Sex workers in Germany are demanding the right to get back to work as the country’s brothels remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Approximately 400 prostitutes and brothel operators from across Germany demonstrated in the red light district of Hamburg on Saturday, Germany news agency Deutsche Welle reported Sunday.
Prostitution is legal and regulated in Germany but the country’s brothels have been closed for almost four months due to the outbreak.
Now, sex workers say they are being treated unfairly and are demanding the right to return to work, especially as other businesses where close contact is permitted, such as hair salons and tattoo parlors, have reopened.
The protest was organized by the Association of Sex Workers with the group warning that the closure of licensed venues had forced some prostitutes onto the streets, putting them in danger both in terms of their health and personal safety.
Ahead of the protest on Herbertstrasse, a street in the district of St. Pauli in Hamburg and the only street in the city’s “red light district” where sex workers occupy windows, similar to Amsterdam’s red light district, the association posted a statement on its website calling for sex workers to be able to work again.
“Prostitutes stand up and ask the politicians to open the brothels,” the association said. “While around the infamous Herbertstrasse in Hamburg/St. Pauli, normal life returns after the coronavirus lockdown, shops, hotels, bars and restaurants have reopened, tourists are guided through the world-famous neighborhood, the windows in Herbertstrasse remain dark (and there is) no life, no business, no joy. Nothing is going on.”
The statement added that “prostitutes are upset” at the continuing ban on sex work, and are concerned for their livelihoods.
“They have met all government requirements, paid taxes, received little corona support, stand with their backs to the wall and are tired of the fact that politics is not taking action.”
The group argues that prostitution does not pose a higher risk of infection than other body-related services, such as massages, cosmetics, dancing and contact sports and that hygiene “has always been part of business for prostitutes.” The group added that workers are prepared to implement more protective measures, such as partitions in the windows, ventilation and the recording of customer contact data.
The group has questioned whether it is proportionate to keep Germany’s brothels closed given the country’s falling number of coronavirus infections. Like its European counterparts, Germany has seen a high number of coronavirus cases (with nearly 200,000 cases to date) but unlike its neighbors, it has kept the death toll low with 9,071 fatalities so far. Germany has attributed its low death toll to several factors, including a robust contact-tracing system and modern hospital infrastructure.
There are estimated to be around 400,000 sex workers in Germany, although no official data is recorded. The Association of Sex Workers cited members that feel humiliated having to turn to the state for financial support, and also those that insist they can offer their services in a safe way. One worker, Anna, was quoted as saying that partitions had been set up in the windows of Herbertstrasse.
“Mouth-nose masks are already there. We went through everything carefully: we can also offer sexual services under coronavirus protective measures. We find it insulting and incapacitating if we are not trusted,” she said.
The association said that sex workers in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic had been allowed to return to work since the beginning of June.
In Amsterdam, where Europe’s most well-known Red Light District is located, sex workers were allowed to return to work last month after the government brought forward an initial return to work date of September 1.
Red Light United, a group representing sex workers’ interests in the Netherlands, said that the ban on sex work during the coronavirus crisis had forced many women with little or no financial buffers into illegal work.