Germany are right to consider abolishing the sex trade once and for all. Now it’s time that the UK does the same

News reports coming out of Germany have highlighted the fact that German law-makers are calling for the ban on prostitution during Covid-19 to become permanent when the economy finally reopens.

Prostitution has been effectively legalised in various forms for decades in Germany, but in 2002 the Government introduced the Prostitution Act 2002 which sought to bring the sex trade under State control with the hope that by bringing prostitution into the formal labour market, complete with taxation and access to social welfare, it would begin to legitimise the trade.

In the eighteen years since, Germany’s approach to prostitution is widely recognised as an unmitigated disaster, producing ‘hell on earth’ for the women involved. Human trafficking has exploded, and the trade has expanded enormously, ‘churning out’ women and girls for endless consumption by sex trade tourists and exploitation by ruthless pimps.

It comes as welcome news then that politicians and activists have called for the closure of brothels to remain permanent, and for women to be aided in exiting the sex trade, in a letter to the Premiers of sixteen German states. The letter states:

“Re-opening the brothels will not help these women,” the letter says. “Instead, they need apprenticeships, training or work in a secure job.”

As German news outlet DW states:

The letter calls for Germany to take the opportunity to adopt the “Nordic model,” under which paying for sex is illegal but selling sex is not. Under this model, sex workers are offered help and services to leave the sex industry and offered education, for example language courses. In Germany, many sex workers come from eastern Europe.”

It remains to be seen whether Germany will follow up on this call to action, but we can only hope so. Bringing this a little closer to home, the United Kingdom should see this activism as the impetus they need to finally review the outdated laws governing prostitution in this country. Research shows that the wider public are in favour of law reform pertaining to prostitution, and the UK’s approach to the sex trade is certainly not conducive to protecting those trapped within the system. While the actual sale of sex is legal, fundamental component parts of prostitution such as soliciting are not.

This confusion as to the law does not help the women involved to exit the violent and exploitative sex trade, as it can often engender mistrust in public services and authorities. Consequently, the UK should finally grasp this thorny issue with both hands, and look to introduce new laws that help those being exploited within the sex trade to exit, while equally not giving pimps, punters, and traffickers a free pass to continue to do what they do with impunity.

The Nordic Model represents a comprehensive overhaul of laws which currently punish and . Research shows that not only did its introduction in Sweden actively reduce the number of women within the sex trade, but that it encouraged a normative shift that challenged the underlying assumption that exploiting a woman for sex is permissible. As Swedish police officer Simon Häggström says:

“…if someone buys sex, there is something wrong. Kids today are raised with this mindset, they haven’t had any alternative because, as long as they can remember, the act of buying sex has been illegal. And of course the legislation had a deep impact on society.”

This shift in attitudes on the part of men and boys, who may otherwise grow up to perceive women as sex objects that they can buy, should be a fundamental goal in any legislative reform pertaining to prostitution.

It is time that the UK Government recognise that outdated laws around prostitution trap women within the sex trade with disastrous consequences; consequences which have been particularly exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis. CEASE UK is calling on the UK Government to follow Sweden’s lead, and take their cue from German law-makers, in introducing the Nordic Model into the UK, and finally taking steps to end the exploitative sex trade once and for all.