calls for legislators to crack down.

Ms. Constabel, prostitution has been the subject of discussion here again for a while, here in Stuttgart, but also in Berlin.

And the most astonishing aspect is that the debate is a long-lasting one. It has tended to be a topic for the summer slump in the media.

Have things become that much worse?

Prostitution has become more visible. The milieu used to be a world closed to the outside, even  though street prostitution existed. But back then, grown women were selling themselves on the streets. Today they’re really young girls, and nearby you can see men who are obviously their pimps. A pimp standing next to an 18-year-old prostitute was something you only saw on TV 15 years ago. That’s where the dismay comes from.

Where are the girls from?

Most of them are from Eastern Europe. We know this from police statistics. 83 percent are foreign nationals, the majority are from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.

What are the causes of this change?

On the one hand, the liberalization of the prostitution laws in 2002, and on the other hand the Eastern European expansion of the EU in 2003, which led to a large influx of poor migrants.

Has the inflow increased since Romanians and Bulgarians have been granted free movement of persons in the EU?

No. People from these countries are now also permitted to be in dependent employment in the EU. They were already allowed to be self-employed. And prostitutes are legally speaking self-employed.

Are Eastern European women particularly affected by forced prostitution?

Forced prostitution also exists among German prostitutes. But it is indeed especially common among Eastern Europeans. These girls would not even be able to travel here on their own. They could neither afford the ticket nor could they book a room due to a lack of language skills. The girls are surrounded by a system of men who lead them into prostitution.

How does this system work?

Many women come from large families that are in dire straits. The family decides: we send one girl to Germany – the daughter, the niece, the cousin – and use her to make money. Then one or two family members travel here with her, take her to a brothel or put her on the street.

This connection with their family must make it hard for the women to exit.

Exiting is extremely hard, as is criminal prosecution. Since the amendment of 2002, it doesn’t suffice for the police to know that the woman is constantly giving over her money and not organizing her own activity. Before 2002, they were able to nab the pimp in such a situation. Now the woman is also required to testify, saying she is being sent to prostitute herself by her brother or father or sometimes even by her mother. None of them do that.

What is interacting with the johns like for the women?

The women report that the johns’ demands have become a lot more aggressive and boundless.  The johns don’t seem to think about the fact that they are dealing with human beings with feelings at all. You can tell that many women are forced prostitutes just by looking at them. They have hematomas, they’re crying and showing that they’re unwilling. They cannot hope for mercy. There is even particular demand for a very high degree of docility. That’s repugnant.

What does this life do to the women?

They know that they are being destroyed psychologically. They find their situation horrible, but they say: I do it for my family. Some feel like martyrs because they grew up knowing they have to sacrifice themselves for their family. They do this until they’re so depressed that they don’t make any more money. Many start taking stimulants because they have such long working hours. Very few get by with less than 18 hours.

Because of the price decline on the streets and in the brothels?

The price for a room in the brothels of Stuttgart is high; they’re between 120 and 140 euros a day. The women usually earn that money in increments of 30 euros. That’s how much the johns pay for the services.

What caused this price decline?

That’s also connected with the prostitution law. Since then, the brothels have been allowed to advertise. They market themselves as businesses that offer wellness for men. Prostitution is trivialized, the women are merely consumer goods. And the advertising works. Entire groups of young men go there. Cinema or brothel – for many, there’s not a huge difference. They go where it’s cheapest. That’s the problem. Many say, five euros for oral sex, that’s enough for a Eastern European. A proper German whore wouldn’t do anything for 30 euros; she’d sooner kick the john out.

So the prostitution law of 2002 was where everything went wrong?

The law was focused on the independent German whore [sic]. Instead, lots of forced prostitutes came over here after the eastern expansion of the EU. For them, the law was counterproductive. That’s why the non-independent, Eastern European forced prostitute now has to be the focus.  She benefits from legal force because it targets the pimp. Regulations ease the burden on these women.

Are the conditions especially bad in Stuttgart or are they typical for a big city?

Stuttgart attracts a lot of attention, for example because the brothel Paradise, which advertises aggressively, is nearby, and because the notorious Pussy-Club used to be in Fellbach [town on the border of Stuttgart]. Stuttgart started counteracting very early. La Strada has existed there for 18 years. Social services for prostitutes have existed since 1953. Flat-rate brothels such as the Pussy-Club can be found everywhere, but no longer here. In other cities, they still advertise very differently: a woman, a beer, and a blood sausage – for 14 euros…

Still: what must the city do now?

The inflow of poverty prostitutes must be stemmed. The city can’t do that; the federal legislators have to make those changes. Otherwise the situation will continue to worsen.

But illegal street prostitution is something that could be curbed locally already.

It is being curbed significantly. It used to be a very different picture. Almost everything is closely under control today. Look at street prostitution in Berlin or Frankfurt, it’s worse there; We are complaining despite things being better here than elsewhere.

Okay – so what must the federal government do?

It has to raise the age of entry to at least 21 years. An older woman is more likely to exercise her rights. Mandatory registration for prostitutes needs to be introduced. In Stuttgart we have figures, but they don’t have that on the national level. It’s especially important that the government determines objective elements of an offense so that the women no longer have to testify. This means that criteria are needed in order to determine that exploitation is taking place, such as taking her money or driving her to the brothel. The brothel owners’ authority to give directives also needs to be repealed: since 2002 they have been allowed to dictate working hours. This is the only way the brothels can operate.

