"When you normalize paid rape in prostitution, it becomes confusing to an entire culture, even for [the] government, to define what consent is and what isn't, what rape is and what isn't. "
In this episode, FiLiA Volunteer Luba Fein talks to Dr Melissa Farley and Dr Inge Kleine about the results of their latest research (also co-authored by Kerstin Neuhaus, Yoanna McDowell, Silas Schulz and Saskia Nitschmann) revealing the most hidden secrets of sex buyers and why the men agreed to disclose their secrets.
Their report on 763 sex buyers in six countries investigates the attitudes and behavior of sex buyers/punters/Freier/puteros in Germany, USA, India, UK, Scotland, Cambodia.
Luba Fein from FiLiA in conversation with Melissa Farley and Inge Kleine on their research into the sex trade.
Luba: Hello, I am Luba Fein, a FiLiA volunteer, campaigner and public speaker for abolishing prostitution. I have here with me Dr Melissa Farley, who is an Executive Director and founder of the NGO Prostitution Research and Education and Dr Inge Kleine, an activist and a CEO of the Communication Centre for Women in Munich.
At the beginning of November 2022, the three of us met at an unusual series of events in Berlin. The main event was a large conference with members of the German Parliament, journalists, sex trade survivor leaders, many of them, researchers and other guests and speakers from all over the world.
This series of events was dedicated to new research by Dr Melissa Farley and her team, which Dr Inge Kleine was a part of.
The name of the study was Men Who Pay for Sex in Germany, and what they teach us about the failure of legal prostitution. A six country report on the sex trade from the perspective of the socially invisible freiers. Now, freiers in German slang are sex-buyers, people who pay for prostitution services.
Now Melissa the question for you, your research in the field of the sex trade is of a tremendous value. During your professional life you published about 50 papers and books. Many activists, support workers and politicians who campaign to abolish the sex trade, learn from them and cite them a lot.
But when we met in Berlin, you said that this last research was of exceptional importance to you and in general. Can you tell us more about the study?
MF: Well, sure, where to start, why do I think it's so important? Because a little bit shockingly to all of us who worked on this, these sex buyers in Germany and five other countries, a total of 763 of them, they basically said to us the same things that survivors have been telling the world for the last 30 or 40 years. Survivors of the sex trade have been talking about these same things. And I think all of us who worked on these research interviews with sex buyers in Munich in particular with Dr Kleine, I think all of us are really proud that we were able to do two hour interviews, one to two hour interviews with these guys to make them comfortable enough and anonymous enough to tell us the truth about the sex trade.
They never say these things in public with their name or their photo attached. They don't talk about how much they rape women. They don't talk about how much they dehumanize and objectify women. They don't talk about how much trafficking and pimping and violence they see all around them in the legal brothels of Germany.
I mean to sum it up, if you look at all of the lies that are told about how banal prostitution is, how safe it is, how it's just like another job. This research shot down every one of those lies. It's not safe. Women don't like it and sex buyers know how violent and dangerous it is, and they told us on the record as long as we concealed their names and identities.
So I guess that was what was thrilling to me to hear them debunk all of the lies that are used to prop up legal prostitution in Germany and every place else in the world.
Luba: May I ask you why have you chosen those particular six countries? Why these countries and no other ones?
MF: Well, because I went to countries where there were people like Inge Kleine. We all know, the three of us know, how incredibly important feminist networking is, and I'm very fortunate to have Inge as part of my network in Germany. Kien Serey Phal and Wendy Freed as part of my network in Cambodia. Julie Bindel is part of my network in London.
When you have feminist allies like that, you can get a lot done. So I went where my friends would help me.
Luba: So, Germany in this research was just random choice because you have a network there?
MF: Germany was not a random choice. Germany was a choice of a legal system of prostitution so that we could compare it to five other countries where prostitution was not legal. And it doesn't come out looking so good, wouldn't you say Inge?
Luba: Okay. So now that we understand Germany’s importance to the research, I'm happy that Dr Inge Klein is here and Inge is one of the people with the most expansive knowledge about the sex trade in the country. So I would like you to explain to our listeners the legal history in the current situation in Germany.
What was the legal status of the sex trade before and after 2002, what happened in 2017?
IK: Yes, thank you. And I'm happy to, I'll try to be really brief. Even before 2002, prostitution as such had been legal in Germany, so it was not illegal to be a woman in prostitution and sex buying wasn't illegal.
What was illegal was trafficking and all kinds of trafficking and also pimping. Brothel keeping wasn't illegal, but anything considered facilitating of prostitution was. At the same time, brothels were operating as they were operating fine.
Germany is a federal state, and different cities and different places in Germany have different ways of dealing with it. So we had a strong prostitution business going.
In 2001/2002, Germany had a lot of changes basically to its welfare system because 2001 had our prostitution law. It only has three paragraphs. It says the prostitution can be considered like a job, like any other job. So now a woman could in theory be registered as a prostituted person, as a prostitute or sex worker and start paying into social security. It also meant that she could have a pimp as an agent who could be an employer who would have so-called limited right of direction over her.
So it was only she herself, or possibly he himself, but she herself who could ask for money from her buyers. The idea was to destigmatize it to make it safer for women and legal makes it safe. And as it was said, ‘to make it possible for these women to have health insurance and even a pension plan’ if we step back, it was basically a taxing scheme because in those years we had extensive changes to our welfare laws.
