Germany, which has long been touted as an example of how legalized and regulated prostitution can reduce violence and crime in the commercial sex industry, announced this week that human trafficking crimes have increased 70% in the last five years. The vast majority of this increase is women and girls trafficked into commercial sex. Does this bump mean that Germany may be the next country whose experiment in legal prostitution fails?
German officials are concerned about the significant increase in human trafficking cases over the past five years. In the past year alone, trafficking cases have risen by 11%. The victim population is especially disturbing, with at least 20% of victims being underage. Of those, 41 victims identified were under 14. Much of the trafficking involves women from Eastern Europe and African women and girls being brought into Germany and forced into prostitution, but at least a third of those arrested for trafficking crimes were German nationals. That means in several cases, Germans who know the law and know how to exploit it are using their knowledge to force women into prostitution.
Prostitution and brothels were legalized in Germany in 2002, in part to reduce sex trafficking, provide safer conditions, and remove some of the stigma from the industry. That policy has arguably failed on all counts. Sex trafficking in Germany has grown since prostitution and brothels were legalized. And advocacy groups have claimed that the law has done little to make the industry safer or reduce stigma. In fact, this law has seemed so unpopular with everyone on all sides of the prostitution debate, that I wonder how on earth it got passed in the first place.
There are a number of reasons human trafficking could be growing in Germany other than the legalization of prostitution. German authorities could be getting better at identifying and investigating trafficking, which is probably the case. The global economic crisis could be driving more traffickers to operate in Germany as opposed to their less-wealthy home countries. Demand for commercial sex in Germany could be outstripping supply in a major way, with traffickers making up the difference. All of these, as well as other reasons, probably affect amount of human trafficking in Germany.
But what we are beginning to see is a pattern of human trafficking, violence against women, and exploitation in countries which have legalized prostitution. Despite legal prostitution in Australia, 90% of the commercial sex industry in Australia operates illegally, including sex trafficking. The Netherlands has been steadily closing more and more of their red light districts since they legalized prostitution in 2000, citing increased sex trafficking as a reason. And now Germany, despite legalized brothels, is seeing a huge increase in sex trafficking.
Is this enough evidence to state categorically that legalizing prostitution causes sex trafficking? No. But I hope it’s enough to give serious pause to the people who have claimed legalization is the answer to reducing sex trafficking and violence in the industry. Because the people of Australia, the Netherlands, and now Germany might have to disagree.
Photo credit: bbaunach