Germany, dubbed by some as Europe’s biggest brothel, has been having some issues with its mega-brothels in recent months. On April 13, over 900 police, tax, and customs investigators raided Berlin’s biggest sex club, Artemis. The club is allegedly connected with the Hells Angels biker gang, whose members are accused of recruiting women to work in the club in exchange for special perks like free admission.
Prostitution is legal in Germany but is proving difficult to regulate. And demand is high.
“People think Amsterdam is the prostitution capital of Europe but Germany has more prostitutes per capita than any other country in the continent, more even than Thailand: 400,000 at the last count, serving 1.2 million men every day.”
These are decade-old numbers, but based on the growing number of multi-story sex clubs like Artemis, it’s probably safe to say those numbers haven’t been reduced. If anything, they’ve grown.
Not everyone selling sex is a trafficking victim. Some women have made the decision – though usually out of a place of financial desperation and lack of other options – to enter prostitution. But the industry has a way of sniffing out vulnerability, which is what the police in this case were concerned about.
The goal of the Artemis crackdown was twofold – to target human trafficking and investigate fraud. Suspicions of tax evasion and unregistered employment gave the police multiple reasons to raid the premises. Prosecutors allegedly said that sex workers at the Artemis had been forced to pretend they were self-employed so their bosses didn’t have to cover their social security contributions.
Though the aim of legalizing prostitution in 2002 was to ensure better working conditions and benefits for those working in the sex industry, in reality many brothel owners don’t want a formal employment contract. And neither do the women selling sex. This is because many of them come from other countries for a few weeks or months a year, so paying into social security doesn’t make sense. Additionally, many of them don’t want prostitution on their record because it might jeopardize other employment opportunities in the future.
In fact, as of a couple years ago, only 44 individuals working in the sex industry in Germany had registered for benefits.
“Health insurance and pension contributions are pointless extras for women coming to Germany for a few weeks, with no permanent base in the country. As for the brothel owners, if they’re just renting rooms, not only do they save on social security contributions, they also wash their hands of any responsibility for the sex workers’ wellbeing.”
Artemis isn’t the first mega-brothel that’s been raided in Germany. A couple years ago, the Paradise brothel was raided for similar reasons. UK’s Channel 4 was shooting a documentary about Germany’s brothels at the time. The crew met a 23 year-old girl named Josie who had worked in the sex industry for four years and said she’d slept with about 15,000 men. A critical tool in her make-up bag was a tube of Xylocaine, a local anaesthetic gel that numbs the physical pain resulting from sleeping with up to 20 men a day.
The director of the documentary stated:
“[The documentary] wasn’t an attempt to make a piece that argues one way or the other, but the material speaks for itself. I think what the experience really brought home to me was that however you cut it, the business is always extremely dark and has a profound effect on those involved with it.”
What’s interesting about the Paradise and Artemis crackdowns is that they were driven by investigations relating to fraud and tax evasion. Shady business usually goes hand in hand with avoiding taxes, and while criminal groups often skirt the law when it comes to exploiting people (arguably a more serious violation), they’re sometimes more likely to get snagged by the tax man.
In fact, this is exactly what happened to the notorious Chicago gangster, Al Capone. Despite his life of crime, it was tax evasion that finally put him behind bars.
In light of the exploitation that is rife in Germany’s sex industry, the government is scrambling to introduce new laws and policies to better regulate it. One piece of proposed legislation is that anyone who pays for sex with a trafficking victim could receive a 5-year imprisonment.
The government is also making condom use mandatory for all clients. This, of course, is very difficult to monitor in a bedroom, especially if the woman is desperate for money and willing to undercut the competition by offering risky options like sex without a condom. Finally, the government wants to put an end to “flat-rate” brothels, where customers pay a set entrance fee to use brothel services for a specific period.
Making prostitution ‘a job like any other’ is easier said than done, because by its nature the sex industry – legal or not – operates in the shadows, favouring the powerful and preying on the weak.
According to Havoscope, which monitors global black market information, the legal prostitution market in Germany is worth $18 billion – one of the highest in the world. It will be interesting to see whether proposed government regulations have an impact. One thing is for sure – Germany’s mega-brothel adult playgrounds have a human cost that extends well beyond a flat rate entrance fee.