For example: regulations for married women were tightened up so they wouldn't be able to take their husband's pension. And you'd think this might not have anything to do with it, but in fact it does. They just wanted to have more women, married or not, contributing into the social welfare systems of the country.
And stepping back even from that, I now believe it was also just a scheme to make enormous profits from trafficking legal, because now we had a legal facade and now certain things which the pro prostitution lobby calls, ‘the operational aspects of the sex trade’ also became legal.
So following the prostitution law from 2001, which went into effect in 2002, pimping was legalised because it's now just an agent's job. The only aspects of pimping to remain illegal are coercive or exploitative. But coercion in Germany has a very tight kind of definition legally, so it is very, very difficult to prove in court.
Pimping is also difficult to prove. First would be if a pimp tells a woman exactly where to go, what kind of sex to perform, and who to do it with. That in theory is illegal. Exploitative wasn't defined at all.
Kay's Law established so if pimp takes more than 50% of what she gets, it might be deemed exploitative if she can still prove coercion.
In 2011, the Green Party heard a kind of public question in our Parliament, Bundestag, and wanted to know what had happened to pimp investigations and legal procedures and happily reported that sentencings and court cases for pimping went down almost 99% and they considered this to be progress - ‘see no more pimping’.
Well, of course you don't have any investigations into pimping if you legalise it, I mean, you just legalise something and you do not have a criminal process. I mean, this is not exactly complicated to achieve, but they were proud of it.
So the next bit to happen was pimping to become legal. Trafficking was redefined, trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation was moved from the area of crimes about a person's sexuality and crimes against sexual freedom. That's a whole body of crimes, which has rape and forms of sexual violence. It was taken out of that and just integrated into laws about personal freedom. So the sexual character of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is no longer very prominent. And it was also reworded, which means it is much more difficult to prove now. And this happened between 2001 and about 2006.
So what we've heard is an exploding market. What we've also heard is absolutely no statistics. Usually we are being told that the Swedish approach is so dangerous because it makes prostitution go underground. And it was Germany that couldn't even say if we had 60,000 women in prostitution or 700,000.
So Germany, where everything's supposed to be so legal and above board was a country which couldn't point to the number of women in prostitution to a six-digit figure.
In the end because outcomes couldn't be denied anymore. I mean, bottom falling out of the market, places in Germany called hard money in prostitution, because prices are so low, women could be paid in coins.
Also probably some intervention by the EU, which for the first time had decided to regard prostitution as violence against women and also as a barrier to equality, Germany had to do the Prostitution Protection Law. That was made in 2016, came into effect in 2017. It has fairly strict regulations as to who can now run a brothel.
Before a person could be condemned for trafficking, get out of jail, if ever went into jail in the first place and go and open a brothel. This is no longer possible now. So if you're a condemned trafficker, you are not allowed to run a brothel anymore.
In addition, there have to be certain safety regulations, if it is possible for the brothel or the prostitution side to do those, which means only very large sort of fancier, nicer ones can actually do it. So smaller ones don't have these regulations.
Basically taxing, again, was facilitated because women in prostitution also have to get registered. Of course, they have to do income tax and their sexual services are subject to VAT value at a tax 19%. So at the end of the year, they have to do a tax statement and also of course have to pay the 19% of each encounter by each client. It just sounds as crazy as it is.
But this is basically what it was about. If she's in a brothel, she can get a paper by the brothel keeper who will already deduct the VAT for her and forward it to financial services so she can keep her receipts and so she doesn't have to pay twice. In fact, taxing was made more effective.
Women in prostitution now have to register, if they are over 21, every second year. So they have to go for health counselling once a year. So health counselling is not an examination. They can be examined, have a health check-up if they want to. Basically, they're being told that they should have a healthy diet. I'm not kidding you. So eat your vegetables, girls. So they're also being told that they should not use harsh disinfectants or harsh cleaning stuff to clean out vaginal dryness because it will only be problematic. There is no question of why a woman would want to use household bleach to clean out her vagina, but she's being told not to do it.
If she's under 21, she has to turn up for health counselling every six months. Then she has to go to some kind of registry office in the city where she has to register as a woman in prostitution. In these offices, people are supposed to watch out for signs of trafficking. It is not clear what kind of training they have to do so, but apparently they have identified some possible trafficking victims.
In Munich, there's also translation available so women don't have to speak German. And the translation is often done actually by people who have some proper training, not just people who translate, but people who also work with refugees and so here has a possibility of actually trafficking victims being identified.
And then she gets a piece of paper that says she's now registered as a woman in prostitution, she can have an alias name on it. She has to have that paper with her at all times. But after two years, her records will be destroyed if she doesn't renew it. And of course, the information also goes to the tax office.
So what do you want to know? It's absolutely cynical.
MF: You know what I would say about all that summary? All of those detailed policies, laws, regulations, bureaucracy that Inge has just described about legal prostitution, which exists to a lesser degree in other parts of the world like Amsterdam and Nevada.
The person who deconstructed that the best for me was a freier, a sex buyer in Munich who said the following, let me quote him directly I want to get his words right.
‘In Germany, the laws are not that effective. You can almost do whatever you want to do’. He's talking about whatever he wants to do to a woman.