So the profiteers of prostitution should be weakened.

This also includes the owners renting out the buildings. For these rooms – officially, there are no brothels –  there are no maximum rent prices. That needs to change. The big profiteers of prostitution are those renting out the premises, those who run the prostitution establishments and the johns. Those who don’t profit are the women.

The coalition agreement says that johns who knowingly and willingly abuse victims of forced prostitution for sexual acts should be punished. Is this a move in the right direction or is it a toothless tiger because this is almost impossible to prove?

It’s the same as with mandatory condom use – there is no officer standing by and monitoring the situation. It’s also about education and about making a statement. And that’s important.

Do you support mandatory condom use for johns?

Yes, that would be sensible. Such a regulation protects the women and strengthens them in getting johns to comply. The state could introduce this via hygiene regulations.

If most of the responsibility is with the federal and state governments: what is left for the city to do?

It can make its position very clear to Berlin. And it can discuss the demand. Prostitution needs to be brought into the public eye. The young men must be made to realize that there are consequences for just going out and using a forced prostitute. It might just be the encounter that breaks her entirely.

The city is planning a media campaign and wants to take it to the schools as well.

That is absolutely sensible. Those who are now 18 have grown up with sex being consumer goods. We have to make visible what prostitution really is. It’s not Pretty Woman. It has tremendously destructive effects on people – not only on the women that are used. If young men make their first sexual experiences via “pay sex”, they will never learn how to see their partners as equals. We have to have a discussion about values: what is sexuality? How should other people be treated? We have come much further with regard to other topics. Nobody would dispute that you don’t just go and buy a poor person’s kidney.

Sometimes it helps to look to other countries. In Sweden, being a john is prohibited. What are the effects of that?

It very much empowers the women. If they go to the police, nothing happens to them. The john, on the other hand, has to be very careful. If that were the case here, many johns would have a problem. It would get quite a few to think. In Sweden, relatively few johns are punished and yet acceptance of prostitution continues to decline every year.

How likely is it that the Swedish model will be introduced here in Germany?

It’s coming. The pressure from Brussels will become too great. The countries around us are regulating. In France, punishment of johns has all but been passed into law now, others are following suit, among them the Netherlands, so Germany can’t continue being the Eldorado of prostitution.

Views of a John

Translated from German
Original published on magazin-forum.de on 07 February 2014

He is married with children, says his marriage is a happy one. Nevertheless, Achim buys sex, from whores [sic] on the street. He doesn’t have a guilty conscience. He considers prostitution a service.

Achim, are you a bad person?
Why?

Because you go to whores [sic] who prostitute themselves on the street.
Well, there’s nothing to it and it’s not prohibited. On the contrary, prostitution is explicitly permitted in Germany.

What appeals to you about street prostitution? You could go to a brothel too, after all.

I do that too, depending on what I feel like, but sometimes there’s little money. The curb is just cheaper.

Because the women there are being exploited. No woman sells herself on the street voluntarily.
How do you know that? My experience is different. I have gotten to know many women there a bit better by now. As with everything in life, there are these kinds of people and those.

What have your experiences been specifically?
I have used street prostitution for quite a few years now and that means I also repeatedly meet women who have worked there for years. Many prostitutes are addicted to drugs, need the money for their next fix.  There are also a lot of hobby whores who have a regular job during the day and who earn something extra at night. Some are unemployed too, topping up their benefits. Exploitation, as you say, is nowhere to be seen.

What about the prostitutes from Bulgaria and Romania who are on the streets of Saarbrücken?
Yeah, there are a lot of pretty ones among them. I am a frequent customer there and if you ask me, this is a very good development in the city. There is considerably more supply than there used to be.

I was asking you about the exploitation of Romanians and Bulgarians, though.

I don’t know much about that. After all, many of them hardly speak any German and if they do, they don’t say anything. But I do think that there are pimps behind that. Sometimes you see them too.

And yet you go there?
There have always been pimps and there will always be. There are even really famous ones: Bert Wollersheim, for instance, has a big whorehouse in Düsseldorf. There was even a TV series about it. Did anyone get offended about that? No, on the contrary. It’s only the foreign pimps everyone gets outraged about.

You don’t?
Well, it’s better not to have anything to do with them and I don’t book a woman who is being publicly molested by one of them. I don’t want to support that.

But you are kind of doing that. Prostitution exists because there is demand for it; pimping is a consequence of that.
We often discuss this question in our internet forum. I can’t change the world. It is how it is. How about you, then? Do you go to McDonald’s, do you buy at KiK and Schlecker [stores known for worker exploitation]? They also have bad working conditions.

Well, comparing McDonald’s and Schlecker with the brutality of pimping is pretty gutsy. 
I don’t do that. But when I read that the sewers in Bangladesh sew the stuff for KiK, I feel sick. I am a great friend of women and want everyone to be all right. Again, I am against pimping. But I won’t be able to abolish it. I’d rather go to a whore who doesn’t have a pimp. Generally I prefer German prostitutes.

Why?
Because German women do prostitution more respectably; the service is better. Women from the Eastern Bloc like to pull a fast one on us johns.

