A pilot scheme in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia is retraining prostitutes as care assistants to work with the elderly.
The project aims to get prostitutes off the street and into new careers as care workers
In their former profession, they were used to giving a helping hand. Now, their clients are no longer paying clients but old people in need of care. Former prostitutes in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia are turning their backs on the street and retraining as care workers in old people's homes.
Thanks to the pilot scheme, run by a Protestant organization, Diakonie Westfalen, and financed by the state and contributions from the European Union's social funds to the tune of one million euros ($1.19 million), more than 30 women between the ages of 20 and 40 have swapped a life in the sex industry for two years training and practical experience in the care industry.
Rita Kühn from Diakonie Westfalen believes that the former prostitutes are ideally suited to dealing with the aged and the demands that are placed on those who are caring for them.
"The prostitutes generally get on very well with the people," Kühn told German magazine Der Spiegel magazine. "They have no reservations about any aspects of the work."
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Coming from an industry where intimacy with strangers is standard, Kühn said the ex-prostitutes do not suffer from the stigma some may feel when dealing with the personal and physical aspects of the job such as cleaning and washing.
To keep other stigmas at bay, the ex-prostitutes work in the care homes under the promise that their former professions remain secret. Rita Kühn said the levels of trust needed between care-giver and an old person may be compromised by the knowledge that the assistant used to work in the sex business.
Retraining as a care assistant is not only a change of profession but a life-changing experience which gives many of the women back their self-esteem.
Gisela Zohren was the star dominatrix at a sado-masochist establishment for 19 years before quitting. Now she said she feels that she has learnt a lot more about human nature, and herself, during her work with old people than she ever did brandishing chains and whips for her clients.
"I have learnt to listen to people's needs, not just their wishes," she told Der Spiegel. "I have learnt to give old people a sense of security, something that is unfortunately lacking in this day and age."
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Some of the prostitutes have not only joined the scheme to get away from the potentially dangerous and violent sex industry.
With an estimated 50,000 prostitutes working in the state, the availability of sex workers has driven the price for their services down to as low as 30 euros for the full treatment. Retraining in an industry which is crying out for carer-givers and which will pay accordingly is often the main reason behind a change in career.
Heinz Oberlach from the Federal Employment Agency said that the pilot project can help the care industry out of its hole. There are currently 6,400 institutions around Germany which are chronically understaffed and the idea of taking sex workers off the street and filling those vacancies "are two parts of the same puzzle."