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Germany: Berlin Discusses Prostitution and ‘Sex Boxes’

In Berlin, prostitution is wide-spread. According to estimates, there are more than 8000 sex workers who offer their services in apartments, brothels and on the street. Exact numbers are not available because only a fraction of all prostitutes is registered, even though the latter is mandatory according to Germany’s ‘Prostitute Protection Law’.

Women who intend to register as prostitutes in Berlin, or those who may be forced to do so by pimps, need to go to ‘Probea’, the city’s contact point for this purpose. The authority will offer advice regarding the women’s health, and save their personal data, including the address they are officially registered at.

‘Probea’ forwards the data to the revenue office because, just like everyone else, prostitutes need to pay taxes. But its main purpose is to keep track of the sex workers. In the past year, some 1600 women have registered and received a so-called ‘Whore Pass’ (‘Hurenpass’). They are legal sex workers. But four to five times as many prostitutes have not entered that registration office.

Safety for Sex Workers

Berlin wants sex workers to be safe. The new rules about registrations are supposed to help the authorities track down women who are being forced into prostitution, along with the criminals responsible. Among the latter are members of Arab clans, which are increasingly being fought by the authorities. And there are Eastern European gangs and individuals who commit those kinds of crimes.

In the past years, court proceedings in Germany, Switzerland and other countries have shown how Bulgarian traffickers work. They talk ladies from villages and smaller cities into accepting supposedly well-paid jobs, for instance as waitresses, in one of those countries. Once they arrive, they are being beaten, threatened and forced into prostitution.

To the German police and prosecution, it is almost impossible to identify ladies forced into becoming sex workers. In some cases, they were informed by women who had the courage and the opportunity to escape from the brutal mafiosi who brought them into that situation.

Sex Workers in Front of Schools

But in Berlin, the latest discussion is not so much about forced prostitution, but rather about so-called ‘sex boxes’ in which suitors and prostitutes can have sex without being spotted by residents. The main purpose of those boxes would be to bring some order into the chaos some neighborhoods are suffering from.

Berlin’s ‘Kurfürstenstrasse’ has been a street-walkers’ patch for decades. Many years ago, mostly German prostitutes offered their services there. Today most of them are Eastern Europeans. On one stretch of that street, up to a dozen sex workers wait for customers during the day, and many more in the evening and at night.

The problem is that they stand in front of schools and apartment blocks. The whole thing is not a good sight, neither for children, nor other residents. Finding used condoms or syringes on the street is not good either. Inhabitants in that neighborhood have been complaining a lot.

Studying Approaches from Other Cities

Berliners who live there and some politicians keep on demanding restricted areas, where prostitution is forbidden. The Berlin Senate is rejecting that demand. A majority believes banning prostitutes from the city center would not work, and hiding them in the outskirts might put them in harm’s way.

A while ago, Berlin politicians started studying the situation in other cities. In some, such as in Dortmund, the installation of ‘sex boxes’, in which that activity can be followed, has created the largest open air prostitution area in the country. No city official wants to bring that experience to Berlin.

Cologne has been a little more successful. The city banned prostitution in its center and had ‘sex boxes’ installed in the outskirts. According to city officials there, the strategy is working in the sense that there has been less violence against sex workers. But it has not gotten rid of prostitution in the center, in spite of the ban.

‘Sex Boxes’ for Bicyclists

The Cologne model of those ‘sex boxes’ was installed for cars, meaning the customer picks a prostitute on the street. They negotiate and agree on the terms and the price. The woman sits in the customer’s car. Both of them drive to a vacant ‘sex box’ and enter it like a garage.

In those boxes, the man on the driver’s side could hardly leave the vehicle if the wanted to, because of the way those boxes are built. The sex worker, on the other hand, can easily do so, for safety purposes.

In the German capital, the proponents of ‘sex boxes’ want a different model, one which accommodates pedestrians and bicyclists rather than cars, because they say they do not have the room for big boxes in the Tempelhof-Schöneberg borough. Those smaller boxes could be installed under the elevated ‘U-Bahn’ railway, they say.

Prostitution Ban at ‘Kurfürstenstrasse’?

But there are local politicians who strictly reject anything of the kind and who want to get the prostitutes out of that neighborhood, along with their customers. One of them is Stephan von Dassel, the borough mayor in Berlin’s ‘Mitte’ district. He does not think suitors would enter boxes as long as they can have sex anywhere they want.

Stephan von Dassel insists on banning prostitution on Kurfürstenstrasse. He wants ‘sex boxes’ installed at Tempelhof Airport, or at the fairground in his borough, which is located far away, next to the Autobahn. His main point is that all the sex in entrances to apartment blocks on Kurfürstenstrasse needs to be moved elsewhere.

Berlin might test ‘sex boxes’. But the discussion and the chaos on Kurfürstenstrasse will likely continue, also because experts, both real and self-proclaimed ones, keep on developing new ideas. Some now say big brothels would be a much better solution than ‘sex boxes’, because sex workers and their customers would be out of everyone’s sight in confined spaces, but at central locations.