What does that mean?
Often the girls are just not good. Promise something they don’t keep or want to end it after a really short time already.

You will have to explain that to us.
I wouldn’t like to do that; it’s too intimate.

Too intimate for the whorehouse, isn’t that a contradiction?
Okay, I will give you an example. Intercourse with a girl in the car costs 30 euros. But often it doesn’t actually take place; the girls are just pretending.

What do you mean, pretending?
Okay, that I am not going to tell you. They call it “Falle schieben” [‘pushing trap’]. How exactly that works is something you can read online.

You don’t think that’s okay?
Of course not. I pay what is asked of me, and I want to get what was promised in return.

 “I love my wife a lot; we are a good couple”

You don’t want to be recognizable in this interview. Why not, if all this is so normal?
For me and my friends it’s normal; we’re men. But I don’t want to be recognized by everyone once the interview has been published.

Do you have a wife, by the way?
That question is always asked;  of course, I have a wife and two children. And since you are about to ask me that anyway: yes, I also have a job; I’m not unemployed. I’m a composition floor layer for a large company in the Palatinate.

What does your wife have to say about you curb-crawling?
We don’t talk about it; everyone should have their secrets in a marriage.

Aren’t you cheating on your wife if you are deceiving her like that?
I would never do that.  I love my wife; we are a good couple.

Also in bed?

How is that with you, are you satisfied? The question is indiscreet but I will answer it anyway. Yes, we have good sex, but I simply love variation.

So how often do you buy sex?

Any time I feel like it. It differs; sometimes once a week, twice. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes spontaneously, too. Sometimes I notice I girl that I think is attractive; then I stop.

And then what?
I don’t understand the question.

Well, how does it continue from there?
How do you think it goes, I approach the woman, then it’s discussed what things she does and when we agree on the price, she comes with me.

In the car?
Yes, usually.

A little uncomfortable, don’t you think?
My car is large, comfortable and has good upholstery. Besides, I can fold down the back bench, then there’s enough space.

Sex in a parking lot, basically in public: is that where the kick lies?
None of this is public. We aren’t standing around in any well-lit parking lots either, but in a dark corner where nobody sees you. And the lights in the car stay off too.

And you like things like that?
Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. And besides, again, it’s not prohibited.

What do you think about prostitutes?

That something went wrong in their life, or else they wouldn’t be standing there. But I’m not responsible for that and I won’t be able to change it either. Buying sex is a service to me; similar to how I lay composition floors for other people, women go to bed with me for money.

Many whores [sic] offer the whole nine yards, not using condoms and things like that.
That’s for them to decide; I don’t have a death wish. I have my regular program that I always get. But I don’t want to talk about that here.

Maybe the whores [sic] have to do that because they are being forced?
No idea. I don’t force anyone and certainly not a woman. That’s very important to me.

(Editor: Name was changed on interviewee’s request)
Interview: Martin Busche

A John Comes Forward: “I don’t see them as people”

Translated from Norwegian

Original published by Martin Gedde-Dahl on www.nd.no on 06 February 2014

A John Comes Forward

Father of two Ottar Stangelang buys sex without feeling any shame.

-If the money doesn’t go to her, at least she got herself some good dick, says Ottar’s friend and laughs loudly and hoarsely at his interjection into the conversation.

Ottar disagrees. He has no illusions about having given the more than 200 – a number he later has doubts about as it is “impossible to keep count” – women he has bought sex from any pleasure.

–I know she gives as little of a damn about me as I give about her, he says.

We are at Grei café in Skippergata, a few blocks further out towards the docks than proper folks normally go. The address was the 1838 site of Henrik Wergeland’s courtship of his would-be wife Amalie Sofie. Today the place serves as the local pub for Oslo’s prostitutes. Meeting here was one of the conditions Ottar had for appearing as a sex buyer with his name and photo: “If it’s to be done, it must be done right.”

“Right” in this context means beer and fernet in a locale mostly populated by Eastern European-looking women in worn bubble jackets.

The initial background was finding a sex buyer’s reply to Danish ex-prostitute Tanja Rahm’s blog entry “To those who buy sex” which was published in Aftenposten and read by more than 500,000 Norwegians over the course of only a few days. Even though the subject is given many column inches and attention in a series of debate shows on TV and radio, there is a group that has remained unheard for the most part: the actual addressee of the text, the sex buyer. 13% of Norwegian men state that they have bought sex, but so far none of them have come forward and answered the accusations. Ottar wants to give “the sex buyer” a face.

I read the introduction aloud: “Dear sex buyer. If you think I ever felt attracted to you, you are terribly wrong.” Ottar responds with a roar of laughter.

– Who is she talking to? Haha! A sum of money gives me “wham-bam”, miserable sex and unloading. Nobody goes from you feeling pride.

– Surely there are some? Some prostitutes offer a so-called “girlfriend experience”.

– When it comes to feelings I prefer the real deal. But yeah, sure, there are probably those who dig stuff like that. That’s what she doesn’t get: people are different, there’s no such thing as the sex buyer. The same goes for whores, by the way: they are individuals with unique feelings, thoughts and opinions.

He takes a short break, sips his beer and adds:

– But I’m sure as hell not interested in them. They’re not people in my eyes.

