Liberal Laws Juxtaposed with Rigid Control: an Analysis of the Logics of Governing Sex Work in Germany

Pates, Rebecca (2012): Liberal Laws Juxtaposed with Rigid Control: an Analysis of the Logics of Governing Sex Work in Germany, in: Sexuality Research and Social Policy, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 212-222.


Three ways of governing sex work dominate the international debate: Prohibition, Non-Regulation, and Regulation. The German tradition has been long been regulatory. Sex work is permissible under certain conditions depending on the location (vicinity to schools and churches must be avoided), the registration (for taxation purposes), and the migratory status of the sex worker (illegal immigrants or tourists ought not to ply the streets). In addition, one has to be of a certain age, compos mentis, and engage in sex work using a certain amount of discretion. Otherwise, one moves into the realm of illegality. The regulatory measures traditionally aim at maintaining three public goods: public mores, public health, and public order. To these desiderata, the prostitution law of 2002 added a new public objective: labor rights for sex workers. The legislators’ intent was to remove stigma and improve working conditions. This law remains without much effect in practice. In this paper, I try to show why. First, the governments of the Länder refuse (or fail) to pass implementation guidelines. Second, the old logics of interference prevail at an institutional level. And third, individual administrators focus on paternalistic or punitive logics rather than on the guaranteeing of human rights.

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