And then he concludes by saying:
‘It looks like everything is in place, but it's just words’.
And that's the lesson of this research with the sex buyers. You know, it looks like everything is placed. There's a regulation for this, a regulation for detergent, a regulation and a policy for eating food. But it's just words.
Once the women are in these brothels, anything goes, and we all know that. We all know that. And the freier knows that too. And they were fortunately pretty open with us and they told us about the lies that exist about all of that absolute baloney that is the German law. It's just pure bull.
IK: There is something which is quite shocking, which I found out when I to prepare some paper.
If somebody wants to run a brothel, a license can be denied if his idea or in her idea of business makes it possible that there might be some exploitation going on. So that's about how the law is worded. So if they offer gang bang, gang bang is a rape, a group rape of women. So several men raping one woman for money. They pay to do it. They pay the pimp to do a gang rape for a fixed price. and the woman gets some of the money and for certain time. Whatever any kind of buyer wants to do or a group of buyers wants to do, goes.
Now, to put that on a menu is no longer legal for brothels or at least it's not legal to do it as part of the advertising campaign, all of this has now been integrated into what women allegedly offer freely, so it's no longer called gang bang. It's now called ‘multiple men’. Women put it up on their websites so the brothels don’t offer it, but by chance there seem to be so many women in brothels who simply freely want to offer ‘multiple men’. So you can see how ineffective this law is.
MF: I mean, what's astounding to me is, we don't learn anything about German prostitution from the government, for the most part, with the exception of a couple family and children's services reports, we don't learn anything about it. The people who we're learning about prostitution from are the women in it and the men who buy the women, they're telling us the truth about legal prostitution.
And the question for the German Bundestag is, are you listening? Are you going to listen to this? Or are you going to ignore the voices of the people who are in the middle of this industry you're condoning?
IK: I mean, one of the really shocking results for me was: in Germany, it's supposed to be so safe for buyers and so open and nothing underground. And it was Germany where buyers were least likely to report any knowledge of pimping to the police. In other places you have buyers contacting police, but where it's all legal, they just won’t.
MF: Sex buyers hide in every country, and the legal status of prostitution makes no difference. Prostitution is highly stigmatised, and it should be for the freier.
They should be stigmatised and they are in Germany, in the United States. It doesn't matter if prostitution's legal, illegal, tolerated, quasi-legal, whatever else the politicians come up with to keep the sex trade going for the Johns. Wherever it is, it's always stigmatised.
And I agree with you. Here's this fancy, intricate law to make it easy for sex buyers to be just a normal, everyday ‘consumer of services’ they know they're not everyday consumers. They know it. The women know it. The police know it. Everybody knows it. But the law and some politicians excluding these amazing abolitionists politicians you have in Germany, but they all pretend that, oh, this is going to fix everything.
You can't fix legal prostitution. It just has to be abolished.
IK: The whole premise is wrong. In interviews, I always call it a state guaranteed infrastructure. Guaranteeing sexual access to women for men for a fee. And if you have the premise that you guarantee men an infrastructure for sexual access. I mean, if a man wants sex in Germany, he can have it. You can't have any kind of equality and so you can't make it safe.
MF: To be even ruder about it, it's a pimp state. The state is in the role of the pimp collecting blood taxes from women's bodies.
IK: There was a slogan in feminist demonstrations ‘the biggest pimp is the state’.
They collect taxes, but not just taxes, because in spite of our great legalisation, of course, Germany has many areas in each city where prostitution is illegal. So in normal countries that have some sort of tolerance approach certain zones are designated as red light areas.
Germany is a huge red light area, but cities can have areas where prostitution is prohibited.
MF: And those areas tend to be the homes of the politicians, the well to do people. The upper middle class, those neighbourhoods are protected. The neighbourhoods of recent immigrants, the neighbourhoods of poor people, of ethnically marginalised people are turned into virtual street brothels sometimes.
IK: You can see it in Frankfurt, most starkly. But the whole point is, for example. I mean, there's one photo I took ages ago it's just a snapshot in an area where we have brothels and also ATMs with women photographed around those and topless dancing. And the photo just shows a little girl playing in a street. She's got a dolls pram or whatever, and she's wearing a pink cardigan. And behind her is a table dance place. And all the women are magenta. And of course it's an immigrant area, but you can really see it. A little girl gets pink because she's a little girl. And as a grown woman, she'll be in the sex trade and she'll be wearing magenta.
In these areas it is the women who are targeted. So a woman in prostitution in these areas will have to pay a fine. And if she's found again or if she can't find pay off her fine, she'll go to jail. So even in Germany with its legalised buying and legalised pimping and legalised brothel keeping, we have many areas where women in fact can still be prosecuted.
It depends on the city. Berlin has no zoned off areas at all, which is why it is the worst place. Berlin has wooden toilets, so don't even have running water, that are now offered as prostitution sites for women allegedly making their job better. I can't show you photos here, but they are really revolting.
One of these toilet costs, 5,500 euros a month. Well, two women could be kept, could live quite easily from this. You could get two women out of prostitution and they could have a nice life, but Berlin City prefers to pay these toilets. Munich is very strict. We have many zoned off areas, but it is women who pay and how can a woman in prostitution pay her fine. And that is how the state is the pimp.
