In celebration of the so-called International Whores’ Day on June 2nd, we left some graffiti at the office of the organisation ‘Terre des Femmes’ in Berlin, Brunnenstr. 128. International Whores’ Day commemorates the resistance of sex workers, when on June 2nd 1975 over a hundred sex working women occupied a church in Lyon (France) in order to fight against state repression and assaults by police. Sex workers and their accomplices use this date every year for their actions and protest.
Why did we choose Terre des Femmes as a target? Terre des Femmes is an organisation that claims to fight for human and women’s rights but does the opposite. In fact, it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, using a humanitarian narrative to further repress already marginalised social minorities.
Terre des Femmes is racist. They campaign for a ban on Muslim head-scarves and portray Islam as a culture of misogynistic barbarism, enforcing stereotypes so that Muslim women can be ‘liberated’ by western culture. This is a logic of aggressive colonialism and a breeding ground for racism. It becomes obvious that Terre des Femmes are always pointing fingers at ‘The Others’ while claiming that Germany in itself would be a place of freedom for women and that freedom would be endangered by those ‘Others’ – migrant, men of colour, or assumed non-western values.
Terre des Femmes is trans-phobic. They uphold an outdated biologist determination of people’s sex and gender, claiming in their words that there is no such thing as “trans-women being women and trans-men being men”. According to them, womanhood is solely defined through simplified essentialist physical traits. It is a mystery that such 19th-century misogynist pseudo-science can still be accepted as feminist. Inge Bell, one of the leaders of Terre des Femmes, said transitioned women are not women, and are not “native” but rather some sort of “alien immigrant into womanhood”. Terre des Femmes recently argued against the ban of conversion therapy in Germany and see the liberation of trans-folx as a threat to society and women’s spaces, claiming in an open letter there would be no such thing as gender identity or ‘being born in the wrong body’ (quote Inge Bell). Following their hateful view, they repeatedly excluded trans-people from their group or discussions and targeted them in their policies.
Terre des Femmes is whore-phobic. The group is one of the most vocal and aggressive groups in Germany when it comes to attacking sex workers’ rights. While claiming to combat human trafficking, they do pretty much nothing to fight the trafficking of people – a crime not only present within prostitution but primarily the food, building and textile industries as well as domestic labour. Instead Terre des Femmes once again use a seemingly humanitarian cause that appears morally unchallenged to further stigmatise, marginalise and repress sex workers. They want “a world without prostitution” and therefore campaign strongly for a further criminalisation of sex work. When the prostitution law in Germany was changed in 2017, sex worker and human rights organisations warned it would cause sex workers massive harm. The law includes a forced registration of sex workers with state authorities and having to carry a specific ID, unrealistic regulations that destroy (especially independent and smaller) work places and gives the police the right to search and raid sex workers, their workplaces and homes without a warrant. The last time such a prostitution law existed in Germany was during the Nazi regime. Terre des Femmes were hardliners in this debate, arguing the law would not be strict enough. They promote the illegalisation of paying for sexual services (the so-called Swedish Model or End-Demand Model) under the pretext that all clients of sex work are evil predators, all sex workers voiceless victims. Experiences of sex workers in countries with such a law, for example Sweden or France, show that it puts them more at risk of violence, makes their work more precarious and enforces social stigma and disinformation. Terre des Femmes use these morally and ideologically charged debates as a door opener for repression, ultimately wanting a complete ban of all sex work. They repeatedly attack self-organised sex workers and accuse them as “pimp-lobby” or “confused victims”, denying all agency or right to self-determination of sex workers.
Of course, Terre des Femmes are not the only ones targeting sex workers. They are part of a patriarchal and authoritarian coalition going across all political ranges. Currently they use the Corona-pandemic as a catalyst for their agenda. Sex work has been banned entirely under the pandemic regulations while excluding sex workers from welfare benefits, leaving them poor and homeless. Meanwhile, police increased their harassment, controlling and fining women for even just “looking like a prostitute”. This has been happening for weeks now in Frobenstr. and Kurfürstenstr. in Berlin, two streets frequented for many decades by sex workers and clients.
A group of 16 parliamentary politicians now demanded that sex work may as well be banned forever and never be legal again after the pandemic, since it would be a “public health issue and infectious disease hazard”. This gross opportunist statement is at its core a centuries-old stigma against sex workers which has been used for their incarceration and murder throughout history. Looking at the people behind this paper, the intentions become even more obvious: all of them (with some minor differences here and there) stand against migration and for the fortification of Europe, against a basic income, against reproductive rights and the right to abortions, against gay marriage, against trans rights and – maybe to no surprise – against porn. In short: they want poor people to stay poor and have no means to a somewhat autonomous life, while they hold onto ‘old values’ and fear for the family as a pillar of the state.