Before you write him off as a monster, let me specify: Ottar Stangeland appears to be a good guy. Polite, bright, funny and well-spoken. You would probably like him, at least when he’s not talking about prostitution. You would hardly reject him as being especially evil or stupid, at least not as some kind of social deviant or as somehow incapable of telling right from wrong. The father of two from Stavanger is, on the whole, pretty normal. Aside from some stories of drunk debauchery, a slightly more colorful group of friends and a few more things weighing on his conscience than average. Yes, and a more passionate relationship with buying sex, an interest he has had since he was on a guys’ trip to Denmark at age 17 and paid for sex for the first time.

– We knew there were whores there and we had our minds made up that here we would fuck something that’s not white – try something new! – so we got Thai from the shop. It was a revelation. A hell of a lot better than that fake courtship in the city. I saved myself hours of lying and spending money for maybe being allowed to touch a tit.

Is the reason that you buy sex that you dislike the pickup situation?
– I’ve never had any trouble getting by, but when I pull ladies in the city, I feel like I’m selling myself. I see it from a whore’s perspective, if you will. I’m completely aware that she’s lying, because I do it myself.

 You think buying sex is more honest than one night stands?
– Yes, and you end up spending roughly the same. We can also see it from the other side. You know the saying “all women are whores”? It’s an over the top statement, but there is some truth to it. To stand at the bar and rake in drink after drink from guys who are lying to get to sleep with you – that’s a form of whoring. Just like so many other things people do.

Ottar asks me to clarify that he is currently in a relationship and doesn’t avail himself of prostitutes (“beyond faithful” as he phrases it). He only buys sex when he is single, and preferably abroad. As the singer of the punk band Haggis and with his job as a travel journalist, among others for the men’s magazine Alfa, he has accumulated many days of travel, he says. And wherever he travels, there are temptations.

– They’re everywhere, in different shapes – and I try everything. Street whores, brothels, or whatever there is. I have no preferences.

Don’t you have any criteria? Some say they only buy sex from women who aren’t being exploited.
– Haha! If you want to be sure of that, you have to stop buying sex – and many other things people buy without thinking about it. It’s not my responsibility to ensure the well-being of people I don’t know. I take care of my nearest. The whole point with the whoring is the distance. You buy a service, and done.

And you manage to distance yourself?
– Yes. But I understand that it can be horrible. I have daughters myself, and I wouldn’t wish this profession on them for anything in the world. It’s just the men who sit and grin, the women don’t have it so damn great. That Danish one should walk a few meters in real whore’s shoes. Look at the girls who stand out here teeth chattering waiting to be taken along in those rape vans. Fucking hell. The whole thing is on the shady side, but that’s the stuff that’s really dark.

The reason they are standing out there is that there is a sex market, though. If you agree that they have a horrible life, how can you not feel some responsibility?

– And your clothes are most likely made by small Indian children’s hands. You can say stuff like that about anything. Everything can be dragged into a moral abyss by telling horror stories. That mentality of “if I don’t do it, someone else is going to do it” – well, that is actually the case too. Should we all, like, quit it, then? Stop buying whores?

Yes?

– That’s a utopia! Like the war on drugs, it’s impossible to win. It’s much better to do it like in Portugal. Let them pay tax! It’s gotta be better for them to become a part of society than to live with fifty other girls in an apartment where they are beat on by some Nigerian baron or something.

Could a happy industry exist? Or is that an inherently boring thing?

– From what I know about women, I don’t think it’s possible to separate sex and feelings one hundred percent. Not over time, and continue to be happy.

You don’t believe in the sex-loving happy hooker?

– She does exist, but she’s the exception that proves the rule.

Ottar’s friend is more optimistic, and starts dishing out about women he knows who thrive in selling sex. Completely ordinary mothers of toddlers who make a year’s earnings by going on a summer tour in a trailer.
– It’s those who are independent and have full control that are happy.

Ottar interrupts.

– They thrive when they’re raking it in, yeah. It’ll be like this for many whores: do they like the men? No. Do they like the job? Meh. Do they like the money? Haha, you bet they do!

What do you think about girls who sell themselves? Do you look down on them?

– Absolutely not! You have a tough profession there, all respect to those who can do it. I know I said I don’t see them as people, but I actually think they are worth as much as everyone else. What I mean is that I don’t see them as my people. I don’t behave towards them like people.

Ottar speaks quickly and animatedly. Every sentence opens up new associations and thoughts that don’t always lead to a conclusion. A parallel between buying sex from trafficking victims and clothes produced with child labor subtly glides into experiences with Colombian street prostitutes and ends in a rant against the Swedish justice minister, Beatrice Ask, who recently came down hard against hash after having been fooled by a false report of a hash overdose with a deadly outcome.

– I mean, she knows nothing! And people like that are supposed to tell us what’s right and wrong. People who haven’t lived a day in their lives. Those who yell the loudest about morals are those I trust the least.

“From the top down” people, he calls them. “Those who declare themselves judge over other people’s actions but don’t want to show their own weaknesses.”

– The only things that are black and white are the keys on the piano, says Ottar.

– At least I’m honest about that shit.

