Can the vagina be a work tool?

A speech by Dr. Ingeborg Kraus in the Urania at the event „Sexwork” – the shattered myth. Berlin, December 3rd 2017. 

I want to thank the organisers, especially Rachel Moran and Julie Bindel. This book launch would not have been possible without them.

If we are lucky we might have a government before the end of the year. At the moment, we see politicians who talk to each other for 8 weeks and don’t reach any results. We see politicians who withdraw from any discussion. Then we hear that they spent whole nights discussing how to get others to discuss with them. To me it seems as if they don’t talk about the problems in this country but rather about constellations (of coalition partners).

The Federal President Frank Walter Steinmeier is right when he says that the political forces of the economically strongest country in Europe must not refuse to take political responsibility. All parties are obligated to the common good. They serve our country and their responsibility goes beyond their own interests.

In the problem field of prostitution, I was able to see this crisis of German democracy that is now visible to the whole world for a long time already. International conventions are being ignored, the letter from New York[1] to Angela Merkel in 2015 – signed by 200 organisations ‑ was not answered. Petitions[2] are not accepted. These examples that show how the problem is being ignored completely, accumulate.

Where did this lead us? We are the brothel of Europe and the German government its “biggest pimp”. In the remaining nine minutes I would like to present the points German politicians would have to follow up and talk about in the last 19 years instead of constantly differentiating between forced and “voluntary” prostitution

  1. What is a vagina?

Legalising prostitution and even making it a profession like any other makes one claim: it degrades the vagina into a tool. It makes it an object, an instrument that can be penetrated by 20, 30 men a day. Is this possible? Can a vagina be reduced to a vacuum cleaner pipe? Anatomically and psychologically this is not possible. The vagina, and with this I mean the female sexual organs, cannot be separated from the female body. On the contrary, it is a highly sensitive organ that is connected to our brain and our whole body. It is the most intimate part of a woman.

The “voluntary” decision to go into prostitution requires certain conditions. Prostituted women who come to my office all had a history of insufficient protection in their childhood which lead to insufficient self-protection. These women learned early on to “turn themselves off”. Here, too, we find countless studies that show this connection between experiences of violence in childhood and prostitution.

A Minister for Women also has the obligation to protect the citizens. If the protection in the family fails the state must not become an accomplice of these traumata. A state that tolerates the degradation of women to objects, a state in which sexual exploitation happens, in which the submission of women is staged as a form of eroticisation, such a state is utterly misogynist and contains perpetrator structures.

  1. The psychological damages of prostitution

The World Health Organisation asked me to speak about the psychological health of prostituted women in Germany at the World Congress on Women´s Mental Health in Dublin. What can I say? How is the mental health of women who are reduced to a piece of meat? These women are entirely destroyed. A woman who works in an exit program for prostituted women told me that only a few of them manage to leave prostitution. They stay until they break down physically. And this is only a matter of time. I wonder why. They stay because their will was broken. They no longer exist as persons who have an identity and a future. These women don’t see a future for themselves, don’t dream, don’t have an identity outside of prostitution. They are reduced to this constructed being “prostitute” and can’t find a way out. They are locked into their trauma and shame.

The young women who come to Germany are completely overwhelmed, completely traumatised. Many ask for psychotropic and illegal drugs after their first experiences. They say it’s impossible to deal with this business without.

Jana Koch-Krawack is a street worker who works with prostituted women in Wuppertal, a working class town. Women who end up there can’t go on any longer, they are considered the so called B-stock. She meets unkempt women who lost touch to themselves completely. They react scared or apathetically. It seems obvious that they need anything but sex. But next to them are the sex buyers who don’t give a damn. They laugh and have a good time.

How is this possible? I ask the same question as Caroline Emcke in her book “Gegen den Hass” (engl. Against the Hatred). Well, how is it possible to not see the hardship of other people but instead only one’s own needs.

It is possible because men think they have a right to sex and the right to use women for that. The woman is locked into a socially constructed image of an “insatiable sex beast”. Other needs are denied. She is being dehumanised, she is only one thing: a body without a soul. This enables the sex buyer to every kind of unscrupulousness, blocks their empathy and indifference takes its place.

Society and political actors cheat their way out of responsibility by means of mechanisms of repression of emotions and mind tricks. Violence is being ignored, reality blanked out.

The legalization and normalization of prostitution equals a capitulation to violence against women. Women are given the signal that they have to be sexually available for men. It cements a discriminating gender hierarchy attitude of men towards women.

  1. Which message does this give to society?

This gives men the message that they need sex, need a regular release of their urges to stay stable and not become molesters. According to this logic, men can’t control themselves: this is the hidden message that the system of prostitution transmits. If this was really the case we would have to change our constitution, the Basic Law, immediately. Because then men and women would not be equal. The ability to regulate emotion and tolerance for frustration are important achievements of civilisation.

It is wrong to believe that male sexuality can’t be controlled. Men have to learn a new way to deal with frustration and this in many areas. This is why the introduction of a prohibition to buy sex is of fundamental importance, especially because we (still) believe in men. If this wasn’t the case not a single man should be allowed to take office or go outside the house by himself. He would be a threat to society.

When we talk about prostitution it is necessary to also think about in what society we want to live instead of only talking about mitigating damages. We need a new generation of men who don’t resort to sexually exploiting and controlling women to assert themselves.

But on the highest political levels, they still talk about a “good” prostitution that only needs to be regulated. Prostitution is seen as a private game into which the state shall not interfere. The problem of prostitution though must be politicised because it says something about our society and does something to us. Prostitution is like a headlight that shows certain grievances in our society: our gender roles and the patterns they teach, roles and patters that are deeply permeated by sexism. Politicising prostitution means to make it our cause to say that we don’t want to live in a society like that. The way in which we allow abuse and violence against women and hide it says a lot about us: we are a bit like a society that loses its soul and then splits. On the one hand we are human towards the ones who are similar to us, on the other hand we allow that those who are different from us suffer the worst cruelties.

Social cohesion is not created by claims like: “to each their own” or “this doesn’t concern me”. No, cohesions are created by empathy. When I listen to discussions about prostitution in Germany in our society and in politics I often wonder where we lost our empathy.

Discussing for 15 years whether or not to introduce an obligation to use condoms? This is nonsense! It is obvious that nobody wants to see their daughter as a prostitute. Why should this be ok for others? Go ahead and ask Minister Manuela Schwesig if she would like to see her daughter as a prostitute. This question alone would be scandalous. So there are women who are good enough and others who are not? But honestly how naïve do you have to be to think that hundreds of 18 year old women from Romania or Bulgaria want to come to Germany to prostitute themselves.

What is the essence of our society if we don’t feel concerned about the misery of others? According to Jacques Derida we are at war with our empathy.

Germany has a leading role and responsibility in Europe. We can’t allow our men to sexually exploit the most vulnerable women in Europe and then discard them when they’re broken.

Today we celebrate the First Sunday in Advent. We can’t allow that we become a society that looks away again. We face tremendous challenges, in which globalisation, digitalisation and sex robots put our values to the test. Choose abolition. Abolition is more than prohibiting buying sex. With abolition we show attitude and protect our values. Abolition means love!

I thank you!

Dr. Ingeborg Kraus

Translation: Micha Streibelt – Edited by Firdes Ceylan  –  Picture: perezyperez

[1] https://stopsexkaufdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/lettertochancellorangelamerkel-2.pdf

[2] https://www.change.org/p/punish-the-buying-of-sex-abolish-prostitution