In Munich it's women from places like Hungary like Bulgaria, Romania, who don't even know that the area around our train station, the central train station, which has a lot of topless dancing, in fact, does not permit prostitution. It wasn't the topless dancing businesses that wanted it and were forced because they got angry at the competition from the streets.
So the state acting as a pimp by collecting fines from prostituted women even in a country that is supposed to be a paradise of legalised prostitution.
Luba: The sex trade in Germany has been legislated so deeply for the last 20 years. Why are the sex buyers still ashamed? What are they ashamed of?
IK: What do they say? Well, apparently the shame has gone down that we know from the police who raid a brothel. So just wait for police to leave and go back to their business.
So they don't try to leave. They just sit around and why shouldn't they? Nobody's going to be asking them. Nobody's going to take their names. Nobody's going to ask them, like what Melissa said, based on the findings of this study, they should be called into a police station to act as witnesses.
You saw something going on. What did you see? And police don’t do it. Why are they ashamed? Most of them seem to believe they've got a right. I think it's just still having to say that you've got to pay somebody.
MF: They're very ambivalent. Many of them are very ambivalent, Luba, they know how badly they're harming women.
I mean, they tell us when we ask: ‘what do you think the woman you're buying feels?’ They tell us things like ‘maybe she feels sold and unsafe.’ They know how the women feel. They know her body has to be there for everyone. It's absolutely damaging to them. They know they're causing harm, but they're led around by their dicks. They're thinking with their penis, not with their brain, and they know that, and they're conflicted.
Some of them even told us that if it became illegal to buy sex in Germany, they'd stop immediately. In this sense, I think the law will help these guys who seem unable to control or unwilling, or uninterested in controlling their, what I call, sexually in incontinent behaviour.
They need to become sexually continent. In other words, keep it zipped up and stay away from women who are in unequal situations, in legal brothels. But they know about it. Luba, that's what, that's how I'd answer it. And they feel shame, and that's our entry point into any kind of discussion with them. ‘Good, you see what you're doing now we're going to help you stop it.’
And by the way, we ask them, what would deter you from buying sex? And certainly legal prostitution encourages rather than discourages buying sex. So all of us on this call think it's a joke, frankly, to have legal prostitution, but what would deter men from buying sex is not what is most commonly being used in the United States today, which is an educational programme. That is really laughable. These men could teach a program on prostitution. They know more about prostitution, its harms, its dangers. They're scared of the pimps. The freier are scared of the pimps. So you can only imagine how terrifying it is to be a trafficked or pimped woman in a legal brothel.
But an educational program, which is widely used in the United States, was clearly stated by German men and men in five other countries. It's the least effective deterrent of all. They don't care about educational programs.
What they care about is one or two hours in jail or a public record of themselves as a sex predator. They really don't like being labelled what they are, which is rapists and predators. They hate that. They like to think of themselves as players, cool guys, whatever.
So I think it's clear they're telling us, putting them in jail is going to work. Let's do it. Let's criminalise the purchase of sex, just the way Israel did, just the way Sweden and France did.
IK: Absolutely. I mean, one of the reasons of shame is also, so quite a few of these men are married, of course. And so don't want their wives to know.
MF: More than half of them are married.
IK: Exactly. So it's really a significant number. So if they are married, if they don't want their wife to know, and I think it is also of course, it’s the kind of things they want to do in prostitution. They don't just go to have sex, most of them, they go to have really abusive sex.
And there is also something I believe, it is going to be abusive sex anyway, but additionally harmful and painful practices and I don't think they want that in the open.
MF: Some of them can't get a date. So they pay for sex, which is guaranteed non rejection.
IK: But of course, being the kind of men who can't get a date is not being cool. So again, it might still add to a feeling of shame.
MF: Yeah, that's what I'm talking about is the shame.
IK: Germany has its own research on punters, which is why it is so important to have ours, and yours Melissa, because the German research on punter is very empathetic and sympathetic towards some of these poor boys.
They believe they can do ethical John, campaigns called ‘hero punter’ campaigns. This idea that they need to be told, the term might be trafficking. also campaign directed at buyers in 2006, which said, look, if she's being trafficked, you as a buyer are being tricked and you are being cheated because you don't know if the sex is given voluntarily.
This is what German research bar punters does. A poor punter who might be cheated because she might not be doing it voluntarily. So that is why your research is so incredibly important.
MF: You know, what else is important in all of this is, and this is connected with your question about shame, Luba, these men in Germany, the US and UK Cambodia, Scotland and India.
In these six countries, these men tend to have a hostile masculine self-identification. In other words, they define masculinity in very rigid sex stereotype terms as dominance over women and control. And they have a hostility, a deep hostility towards women and a mistrust of women.
We used a questionnaire in this research that's been used for 40 years by psychologists in many different countries, and these guys have a very strong identity that is supported by the institution of prostitution.
It enables them to hold on to that particularly toxic definition of masculinity, which, and by the way, this is how it syncs up. This research syncs up with some of what we're finding out about definitions of gender and sexuality that the Johns have a very rigid view of what it is to be a man.
And similarly, a lot of people in the gender identity movement, in other words, the sex self-ID movement, they also subscribe to very narrow, fairly toxic sex role identification, just the way the Johns do.
Luba: I want to ask a Methodical question. We understood why they are so ashamed, but how did you reach out to the sex buyers and how did your team get them to tell you things that even their families, friends, colleagues don’t know?
