Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that there are still too many illegal prostitutes in Germany and that it is still too hard for many of the woman in the field to leave, even if they want to.
Referring to a report on prostitution commissioned by the federal cabinet, von der Leyen told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday that the attempt to improve that lives of prostitutes by giving them access to healthcare, social security and pensions in a groundbreaking 2002 law still did not do enough for large numbers of sex workers in Germany.
"The possibilities in practice are almost never used," she said, and announced new measures aimed at protecting women forced into sex work and underage prostitutes.
"The prostitution law has only reached part of its goal," she said, adding that health and hygiene conditions of most prostitutes have not improved since the law's passage. There are an estimated 400,000 registered prostitutes in Germany.
But von der Leyen, a member of Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Party, said she was not aiming at turning back and clock and making prostitution illegal again, but wanted to offer sex workers viable ways out of the profession.
"We want to rigorously go after the criminal element surrounding prostitution," she said. "That includes punishing customers of forced prostitutes, raising the minimal age and much stricter controls over brothels, with the message that prostitution is not just a job like any other."
The final goal must be to encourage prostitutes to get out of the field, she said.
Ignorance no excuse
Chancellor Merkel's grand coalition government is now drafting new legislation that would raise the legal age for prostitution from 16 to 18 and would plug a legal loophole that allows clients of women forced into prostitution to escape prosecution by pleading ignorance of their situation.
"If the prostitute speaks no German and has bruises on her body then the client has to assume this is forced prostitution," von der Leyen said. "He can no longer say: 'I didn't notice'."
More than half of the prostitutes in Germany are thought to be here illegally, many from eastern Europe, and because most have no legal papers, leaving the profession or the men who control their lives, is next to impossible.
However, the family minister offered no details on how such measures would be enforced.Her proposals will have to be approved by the German Cabinet and then approved by the parliament before becoming law.