THERESA ZETTL

Sex work is dirty and morally unacceptable – only two out of many prejudices sex workers face. However, women are more likely than men to be sexualized, objectified and dehumanized. Female sex workers experience stigma and violence associated with these judgements at far higher rates than other women.

“When there is violence, it is mostly the prostitute’s fault. See, I am going to buy something. If I am satisfied with what I am buying, then why should I be violent? I will be violent when I am cheated, when I am offered a substandard service. … Sometimes violence is because the prostitute wants the client to use condoms. They force it on the client. He will naturally be disgruntled and there will be altercations.” – Anonymous statement in a survey by O’Connell & Davidson 2003, 58

In regard of the International Day to end violence against sex workers on December 17th, we have reached out to a sex worker on Twitter to talk about this stigmatization, she is facing. Jasmin is 22 years old, lives and works in a big German city. She is politically interested but no member of a party.

ELfR: Hello Jasmin, thank you for your time for our interview. We have collected a few questions from our members which we would ask you to answer. As our interview will be published as a feature on the International Day to end violence against sex workers, we would like to start with your experience in this matter. How often do you or your colleagues experience abuse or violence?

Jasmin: I personally, and most of the colleagues I talk to, fortunately only very rarely. Nevertheless, as in all areas of life, such things do happen. You also have to talk about boundaries. Is it already violence if a customer grabs me firmly by the arm or squeezes my head during oral sex? Personally, I don’t think so. For me, it starts with intentional assault like hitting or something like that. I haven’t had anything like that yet.

What measures are taken to prevent abuse or violence by customers?

This already starts with the inquiry. With a little experience, you can make a rough assessment of customers based on how they ask questions and what they say or don’t say. There is also a lot of gut feeling involved, which is why it is difficult, especially for beginners. I prefer to visit hotels. The more people are around, preferably within earshot, the better. The door must never be locked and if possible, I ask to leave the window open. If several men are present although I was booked by only one, I stay at the open door until the situation is clarified and I am alone with the customer. With new clients, I also have a friend cover me, which means I call her in the presence of the client and tell her exactly where I am (hotel and room number) and how long the appointment will last. If after this time she does not hear from me within a fixed period, she alerts the police and the reception of the hotel. When I talk to her, I use certain codes by which (or lack of) she knows that something is wrong, and I need help. When having sex with the client, I try as often as possible to be in a position where I am in control, for example, the riding position. Other positions like the missionary position are bad because I am very limited in my freedom of movement, especially with corpulent clients. Doggy style is also not free of risks, because there are customers who try to strip off the condom (=stealthing*), which you do not necessarily notice in this position. In addition, there are a few safeguards that I do not want to name publicly, because otherwise they would no longer necessarily work.

stealthing”*: https://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/what-is-stealthing/

How often do you or your colleagues experience abuse or violence?

I personally, and most of the colleagues I talk to, fortunately only very rarely. Nevertheless, as in all areas of life, such things do happen. You also have to talk about boundaries. Is it already violence if a customer grabs me firmly by the arm or squeezes my head during oral sex? Personally, I don’t think so. For me, it starts with intentional assault like hitting or something like that. I haven’t had anything like that yet.

Have you ever had to report a customer to the police?

No, not so far. There was a case where a client tried to force me to take cocaine and I broke off the date and it got very loud and nasty. But it remained with yelling and therefore I checked it off for me and blocked the customer for future inquiries.

Do you feel taken seriously by the police/justice?

Here I can only speak for colleagues who felt a lot of stigmas at the police. Starting with derogatory looks, casual inspection of the body and inactivity in the subsequent processing of the complaint. The attitude that a prostitute can’t be raped because it’s her profession anyway is still held in some people’s minds. As I said, I only know this second-hand, but from people I have no reason to distrust.

There has been talk of the mafia taking passports from prostitutes and driving them into drug addiction to force them not to flee. Do you know of any of these cases?

No.

Do you work on a self-employed basis or are you employed?

I work, like almost all sex workers, on a self-employed basis. I am registered at the office, have the so-called whore passport (registration certificate) and pay taxes.

Did you choose your profession voluntarily?

Yes, completely.

How did you get into it? Were you recruited?

I was already sexually rather permissive and had many one-night stands. One night I was offered money for sex in a cocktail bar by a man I found attractive. Therefore, the hurdle was low to agree and give it a try. After this first time went well, I offered it several times aggressively from me and mostly succeeded. I enjoyed it because it was a certain extra kick, I found the reversed roles, namely that not I was the center of attention, but the man who pays me to fulfill his wishes, exciting and enjoyed it. So, I started it as a side job already in school days and then after graduating from high school as a full-time job, which I have not regretted so far.

What do your parents, family and friends think about your work as a sex worker?