MF: Well, they don't talk to their families and friends, like Inge said, they hide this from not only their wives and girlfriends, but most of them don't tell their best male friends about this either in Germany and in many other countries. They're not proud of it. They're not proud of paying for sex. It's kind of what losers do.
How do we get them to talk to us? we ran advertisements in newspapers and online saying that a research team wanted to interview them and that the conditions would be anonymous and we paid them for their time. The way we pay everybody in research that I do, it's a common mode of showing respect for people that are teaching you about a phenomenon like prostitution, whether they're survivors, experts or non-survivor experts or freier experts in prostitution. It's a way of showing respect for people you're interviewing and asking very difficult and sometimes emotionally fraught questions. So they were anonymous. We were an international research team. We gave them informed consent. We told them all about the research, the purpose of the research. We answered their questions. And then we talked to them for two hours in a respectful way.
I was telling somebody the other day, it sometimes feels like a psychotherapy session or a Catholic confessional, many of them had never talked to anyone else about this in the way that they talked to us. Wouldn't you say, did you hear that from several men, Inge? I did.
IK: Oh yes, some even thanking us because if you really get into a conversation it is two hours. And so it's quite intense. They also get a bit tired. They sometimes get grumpy. At first you get very well edited, careful answers, social acceptable ones. They are the nicest guys you can imagine, especially in Germany! I mean really they know all about Me Too. But because it goes on for two hours and because they become a bit more tired because you start exploring questions, you get more immediate answers, you get more spontaneous ones, and that's when you get to know what these people really think and what these guys really think. So that was quite good.
So I believe it is part of their utter sense of entitlement. They are so certain they have a right to what they are doing, that it doesn't enter their minds that what they are saying might sound odd to an outsider. He was in Africa, he was on a building site and prostitution had been organised for all of these workers. So he had a woman assigned to him, and he told me she was really nice because she even went shopping for him and he'd never found a woman in Germany in prostitution who did that for him. It's a bit, a bit difficult to keep a straight face.
MF: She was really hungry and he didn't even think, that didn't cross his mind.
IK: ‘She even went shopping for me’. I mean, the kind of things they expect from women is -
MF: Servitude. Servitude in all its forms, including sexual servitude.
IK: Their sense of entitlement means they don't have a problem telling you what they want from women because it's perfectly normal to want it.
MF: Yeah. They really do. And, and you see the conflict in some of them. I think I mentioned to you Luba. I interviewed one guy in London I remember, who said, ‘well, I only bought one woman in prostitution. Should I be part of this study?’ And I said, yeah. And at the end of the interview, I said, why only one woman? And he explained that during that transaction with her, he happened to look into her eyes. Now this is something most freier, most punters do not do. They keep a distance. And this man for whatever reason, looked in her eyes and in her eyes, he saw the same expression that he knew was in his own eyes when he was being sexually abused as a child by a priest.
Now what this tells us is empathy prevents men from buying sex. And it's not a surprise to any of us who did these interviews that these men are extremely low in empathy. This young man I interviewed in London was an extreme exception that I've been talking about for 10 years because he was so unusual.
Most men, including most of the German men we interviewed, have very, very little empathy. They have no idea, and they could care less about how she thinks about the situation she's in, how she feels about it, how much distaste and revulsion she feels for him. He blocks all that out. And a removal of empathy is one of the facilitating factors for sexual aggression.
You gotta have it, you gotta remove empathy. You can't feel sympathy and empathy for a woman and go ahead and rape her. Or in the case of prostitution, pay to rape her.
IK: It is so strange because I think they know it and they can know what kind of situation she is in and still not feel any empathy for it.
Because now they are paying and anyway, they are not responsible for her being in such a bad situation. And maybe since she is in such a bad situation anyway, it's better if she gets some money from him. And after all, he doesn't beat her up. So he deserves a medal. I mean, all of these buyers who believes they ought to be knighted or given a medal for wearing condoms.
I mean, all of this, but it's knowing, but absolutely not caring, which is so shocking.
MF: They know and they don't know. And you know, that process you were describing of, they come in with socially acceptable responses at first during our interviews, but over the course of a couple hours, when they get a little more tired, we get to see the lack of empathy, the coldness, the sociopathy and the other things.
It isn't just Germany that has very superficial research on sex buyers. It's the US too. The big thing in the US is these online interviews where interviewers aren't even sitting in the same room with a sex buyer. They're asking somebody to fill out a 20 question online form about what positions are used. I mean, these are about as irrelevant to me in terms of documenting the harm of prostitution as you can get. How much was paid or what positions were advertised for sale.
IK: And in Northern Island be prior to Northern Island introducing a sex buyer ban and of course, German researchers. It's awful.
Whenever you see a German name and it's not one of ours, you know, you're going to be talking to a pro prostitution expert a pro prostitution lobbyist. And they also asked men what would prevent or deter them from buying sex. And the questions they offered, it wasn't open. It was just a list. ‘Having a girlfriend myself’ for example, or all of these things which have nothing to do with what a state could do. States can't issue girlfriends to men. Then ‘if my wife or girlfriend did the kind of sex I wanted.’ Germany only criminalised marital rape in 1998 and from the 1960s, so it was really, really late. Up until 1998 rape by definition could only happen outside of marriage. And in 1968, our Supreme Court issued a list of what a wife was supposed to be doing in bed with sex. So yes.