Reason, Emotions and Buying Sex in Norway

Translated from Norwegian
Original published by Joacim Lund at aftenposten.no on 04 February 2014

 de  German version

Reason, emotions and buying sex

The law against buying sex is an emotional subject. Has it become a fit of moralist panic?

The law against buying sex is condemnable, says Bent Johan Mosfjell of the online magazine Liberaleren. It takes away our agency over our own bodies.

Aksel Braanen Sterri was of the same opinion when he wrote about the surrogacy debate in Morgenbladet one year ago:
“When you sell your time and your labor force, you sell a limited part of your agency over your body and its functions to your employer,” he wrote.

That sounds logical. A carpenter offers his physical labor for money without it being prohibited to buy his services for that reason. What is the difference between him and a prostitute if it isn’t morals?

“The happy hooker”

There are examples of women who thrive in prostitution. Their poster girl in recent years, Hege Grostad, has been given much space in the media. When the Danish former prostitute Tanja Rahm expressed a diametrically opposed (and more representative) view of prostitution in Aftenposten, Grostad called her a moralist.

Technical knockout. The moralist card trumps most debates. Presumably that is why even the Prime Minister is now using it.

Prime Minister is bluffing

“I want to stress that the law against the buying of sex was not a law we introduced for moralist reasons (…). It was not because we got up on our high horse and said that buying sex is wrong or something like that,” said Solberg at the Norwegian parliament’s Q&A hour last Thursday.

A spectacular political bluff. Contributing to a change in attitudes was and is one of the most important objectives of the law. It’s right there in black and white in the introduction to the hearing minutes. For a good reason.

Laws affect morals

University of Oslo researchers Andreas Kotsadam and Niklas Jakobsson wrote this in their 2011 article “Do laws affect attitudes?”, in which they examined Norwegians’ views of the law before and after the law against buying sex was introduced. The young population’s views of buying sex had become more negative; the same applied to the population of Oslo, where prostitution is most visible.

In Norway, the law has worked in a very short time. In Sweden, where there are 15 years of experience with the law, the population has bigger moral qualms when it comes to the purchase of sexual services. According to an official Swedish report (SOU 2010:49), 70 percent where against criminalization in 1996 while 70 percent were for it in 2008.

Signaling effect

The debate around the law against buying sex is complicated. It is perfectly legitimate to discuss to what extent the law is working toward its objectives (experiences from Sweden and international research indicate that it’s working) and who is affected (the law is connected with efforts by the authorities to provide support measures that will get people out of prostitution).

All this should be evaluated. But it’s also a debate about values. The law against buying sex signalizes that purchasing sexual services can never become the same as hiring a carpenter, and that feelings and views belong in this debate. Moralism? Pshaw. Morals? Yes – and yes, please.

Dr. Ingeborg Kraus: “Prostitution and Choice”

Translated from German. 

Original by Dr. Ingeborg Kraus published at karlsuherappell.com on 06 January 2014 via Emma Magazin, 2013.

Prostitution and Choice

Prostitution is often portrayed as a completely normal thing, something that has always existed. This usually involves very little thought of the women in prostitution. If it does, the argument of ‘choice’ is very quickly brought up. Who wants to take on the role of a person who sanctions or judges?

But how does a woman end up in so-called ‘voluntary’ prostitution anyway, and what does it mean for her (and for her children)? Prostitution has become a perfectly normal source of income: the question whether it is a job like any other has been seriously discussed by politicians and unionists in the past years.

In my many years of experience as a psychotherapist, I have supported many prostitutes and become familiar with the backgrounds that led them into prostitution. It became clear in all cases that prostitution was a continuation of experiences of violence in their lives. Either the women themselves were exposed to sexualized violence or they grew up in an environment in which women are systematically degraded. I want to illustrate this using three typical case examples:

A patient of mine, who also referred to herself as a ‘voluntary’ prostitute, grew up with an image of women that was entirely shaped by violence. Her mother was beaten by her father and subsequently raped again and again. Sexuality was tied to violence in her self-image. These scenes repeated themselves over and over. The mother took her desperation out on her daughter by calling her “whore” when she began developing an interest in boys. When she later prostituted herself, she told her mother: “See? I became exactly what you wanted me to become.”

Another prostitute told me that she didn’t feel uncomfortable when she entered a brothel at the age of 19. On the contrary, she said, at least now she was getting paid for “it.” Her life story, too, was shaped by sexual violence in her childhood.

For another client of mine, entry into prostitution had coincided with a combination of other, pre-existing disorders: anorexia and anxiety. She managed to exit prostitution after one year and declared 20 years later that prostitution had been a part of her self-destructive behavior.

To continue to speak of prostitution as ‘normal’ with this knowledge means to acknowledge violence against women as an entirely normal and legitimate thing. These women did not choose prostitution as a ‘job like any other’. They are often women who were put through very painful experiences in their past.

Studies in trauma treatment have found that the traumatized person may feel a compulsion to control the traumatizing events to which they were helplessly exposed. A form of control is repetition: so-called trauma re-enactment. In prostitution, the trauma is placed into a framework in which the prostitute gains a feeling of control over the events.

