The German government legalized prostitution two years ago, but many sex workers remain reluctant to register with authorities as they continue to experience discrimination, a new study has revealed.
Not much has changed for prostitutes in Germany.
Sex is big business in Germany. With some 400,000 prostitutes and an annual 1.2 million men who use their services, the yearly turnover has hit a massive €14 billion ($16.5 billion). But paid sex can be a nasty business.
Two years ago the German government introduced a new prostitution law in what was an earnest attempt to protect prostitutes' working conditions and even offer them some protection against violence and exploitation.
There is even scope for girls on the game to join a union, but that has proved to be something that few have taken advantage of. At a loss to understand the reluctance among the country's sex work force to become unionized, the services trade union Verdi commissioned Hamburg-based social scientist Emilija Mitrovic to find out why.
Mitrovic, who is due to publish the results of her study at the end of the month, has spent a lot of time travelling across Germany, talking with prostitutes, brothel owners, police officers and social workers in a bid to find out what difference the new law has made to prostitutes.
"The desired effect of the law was to create a better social situation for prostitutes, to do away with the immoral stigma attached to their work, to give them the right to sue for unpaid fees, and make health insurance and social security payments," Mitrovic told Deutsche Welle.
Her study, which examined the varying consequences of the law in different cities and states across Germany, revealed that the majority of prostitutes in Germany still prefer to do the job secretly, because although prostitution is officially legal, sex workers still experience discrimination.
A prostitute in Frankfurt
Mitrovic also discovered that women are often put in unnecessarily dangerous situations as a result of arbitrary rules that dictate exactly where they are allowed to tout for business. These are often dark and dead industrial areas, where the women are far more vulnerable to violence.
On top of this, the study showed discrimination from most of Germany's federal job agencies, who will neither broker jobs in the sex industry nor offer retraining. And even health insurance companies don't offer any kind of special health provisions for prostitutes.
Verdi is prepared to fight the exploitation of sex workers, but so far, the union has failed to come up with any concrete solutions. However, at a conference on the subject of prostitution at the end of April, they will present a sample contract for sex workers.
Mitrovic believes this is a step forward. "The contract would regulate holiday pay, sick pay and something very special, namely medical examinations during work time," she said. "The contract would also ensure women a fixed income which could be transferred to their bank accounts."
It's all well and good in theory, but just how likely are the brothel owners and managers to go along with it? Mitrovic is optimistic and has already found one brothel manager who wants to try out the contract, and who also wants to employ immigrants, and who is looking for legal ways to do this.
Law doesn't apply to all
One of the problems with the new prostitution law is that it does nothing to help foreign prostitutes, who constitute almost half of Germany sex workers, who don't have a legal work permit. Without it, they can't report ill treatment or exploitation to the police unless they want to run the high risk of subsequent deportation.
The sad reality of prostitution in Germany is that despite the new law, most prostitutes still work under very poor conditions. The majority of the money they earn is taken away from them by pimps and landlords and, for those who are trying to work by the book, from the tax office as well.
Perhaps the biggest problem for prostitutes here is still the way they are treated socially. On the one hand paid sex is considered a part of 21st century life, but very few women are actually prepared to come out and admit that is what they do.
As far as Mitrovic is concerned, prostitution won't shed its criminal stigma until the pimps put up their hands and confess that they are making money from selling sex, and that it is a socially acceptable thing to do.