I told my parents relatively late. At first, my mother asked a lot of very critical questions, but was soon convinced that I know what I’m doing and that I’m also taking care of the necessary security. Since then, she has accepted it and is fully behind me. My father was less comfortable with it, but also understood that it is about my life and that I consciously made this decision. He tolerates it but doesn’t want to talk about the subject anymore. In the circle of friends, I have already outed myself earlier. Here the reactions were different. With two people I have since then no more contact, the others had in the beginning many questions and reservations, however, this became boring after a while and if I mention with them that I still have an appointment or something like that, then it is no different than if they say that they must get up early because of an inventory the next day. It’s also exactly what I would like to see from society, a completely natural and normal way of dealing with ourselves and our profession.

If you live in a partnership, how does your partner deal with your work as a sex worker?

I am single and don’t want a partnership at least in the foreseeable future. I feel very comfortable in my independence and don’t miss anything. If I do end up with someone, it would of course be bad if they weren’t jealous, because then there wouldn’t be a healthy basis.

In the Netherlands, there are trade unions for sex workers, do you also have one?

There is the BesD (https://www.berufsverband-sexarbeit.de/), which represents a lot of interests. I am not a member, but I know some of the representatives quite well. Not everything is perfect there, but they are very committed and do a great job. Among other things, there was an emergency fund for sex workers who had no income and, in some cases, not even a roof over their heads during the hasty and, compared to almost all similar professions, much longer lockdowns.

What about unions and social organizations when, for example, a sex worker has problems with her landlord?

I can say little about this, as I have not been in such a situation before. Certainly, it makes sense to turn to a counseling center, such as Hydra (https://www.hydra-berlin.de/), if you have problems.

Are you supported in any way?

Fortunately, that is not necessary.

Is your work safe in general like health risks etc.?

Yes. I only work with condoms and during the corona pandemic with additional protection such as mask, tests, airing, etc. I am Covid-19 double vaccinated. In addition, I automatically watch for any alarm signs in the client. If he seems ill to me or has a rash or similar, then I break off the appointment in a friendly manner. Of course, this doesn’t go down well, but my health has priority. Conversely, my customers can also expect me to show up to the appointment in good health and well-groomed.

Have you witnessed human trafficking, or do you suspect that there are victims of human trafficking? Or perpetrators?

No, but I’m not so naïve that I wouldn’t know that such a thing exists. Especially as a voluntary and self-employed sex worker, I have a great interest in ensuring that such criminal machinations are combated. They damage our image, arouse desires for things like sex without condoms or lower prices, which are offered to the customers there and cause immense suffering for the forced women. Therefore, it is immensely important to apply the existing criminal laws against the perpetrators and at the same time to create safe contact points for the victims in the form of neutral social workers with language skills and confidentiality and the guarantee that they will not be deported.

I completely reject the Swedish approach, namely, to make the purchase of sex a punishable offense. What may sound reasonable on paper at first, means in practice that everyone who could somehow profit from sex work is under suspicion. So, the unemployed partner; the girlfriend who covers; the cab driver to the hotel; the landlord and so on. Protected spaces like the brothels in Germany, which must be mandatorily equipped with devices like emergency buttons, are also impossible there. And if the customer has to commit a crime to accept my services, it is also clear which customers will stay away first and who will be left. Namely, those who would then demand more for their risk and, as a rule, are likely to get it.

The only real solution is to remove the stigma. If sex work is widely recognized and not something disreputable, it will also be easier for victims to trust authorities and file charges.

What can you do to fight the stigma?

Everyone can be an agent of this cause. You can join the movements and become an advocate for progress by reading, discussing and spreading awareness of campaigns supporting sex workers. By reading or even sharing this blog, you have already become part of the movement.

Amnesty International, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and the World Health Organization are all advocating for bigger protections of sex workers, lobbying for more inclusive laws and alternative sources of livelihoods. Yet, the factor of social isolation largely remains unaddressed in these global groups. Sex worker unions, advocacy groups and activists are emerging all around the world as global leaders to bring about acceptance and understanding of sex work, resulting in  change through education, storytelling, peer support groups, and public awareness campaigns. These groups use sex work as a vehicle to promote social and economic empowerment, female independence, body acceptance and open-mindedness.

Author Profile

Theresa Zettl
Co-Founder of European Liberals for Reform
Chairperson of ELfR Working Group Health
ALDE Individual Members Steering Committee Member (2022-2023)

Social Media & Digital Marketing Expert, Blogger
Favorite Topics: Health, Society, LGBTQI
International Day to end violence against sex workers
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The opinions on this blog are of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of ELfR.

Theresa Zettl


Co-Founder of European Liberals for Reform Chairperson of ELfR Working Group Health ALDE Individual Members Steering Committee Member (2022-2023) Social Media & Digital Marketing Expert, Blogger Favorite Topics: Health, Society, LGBTQI


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