Women who have experienced physical and sexual violence and/or were raised in an environment in which women are socially degraded often develop feelings of guilt. Unlike men, women are hardly able to repress feelings of guilt, which turn into feelings of self-hate. Women mostly direct the aggression this results in against themselves. In light of this, prostitution appears as an act of self-hate and self-harm. Depth psychologists speak of masochistic reversal: “Now I am exactly what you wanted me to be.” Trauma therapists speak of perpetrator introjects. There are two types of introject, aspects of perpetrator identification and perpetrator loyalty.

Perpetrator identification is often a male introject (80 to 90 percent of physical and sexualized violence is perpetrated by men). Perpetrator loyal introjects, often termed female introjects, are incorporated into the victim’s personality if they were exposed to the (adult) perpetrator for long enough. These are thoughts that the perpetrator has about us, sentences he says about us or orders that he gives us. In one form or another, everyone has something like this. In a situation in which we are entirely at the perpetrator’s mercy, we ‘merge’ with him. We adopt the opinion he has of us and begin to think about ourselves the way he does. These are dysfunctional attempts at self-protection: “If I torture myself and beat myself up, then the ‘bad people’ won’t have to do it so much.” Or, “If I do exactly as they say, maybe they will leave me be.” The identification with the perpetrator’s gaze that this causes has a life of its own, changes are perceived as threatening, everything has to stay the way the ‘tormentor’ would have it. A typical example is psychological dependence on a pimp.

Working with perpetrator introjects is an everyday thing in my profession. The history of how my clients came to believe these negative things about themselves is usually not something they themselves are aware of. In addition to a superficially unremarkable and well-adjusted “everyday self”, they may be haunted by unconscious perpetrator-loyal aspects.

Many of my clients suffer from low self-esteem and are very hard on themselves, frequently saying things such as, “I am not enough,” “I can’t do it” or “I am unlovable.” This can go as far as self-hate, hate of their own bodies, of their own vitality – and their own sexuality. Behind the self-assured façade of some prostitutes there are certainly a lot of negative things that are continuing to have an effect internally. One patient phrased it as follows: “I’m not worth anything else, after all.”

In light of this, the concept of ‘choice’ in prostitution and its portrayal as a ‘normal job’ must be questioned. Johns must be educated and made to take responsibility. A society that continues to degrade women to non-human objects, in which sexual exploitation takes place, which stages domination of women in eroticized form, is deeply misogynistic. It perpetuates male supremacy and contains perpetrator structures.

Dr. Ingeborg Kraus, psychological psychotherapist

Further reading: Margarete Mitscherlich: Die friedfertige Frau (S. Fischer), Michaela Huber: Wege der Traumabehandlung. Teil 2 (Junfermann) und Der Feind im Innern (Jungfermann), Ingrid Olbricht: Wege aus der Gewalt gegen Frauen (C.H. Beck)

This article was published in the last issue of Emma 2013.

“Die Welt” Interview with Tanja Rahm

Translated from German

Original by Per Hinrichs published on www.welt.de on 19 January 2014

[Translator’s comment: original was published under a inconspicuous site header that reads “Ex-whore”. It is unclear whether the use of this word was agreed upon with Rahm.]

 “Prostitution and slavery are the same thing”

Why I am no longer a whore: “Die Welt” interviewed Danish Tanja Rahm about her experiences of violence growing up, the guilty conscience of her former customers, and exit programs for prostitutes.

“Dear sex customer, If you think that I ever felt attracted to you, you are terribly mistaken. I have never had any desire to go to work, not once. The only thing on my mind was to make money, and fast.” – That is the beginning of an open letter written by the Danish former prostitute Tanja Rahm, which was published first in the Norwegian paper “Aftenposten” and later also in “Die Welt”. Rahm, who now works as a writer and therapist near Copenhagen, has been widely praised but also criticized for her statements. Since then she has commented on her blog tanjarahm.dk, on Norwegian TV and in numerous interviews. “Die Welt”, too, asked to talk to her about it.

Die Welt: You made many degrading experiences with men in your work as a prostitute. Why did you decide to do this job of all things?

Tanja Rahm: I’m not even sure it was a free choice. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family with alcohol and drugs. When I was 11 years old, a pedophile man abused me and french-kissed me. At 17 I was sexually abused multiple times by various pedophiles. At 13 I wrote a poem about what it’s like to be a prostitute. I don’t think that any 13-year-old girl dreams of becoming a prostitute. I think that my low self-esteem and the feeling of not being loved and my hunger for attention led me there. I didn’t even believe that vocational training or university were options for me. I didn’t trust anyone and was scared of being hurt. When I prostituted myself, I thought that I was of no use for anything else, that I was worthless. I wasn’t picking one of several jobs, it wasn’t about becoming a nurse or a teacher or a prostitute. I thought the only thing I was good for was giving my sexuality away. The men who sexually abused me taught me that. And so I decided I could just as well do it for money, so that I could see what I’m worth.

Die Welt: So you tried to strengthen your self-esteem through the sale of your body?

Rahm: Of course I noticed that men found me attractive. Many said so, too. But nobody told me I was good at writing or drawing. Everything in my environment was focused on my sexuality and my looks.

Die Welt: Is this personal background something that’s representative of other prostitutes?

Rahm: Yes. I have spoken with many prostitutes and about eight out of ten made similar experiences of violence and abuse. When a man buys sex today, he needs to know that he is highly likely to encounter a woman who has suffered terrible things and is selling herself for the wrong reasons – namely because she wants to be worth something. It’s only later that these women realize that this only makes it a lot worse and they lose whatever self-esteem they had left.