MF: One of the most interesting things I've learned from you, Inge, is that we don't know causation here, but it's a powerful fact that since 2002, and especially in the last decade or so, rape has increased in Germany. Prosecution of rape has dramatically decreased. Which to me, as you have pointed out, it shows that when you normalise paid rape in prostitution, it becomes confusing to an entire culture and even governments to know what is rape and what isn't, what is consent and what isn't. It's rather dramatic, wouldn't you say?
IK: Oh absolutely. And I mean, our rape laws, I mean, they were changed in 2016 because of the Istanbul Convention or Convention against Violence Against Women because our rape laws had a definition of force and coercion. So it was impossible to meet. And that is the same kind of definition of force or coercion that we have in trafficking, it has to be violence. It has to be a kind of violence, which it is absolutely impossible to run away from. So basically we're talking about shackles on somebody's feet, but it doesn't, it's not even enough to have violence. The violence has to be directly enacted to have this one result.
So in rape laws, if a man beat up his wife in a living room because he wanted to beat her up and raped her in the bedroom, it wasn't considered rape because the beating wasn’t immediately enacted in order to facilitate rape. And our coercion laws and trafficking are very, very similar. And I believe our laws actually protect trafficking.
MF: I think they do too.
IK: Because it says about sexual assault in Article 36 it says that if we are talking about a ‘yes,’ which is already interesting, so they don't ask, did she say no? They ask was there a ‘yes’ And you have to take the circumstances into account under which the ‘yes’ was given. And what is a ‘yes’ in a brothel?
I mean to anyone who can think straight, what is a ‘yes’ in a brothel if you take the circumstances into account?
Luba: Right. A question, your interviewees were hardly likable to say the least. How have you managed to restrain from being judgmental towards them during the interviews?
IK: You concentrate so much on the question, on the next question, and so that helps. But often you're just too surprised to be judgemental. I mean, I hadn't thought, I heard a lot of words of things than a man being unhappy that women in prostitution don't do his shopping. But it's some the kind of response you don't expect.
MF I mean, I think. I think that's really true.
This is sitting with these men for most of the interviewers in all different countries was graduate school and sexual aggression. You can't get this information from any book. When you interviewed 20 or 30 of these men, which now interviewers in six countries have done, not just Inge and me, but many, many others, you're getting an education in sexual violence against women. This is what it looks like.
So, I think we keep in mind the long-term goal. So when I was in Chicago and some guy says, well, I guess I'd explain prostitution this way, I'd kind of explain it to my friend by saying, prostitution is like renting an organ for 10 minutes. Now, when he says that, I can say with an open heart, thank you so much for that. And I mean it. He's happy that he's making the interviewer happy. I'm ecstatic because that's the title of one article and one conference talk, and I know how I'm going to use it. So I agree with him.
Luba: So you look happy because you got a valuable info in there. You seem to be empathetic or something like that.
MF: I don't know if he thinks I'm empathetic or not, but I appreciate his response. I appreciate it.
IK: You're genuinely interested in what he's going to say because you really want to know. Come on. These are men. And men love to talk about themselves. So it's not, I mean, in a way, first part is not too hard. I mean, they are happy if they get to talk about themselves. So you just make it possible in the atmosphere. And they love having a woman listen to them.
MF: So I think those of us who were not survivors learned more doing these interviews than survivors who did these interviews. Survivors already know this stuff, but for those of us who've never been in prostitution, it's a real lesson to hear these kinds of words coming out of their mouths that survivors hear for hours every day.
But the other response I have to your question is, you remember we had a panel of three people talking about what it feels like to do this kind of research. And we had two interviewers and our statistician who never did an interview, but just looked at the numbers, the numbers of the rapes, the toxic verbally abusive words used by these men, the willingness to rape, the lack of empathy, et cetera, et cetera. For all of us who do sexual violence research, interviewers, statisticians, psychologists, everybody who does this stuff, it's stressful. Luba, it's really stressful being up close.
We've had many, many interviewers experiencing a lot of emotional stress doing this, and in my field it's called secondary PTSD, and that's a real thing.
You see secondary PTSD in people who interview trauma survivors, Holocaust survivors and prostitution survivors and sex buyers. We get it, we get a secondary kind of stress reaction from witnessing extreme human cruelty. That's what I think is the hardest. This isn't like a tragic car accident or a flood or a hurricane.
This is deliberate state supported human cruelty towards a class of human beings, mostly women, mostly young, mostly ethnically and nationality marginalised, targeted. That group is targeted as a class that anything can be done too.
IK: And when I think back to it, during an interview, you concentrate so much.
You want to get this guy talking, and that's what you concentrate on. And anger only comes out later. And even if they tell you something really shocking, maybe it's how our brains work, you write it down, but sometimes you also forget about it even.
But what I remembered most is, how these men who are doing all of these things, so responsible for this entire trade, who profit from it, who create it, who make sure patriarch studies are up and running, because that's what prostitution does, and they will still tell you that they are the victims. They always feel sorry for themselves.
It is also the one thing, I mean, we are always told that patriarchy is so bad for men because they can't cry, but they don't do anything. But do they, especially in those interviews, I mean, they feel so terribly sorry for themselves. It is the woman in prostitution who is mean because she takes their money, she already gets her sex, and in addition, she even takes his money.