Here is the full list if you want to do your own research:
Michael Brand (CDU)
Leni Breymaier (SPD, one of the loudest activists against sex work and the head of the organisation Sisters e.V., which is close to Terre des Femmes and equally racist, trans- and whorephobic)
Johannes Fechner (SPD)
Maria Flachsbarth (CDU)
Hermann Gröhe (CDU)
Mechthild Heil (CDU)
Frank Heinrich (CDU)
Marc Henrichmann (CDU)
Karl Lauterbach (SPD)
Katja Isabel Leikert (CDU)
Yvonne Magwas (CDU)
Martin Patzelt (CDU)
Antje Tillmann (CDU)
Volker Ullrich (CSU)
Annette Widmann-Mauz (CDU)
Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker (CDU)
Other active anti-sex work organisations and activists in Germany are the above mentioned Sisters e.V. with Huschke Mau, Leni Breymaier and Sabine Constabel being key figures, EMMA Magazine led by Alice Schwarzer, SolWoDi (“solidarity with women in distress”, a catholic NGO founded by the nun Lea Ackermann),Abolition 2014 with Inge Kleine and Manuela Schon, who are suspected to be behind the online publication of sex worker’s addresses including their private homes as well as the whorephobic and transphobic blog “feminist current”. FurtherMira Sigel of the equally trans- and whorephobic as well as racist blog “Die Störenfriedas”, the group FEMEN as well asthe Christian social workers of Neustart e.V. and their boss Gerhard Schönborn that keep harassing sex workers in Berlin and are hated by them accordingly. Also the politiciansMarcus Weinberg (head of the family and women task-force in CDU/CSU) and Manuela Schwesig (former family minister of the SPD) who initiated the “prostitutes protection act” of 2017, Stephan von Dassel (Green Party / Bündnis90) who would like to ban sex work within the city of Berlin, Maria Noichl (SPD), who promotes the criminalisation of clients within the European Parliament and is chairwoman of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft sozialdemokratischer Frauen (ASF) – the SPDs women’s task force.
Those are just a few of the attackers on sex workers’ rights. Because the arguments, policies and consequences are similar to those of the “War on Terror” or “War on Drugs” some sex workers use the term “War on Sex Work” – a supposed threat to society and its values, a “good cause” that needs strict measures like more policing, harsh policies and the control of marginalised populations for the sake of “saving” them, leading to a police state and further oppression, which spreads out towards other parts of society. What criminalisation does is drive sex workers into the hands of pimps or push them to the margins of urban areas where they are more easily targeted. Such policies are not just targeting sex workers; ultimately they are being used against all kinds of marginalised people. Sex workers are the canary in the coal mine and this is one of the many reasons why we think it is important to listen to sex workers and support them in their struggles.
The people fighting against sex work don’t care about these violations at all. Actually we believe those harmful effects are intentional. If their motivations are not coming from straight-up misogyny and hate for the working class, then they stem from the ideology of a white bourgeoisie, exclusive, carceral feminism. They believe that women’s liberation can be achieved through the state, through repression and incarceration. Whatever happened to the analysis of the state and its institutions as patriarchal violence?
It comes as no surprise that the same people vote against reproductive rights, benefits for poor people and increased wages or migrants’ rights while defending corporations andwars. When Sabine Constabel, president of the anti-sex work group “Sisters e.V.”, was asked at a panel talk if she acknowledges that the German prostitution law puts migrant sex workers especially at risk of precariousness and homelessness, she responded, “Good, they [the migrants] shouldn’t even come here in the first place.”
Despite their racist, misogynist, transphobic, whorephobic and classist statements, people and groups like Terre des Femmes are still being given a platform in the debate on sex work. With our action we want to help unmask them for who they are and motivate sex workers and their accomplices to go from defense into offense. Let’s kick the enemies of our freedom off the stage, confront them wherever they show up and uncover their lies. Let’s build alliances between our struggles, between migrants and people of colour, with the LGBTQI communities, with other (care) workers, feminists, anarchists. antifascists and anti-capitalists.
To fight for sex workers’ rights means to fight patriarchy and for gender and sexual liberation.
To fight exploitation means to fight capitalism and for the rights of the working class.
To fight human trafficking means to fight border regimes and for free migration.
We demand nothing from those in power but we want you, dear reader, to join us in our struggle! We will continue to build our global sex worker community and networks of mutual support, will sharpen our analysis and practice, and continue to fight the law, state and social stigma.
Sex work is work!
Stop the attacks on sex workers!
Whores unite and fight back!
Solidarity with the queer feminist house project Liebig 34 under threat of eviction!
Solidarity with Black people and People of Colour, fighting in the USA and everywhere!
*When used by us in this text the terms ‘men’, ‘women’ and ‘trans’ include all people who identify in these ways.