Die Welt: And yet many commenters in Scandinavia and Germany write that you were naïve when you entered the job. That’s just the sort of thing that happens to prostitutes, they often say. Were you really too naïve?

Rahm: Everyone is welcome to call me naïve. I was emotionally destroyed by the time I was in my early twenties, I had internalized that only my sexuality is worth anything. I think I wanted to take control of myself back then. That was definitely naïve, because as a prostitute you have no control whatsoever. After all, you never know who the next customer is, what he wants and how he will treat you. It’s a very dangerous situation. When a customer choked me, I had no control whatsoever anymore and that was precisely what he wanted: he wanted my life to be in his hands.

Die Welt: But you earned well.

Rahm: It was never about the money to me. It wasn’t the money that made me a prostitute. If I could undo those three years and restore my self-respect, I would pay back every Danish krone that I earned in that job.

Die Welt: Were you ever actually forced to have sex, for example by a pimp?

Rahm: I was never forced to have sex with customers by a third person. But nobody helps you out of that milieu. Nobody helps you when you tell them what you do. On the contrary, everyone around you wants to keep you in prostitution. None of the assaults I suffered during my work were reported. Nobody told me I could get access to psychological counseling. I only ever heard: drink your tea and then see the next customer. Because both the greeter and the receptionist received a share of my earnings. If I didn’t work, they earned less too.

Die Welt: Did you experience violence with customers?

Rahm: Frequently, yes. One time a customer tried to set the room on fire while I was still inside. I couldn’t get out and when the police arrived, the brothel owner called me and yelled so loudly that the officers could hear it: You have to come back immediately! She didn’t care that I almost died. I was also raped by a man who kept me imprisoned for one hour. Porn was running in the background while he pushed my head into the pillow. I was stalked by customers; taxi drivers who drove me home from work demanded to have sex with me because they didn’t respect me.

Die Welt: You wrote that there were many psychopaths among your customers. What did those do?

Rahm: Something they all have in common is that they never perceived me as a human being, but as a prostitute, a commodity with which they could do what they wanted for 20 minutes or half an hour. Many customers dehumanize prostitutes; to them, they are living dolls. Many commenters write that, too: Well, what do you expect, you’re a whore. That’s cruel and inhumane.

Die Welt: Prostitution is said to be the world’s oldest trade. Does prohibition make sense at all when the demand is so high?

Rahm: The world’s oldest trade is still agriculture. Women turned to the profession of prostitution because there was nothing else left to them. They had no right to vote, no access to education or regular jobs. That’s why they did this. Today, in 2014, we have access to education, jobs, careers. There is massive social progress that is just not supposed to apply to prostitutes. And besides, it is men who are making the big profits: the pimps and the traffickers who bring women over here from Eastern Europe. It’s a big industry, a money machine, that passes on only the tiniest portion of the profits to the prostitutes.

Die Welt: So what are people to do?

Rahm: It is my wish that Europe will stand united and take action against prostitution and prohibit it. It would also be a signal to the rest of the world that we tolerate no slavery, no violence, no sex for money. We also need exit programs for prostitutes.

Die Welt: In Denmark, prostitution is prohibited. But there’s still commercial sex there.

Rahm: That’s correct. And it’s not acceptable. Only recently I read a website where sex buyers review prostitutes. It’s nauseating. They don’t care if the women were kidnapped and brought to the brothel or what kind of background they have. One customer writes that he was unhappy with the woman’s appearance, so he turned her around and took her brutally. We have to take social responsibility and recognize prostitution for what it is: a crime against humanity. Punters must be punished, not women who usually sell themselves out of desperation. There is also still slavery in the world, but that’s illegal, of course.

Die Welt: Is prostitution comparable to slavery?

Rahm: It’s the same thing. Someone is exploiting a person, with or without money changing hands. It’s a form of slavery. Only that this isn’t about skin color but sex.

Die Welt: Why did you stay in a job that was so damaging to you for three years?

Rahm: Because I couldn’t get out. I wanted out much sooner. I suffered from depression, anxiety, and many other problems. I only made it through the last year by regularly using cocaine; I just couldn’t have done it otherwise. Many other women also used drugs or drank alcohol. I was much more hurt than before the job; I didn’t think I could make the exit. And every man that bought me confirmed my negative impression of men.

Die Welt: One argument frequently heard from your critics is that you are shifting the blame onto the customers, that you should rather take responsibility for your own life. What do you think about that?

Rahm: I know that it’s difficult for many to understand the problem that is prostitution. I would of course be very easy to say everyone is responsible for their own affairs. But you don’t need to be a psychologist to see that sexual abuse can lead to prostitution. We have all heard it countless times. That’s also why I don’t understand that many men stress freedom of choice in their attacks. I felt like I had no other options at the time. Men destroyed my blossoming sexuality, abused it, ruined it. How was I supposed to be in a position to make good decisions? I think that the freedom of choice argument is used to ease the conscience of buyers. For if they were to acknowledge that abuse is what drives many women to the brothel, they could hardly justify it anymore. And in countries where prostitution is socially accepted and legal, any debate is quickly nipped in the bud.

