Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Germanic peoples are generally considered very practical, especially in regard to sex. And while those living north of the Baltic Sea seem to have lost their collective minds on the subject, those living near the center of Europe keep demonstrating a great deal more common sense about it than their Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian cousins. In Germany, for example, prostitution is legal and taxed, but how can a government minimize public complaints about streetwalkers and ensure that they pay their taxes? Americans would respond by exaggerating the problem and dispatching a horde of cops to arrest every woman in sight, but the Germans prefer a more pragmatic approach:
Prostitutes in the German city of Bonn must carry a ticket purchased from a new parking metre-like machine while working the streets or face hefty fines from tax authorities in a scheme launched Monday night. In Germany, ladies of the night pay income tax — the level of which varies from region to region — but compliance is difficult to enforce with women seeking business on the street. Germany’s first “sex tax meters,” from which prostitutes can purchase a ticket for 6 euros…per night, will ensure the tax system is fairly implemented, a city spokeswoman said. “Inspectors will monitor compliance — not every evening but frequently,” the spokeswoman told Reuters. If caught without a valid ticket, offenders will first be reprimanded, then face fines and later even a ban. About 200 prostitutes work in Bonn. Due to protests from residents, city officials have limited the areas of operation to specific quarters. But critics say this has made it easier for prostitutes to ply their trade. The city has erected what officials call “consummation areas,” wooden parking garages where customers driving cars can retreat to with prostitutes.
Even in Germany there are plenty of silly people who make absurd statements like “this has made it easier for prostitutes to ply their trade”, as though the purpose of government was to make it more difficult for workers to do their jobs; anyone who believes that would probably be happier in the U.S. Also note that the British reporter insists on using “prostitute” interchangeably with “streetwalker”, a mistake the German authorities clearly don’t make. And then there are the Swiss, who appear to clearly understand what most North Americans can’t seem to grasp at all: that criminalization and marginalization create most of the danger in prostitution, and that it’s much safer when treated as a job like any other:
A study by a Swiss social worker suggests prostitution is safer for sex workers and customers when it is treated as a profession. Eva Buschi, a professor at the School of Social Work of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, said her research found the country’s lack of regulation was a major problem for both sex workers and the sex establishments. “In other businesses workers get contracts, in which the tasks to be performed, the price and how long they should take are clearly laid down. In the sex business today this is mostly not the case,” she told Swissinfo.ch. The study suggests proper working conditions would help prevent violence by customers. Swissinfo.ch said new requirements for brothels in the Swiss city of Nidau could be a model for the rest of the country. Brothel managers in Nidau are required to guarantee that the women are declared as sex workers and that they are in the country legally. They must also provide the women with information leaflets in their own languages about their rights and their duty to declare their earnings for taxes.
Though decriminalization is much better for sex workers than legalization, a reasonable form of legalization is vastly preferable to criminalization. Most Germanic people seem to understand this; too bad Americans don’t.
One Year Ago Today
“He or She” is a column-length answer to a reader who asked, “How can you tell a transsexual from a real woman?”