I mean, this isn't the kind of attitude, and when I think back at this, this, which makes me so resentful, so angry. So I want to have a shower right now. I want to push these men into a cold river, we've got one in Munich because being such predators being so cruel and still managing to feel sorry for themselves. I mean, that is what is so really disgusting about them. And that's what I remember most in many ways.
You know what I'm curious about?
Luba: You know what I'm curious about? The prostitution lobby, they say that victim stigma kills women. So how doesn't the victim stigma kill punters? Like they have no problem with victim stigma.
IK: Yeah. It's actually a good idea. Maybe we should sort of push it.
MF: There's layers of camouflage in the sex trade. The buzzword ‘victim stigma’. I don't even know what that means. That's just another one of those words that the pimp lobby throws around.
Yeah, people are stigmatised, but there's so many layers of camouflage, and in a way, the narcissism that Inge is talking about, where these men perpetrate these such violent acts and they still feel sorry for themselves. That's a kind of psychological camouflage that they put on themselves.
‘I'm the victim. I'm not the perpetrator. I feel bad. I feel so bad about myself. I kind of know she hates me, but I go at, but she's having sex with me because she needs the money. And I'm going ahead with it.’
And there's a lot of self-hatred in some of these men way down deep that they cover up with this narcissism. I think there's so many layers of camouflage and hiding.
Luba: Another methodological question, actually, the last one. How did you decide what would appear in the report? You have almost 800 interviewees and, each of whom you spoke to for an hour and a half on average. So this is a vast mass of data.
How can the readers of the report know that the findings in the report in the printed report do not represent the most extreme statements made there?
MF: Well, I mean, are you asking how do they know that what we reported is valid? I guess how I would explain that is to say, and we do a lengthy introduction where we introduce a model of sexual aggression, if there's anything psychologists want to understand, it's how to predict sexual aggression.
And the questions that we were trying to answer in these six countries with, with all of these interviews is: Are sex buyers sexually aggressive men, like other sex sexually aggressive men, for example, rapists and men who are coercive on dates like they pressure women and push women into fake consent they're varying degrees of sexual aggression, including rape.
We were measuring sex buyer’s levels of sexual aggression to see if it fit in with this theory. The theory says that sexually aggressive men have a hostile masculine self-identification. They're willing to rape if they think they can get away with it. And the other findings in this report, all of what we do and don't yet understand about this theory about, it's called the Confluence Model of Sexual Aggression.
We were looking at that model, which is the most widely used model in psychology for trying to understand men's sexual aggression.
So the big question was, do our findings fit within that model? Does it make sense to see these men as sexual aggressive men? And I think the report suggests, to a large extent, yes, they fit right in the findings of the other models of sexual aggression.
Does that make sense? We have a whole lot of data and when you get a whole lot of data you struggle to understand it and to report it accurately. But we were testing hypotheses, which is what psychologists do. We don't do sociology or anthropology research, which is what most research on sex buyers is, a kind of open-ended interviews with 10 or 15 buyers.
Like: Hi. Tell me about buying sex.
They're kind of all over the place. They don't have a theoretical background. They don't ask specific targeted questions, which is why we got the answers we did, because we were not giving them wiggle room. We wanted to know, in this situation with a woman, would you do this, this, or this? We asked them very specific questions.
So we were testing the idea that these are sexually aggressive men who are willing to rape women in prostitution. And they also have many features of rapists and sexual aggressors that they act out on non-prostituting women as well. That's a long answer to your question.
IK: Those are incredibly important points. And of course, I mean, in research you have a hypothesis and you want to test it. And of course these interviews are different from sociological ones in Germany I've seen, simply in the way questions are asked and then their lengths. But when you look specifically at first the report, I mean it doesn't just have shocking answers.You have ordinary questions like positive and negative words used to describe an encounter or ideas. Does prostitution have positive or negative effects on a woman in prostitution? Does it have positive or negative effects on society? So you have a lot of general questions about prostitution, which also give you an idea of what these men think, which is not targeted or engineered towards shocking or bad answers.Simply ideas like, how would you describe it? Positive, negative words. And that again shows you that even sex buyers do not report. Even in Germany, quite a lot of negative words to describe it. So they don't enjoy it as much as they thought they would.
But this means when you look at those report, you get a lot of very neutral questions and good answers, it's not sensational.
The results are quite a sensation about how much these men know, how little their knowledge is being used in criminal investigations, how incredibly aware they are of what they are doing, all of this lack of empathy. So yes, it is shocking, but it is not as such a sensationalist endeavour. Those are simple results, which even come up under very normal, even boring questions, positive or negative words.
That's almost like a linguistic exercise. And still it tells you a lot. But I don't know if you would agree to that, Melissa.
MF: No, I would. I actually would, I think it's shocking only if it's compared to you know, I'm accused of bias all the time when I'm simply being transparent about the goals of the research, which was to explain, to test certain hypotheses about sexual aggression, but I actually think the bias is often in samples that are used. Only second year university students are interviewed who are taking a psych course, or only friends or only men on punter forums are interviewed and they're asked.
So, you know, we do our best to answer some questions about men who buy sex Luba. And does this answer everything? No. Do we need a lot more research? Yes, we do. Are universities and funders willing to fund this kind of research, which is pretty expensive, usually not.