Die Welt: Now the debate is gaining momentum again.

Rahm: Yes, the letter was published in Scandinavia, Iceland and Germany and it will probably be published in Great Britain, the US, Spain and France too. Things are changing. I want to shake people awake.

Die Welt: Many sex buyers and prostitutes claim that the women enjoy it. Is that self-deception or can the so-called ‘happy hooker’ really exist?

Rahm: Of course I can’t say what these prostitutes feel or don’t feel. But from my experience I know that many active prostitutes don’t know what they are getting into and only realize what it has done to them once they have exited. You’re not just selling a thing. Every time you receive a customer, you sell a part of yourself. It eats you alive. I don’t think that there are happy hookers. If the job was easy, why would I have quit?

English translation of Tanja Rahm’s open letter

Tanja Rahm’s open letter in the original Danish

German translation of Tanja Rahm’s open letter

Amnesty International for Traffickers of Women

Translated from German.

Original published on the website of the German feminist magazine Emma on 30 January 2014.

See Amnesty protest flyers at http://protest-resources.tumblr.com/

See Amnesty protest flyers at http://protest-resources.tumblr.com/

Amnesty International is taking a pro-“sex work” stance, and this also includes brothel owners and pimps. Now resistance has started to form, however, and all hell is loose online. Prostitute’s organizations started an online petition against Amnesty, and Twitter is overflowing with #QuestionsForAmnesty: “Pimping is not a human right!”

The paper reads as though it was dictated by the pro-prostitution lobby: “Amnesty International is opposed to the criminalization or punishment of activities related to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults,” write the London headquarters of the human rights organization in a recent position paper. Those who peruse the eleven-page document will search it in vain for demands to curb the gigantic sex trade with its rampant human rights violations.

Violence? A power differential between the sexes? Of course not, silly. “This analysis largely ignores the complexity of human sexual interactions particularly those that do not fall within the framework of the traditional heterosexual relationships”, Amnesty writes. And anyway, laws against “sex work” are shaped by “confusion, ambivalence, and fear about sex, desire, and women’s sexual autonomy.”

Traffickers? Pimps? Why, no. In Amnesty-speak, they are those who “recruit for or arrange the prostitution of others.” What they do? They “facilitate sex work through the provision of information or assistance.” And thus, Amnesty benevolently includes the profiteers of the sex industry in their decriminalization strategy: “States have a positive obligation to reform their laws and develop and implement systems and policies that eliminate discrimination against those engaging in sex work.”

Their timing is certainly not coincidental. The French National Assembly only just decided to punish johns (and to completely decriminalize the prostituted). And it looks as though the entire EU could fall into line: the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee recently voted through a report demanding that the EU countries adopt the Swedish Model. The pro-prostitution lobby is apparently getting cold feet. And they obviously have good connections in London.

But the human rights organization that evidently takes great interest in men’s rights and very little in women’s is not only being applauded by the sex worker lobby – they are also reaping massive resistance.

On the hashtag #QuestionsForAmnesty, the human rights advocates are being bombarded with questions. “Do you want girls to grow up learning they are a commodity for men?” “Why do Amnesty ignore the effects full legalization has had in Germany?” “Have you ever listened to women in prostitution? They have a lot to tell you!” Indeed.

For instance the organization SPACE (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightment): the formerly prostituted women from several countries started a petition. “We, the members of SPACE International, object in the strongest possible terms to the position of Amnesty International (AI) on the issue of prostitution.(…) It is a policy position that can only be taken if one is willing to ignore the realities of how women and girls end up in prostitution in the first place. (…) For Amnesty International to refer to it as ‘freely chosen gainful work’ is to explicitly ignore that nothing about commercial sexual exploitation is freely chosen.”

The organization Sex Trafficking Survivors United joins in: “We have been disturbed and disappointed to see Amnesty International suggest full decriminalization of pimps and brothel keepers. The general public understands (and as survivors we know) that commercial sexual exploitation is controlled by organized crime. Amnesty’s proposal will only strengthen organized crime’s hold on the exploited and vulnerable communities worldwide. (…) It is simply not credible to suggest prostitution can exist independently of sex trafficking, racism and brutal abuse.”

In the British press, the feminist writer Julie Bindel voices her outrage: “Having researched prostitution, one woman who I interviewed described her life of seeing at least ten male customers a day as ‘a form of torture’. That is just the sort of injustice that Amnesty is meant to be fighting. Yet Amnesty, in an abject inversion of its ethical values, has somehow persuaded itself that surrender to money-driven, masculine sexual aggression represents progress towards liberty.”

But Amnesty’s push is not really surprising. “What is the human rights organization’s position on women’s rights?” Emma asked already in 2010. Back then the head of the ‘Stop Violence Against Women’ campaign, Gita Saghal, had brought a scandal to light: Amnesty had used the self-declared Taliban-follower Moazzam Begg as the poster boy of its anti-Guantanamo campaign. Begg stayed, Saghal was sacked – due to “irreconcilable differences.”

Let’s wait and see whether there is anyone left at Amnesty’s London headquarters who can do any protesting.

Click here for the petition against Amnesty International

See The Invisible Men Project for a look at the men Amnesty are protecting. Warning: graphic content.