In most university structures someone wants to do some research that takes one semester long and gets them tenure or a promotion or a student wants to get a degree fast. And so they do pretty banal research, I would say. They're not asking the hard questions that we tried to ask in this research.
Luba: Thank you, Melissa. That was comprehensive.
MF: Inge and I are nothing if not comprehensive.
Luba: So before we separate the last question for both of you. So let's imagine now that we have here with us a person who supports the sex trade. I don't know why, but let's imagine. In a few sentences, how would you convince the person using the report that sex industry should not exist?
MF: Well, I like to use their arguments against them, so I would say, do you think women in the sex trade should have a choice? And they'll say, of course. And then I'll say, well, do you know what women in the sex trades say when given a real choice, not a fake choice between hunger and prostitution, or being in a war zone and not being in a war zone, if they're given a real choice of do you want to do prostitution or data entry or house painting or become an interviewer online, or a psychologist or a historian, what would you like to choose to do for work? The vast majority of women in prostitution say they want to get out.
And I would say to them, would you like to join me in offering them real choices in their lives, because that's what I'd like to do. I'd like to offer them housing, job training, healthcare. Would you like to join me in that? And at that point, they usually mumble something, turn away and say, sex workers unite, which is the pimp engineered slogan.
They’re a little cultish themselves, by the way, speaking of cults, you know, they say sex workers unite, sex work is work. so that's what I'd say. And it's kind of a waste of time, but I still say it all the time anyway. What would you say Inge?
IK: If I'm talking to women, I'm trying to explain if they really believe that having this kind of state endorsed sex industry is good for equality. Because as I say, I mean it's a state guaranteed infrastructure, it turns women into a supermarket commodity. Of course, the single individual woman in prostitution can always say no. Yeah, sure!
But I mean, by the end of a few hours, the man will have had the kind of sex he wanted, or what he thinks sex is. He will have done what he wants because our state guarantees it. And you can ask women if they really believe it's a good thing.
Another thing, of course, I mean what surprised us when we visited brothels is you stand outside and you see men leaving brothels and sometimes they are young men in a group and they come out and high five each other. And you can just imagine what they've been doing inside.
But if they come out as individuals, they always look as if they've just been robbed or something. So you can also say: How do you feel when you go home? Do you already feel proud of yourself? How do you feel when you leave? So this can sometimes happen and work.
And another thing is I came across these arguments again because on a few days ago we had an event, a Zoom event in Munich about women being criminalised in these zoned off areas. And again, you have all of these men saying, and all of these women saying, well, yes, but all we need is empowerment for women and we need better working conditions and we need good brothels with good conditions.
Germany has had a golden opportunity for wonderful brothels with beautiful conditions for 20 years. Why hasn't it happened? Berlin has put zero restrictions on the sex industry.
We now have better data because of the prostitute's protection law. But we had Corona, so we don't have any valid data, but we don't even know how many brothels there are, but thousands, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of brothels must have been created and opened between 2000 and now.
So why hasn't any of that happened after 20 years in which the pro sex industry lobbyists got whatever they wanted. So why don't we have beautiful brothels? Why don't we have women looking out for each other? So there must be some snag to it, which means it doesn't work. And guess what that is … and so on.
So this is an argument you can use here. And also, of course, why hasn't it happened in New Zealand? Because then they go and talk about New Zealand because it's so nicely far away from Germany. But all of this, I mean, Germany had its chance. The romanticisation has failed because we should have paradise here.
Brothel keepers were given money during Corona as any kind of business because some business couldn't maintain themselves. So they were given money by the government to stay operative. So that is what Germany is like. So why don't we have these beautiful, safe, wonderful, pretty Brothels where women are all happy!
MF: What I take away from what you're saying is that many Germans, especially German politicians who support the institution of prostitution, they fail to understand what Inge is saying. And what I observe also, which is the legal status of prostitution is irrelevant. Any prostitution anywhere is harmful to women.
The one thing I do want to mention before we quit, is that the most powerful arguments for me against all of the sex trade advocates, whether they're somebody in the street or somebody in an office, or somebody in a political office, the most powerful arguments come from survivors and the big arguments that I use when I'm in a fierce fight around the issue of prostitution.
I'm quoting survivors. The whole reason I was able to do this research is because I listened to survivors for 20 years before starting in on this research with Johns, the questions we were asking come from survivor's knowledge of sex buyers. I mean, the other response I'd give to somebody who's in my face supporting legal prostitution is, oh my, I don't know who said this. I think more than one survivor said a version of this, but so often we see these students who are rather privileged or academics who are rather privileged acting as if the sex trade is just a wonderful job for poor women. Especially used is this argument, both freier and academics supporting the sex trade use the argument that, ‘hey, it's better than nothing. It's better than starving. It's better than being hungry’.
I've struggled to figure out how to respond to that other than quoting yards of research findings about violence. But my favourite line is the one, this is what you say to academic students and pro-sex trade pimp friends. You just say ‘until you've been out there sucking dick for two days and you're homeless and you don't know where you're going to spend the night until you've sucked that kind of dick, don't tell me that it's a good job if you're hungry. Thank you very much, goodbye.
What can you say to that?
Luba: Thank you Inge and Melissa.
MF: Thank you, Luba.