How legalisation made Germany the brothel of Europe

Huschke Mau speaking at the Breaking the Cycle conference in London on 11 November 2023
Huschke Mau speaking at the Breaking the Cycle conference on 11 November 2023

This is the text of Huschke Mau’s speech at the ‘Breaking the Cycle: Exposing the links between male violence, pornography & prostitution’ conference in London on 11 November 2023. The recording is online. Huschke’s speech starts at 27:59.

Ladies and gentleman, my name is Huschke Mau. I am an activist, author and humanities scholar. I am currently writing my doctoral thesis. I am also the founder of the Ella network, an advocacy group for women and girls in prostitution who also want the Nordic model in Germany. I myself was in prostitution for several years. My first pimp was a German police officer.

Also, I wrote the book “Entmenschlicht. Warum wir Prostutution abschaffen müssen”, that is “Dehumanized. Why we need to abolish prostitution.”

Image of the cover of Huschke Mau's book:  “Entmenschlicht. Warum wir Prostutution abschaffen müssen”, which translates as “Dehumanized. Why we need to abolish prostitution.”

Germany has long had a legalising prostitution policy. I would like to talk to you today about the consequences this has for German society and for women in prostitution. I am not only speaking from my own experience, but I will also present you with reliable findings from studies and statistics on this topic.

It doesn’t matter under what conditions prostitution takes place: it is and remains sexual abuse. The YES given by the prostituted woman is not a YES to sex, it is a YES to the money she needs. It’s still a NO to sex. Unwanted sex is sexual abuse. A bank note doesn’t change that. Sexual consent cannot be bought.

It is a problematic behavior that johns exhibit when they sleep with a woman when they cannot know whether she really wants to have sex. This is problematic sexual behavior. Imagine a friend telling you this: “Last week I had sex with a woman. I liked the sex. But it just occurred to me that I don’t know if the woman even wanted the sex.” Told this, you would be horrified. But in prostitution that’s exactly what happens, every single time. Prostitution is problematic because it allows men to have sex with women without establishing consent.

Accepting and legalising prostitution as a system has brought nothing positive to our society. The goals of the law (making prostitution safer, removing crime, giving women access to social systems) were all missed.

So what happens, when a society legalises the buying of sex?

First, legalisation means that aspiring women are no longer provided with exit programmes. And that’s only logical if we treat prostitution as a completely normal profession. Because a baker, a hairdresser, or a theatre director doesn’t need an exit program to change jobs. So why would prostitutes need one?

Second, because of legalisation, men’s sexually problematic behaviour is de-problematised and sexual abuse is concealed. Everything in the prostitution system is renamed: brothel operators become landlords, johns become customers, and prostitutes become service providers. None of this changes the trauma and hurt that prostitution produces, and it doesn’t help with the stigma. Wherever there is prostitution, it is women who carry the stigma and are supposed to be ashamed. Legalisation only means that johns no longer have to be ashamed of what they do (if they ever did it at all), because now it is buying a “normal service”.

Third, Johns are confirmed and encouraged in their behaviour by liberal prostitution laws. If they are not satisfied with what they get, the “service”, they try to take affected women to court or they demand the service they claim through force. They believe they have a right to sex – after all, they paid. In Germany we even had a case in which a john dragged a 19-year-old girl who had slipped into prostitution because of an unprocessed rape into court – for fraud because he had not had an orgasm.

Fourth, the behaviour of johns is brutalised wherever the purchase of sex is permitted. The sexual practices are becoming increasingly violent and humiliating because, after all, it is a “normal service” that is being booked. Johns are treating women more and more like commodities, not like people. Legalising sex purchasing also leads to more rapes and murders of prostituted women. In Sweden, where the Nordic Model exists, there have been two murdered prostitutes in almost a quarter of a century. None of the cases had to do with prostitution: one was killed by her ex-boyfriend, one by her drug dealer.

In Germany we count over 110 women and girls murdered in German prostitution over a comparable period of time. They are women like Andrea K, who suffered from a mental disorder at the age of 19, was no longer able to serve clients and was therefore tied to a concrete slab by the brothel owner and thrown alive into a river, where she drowned.

Or women like the 21-year-old Ukrainian Olga P, who wanted to get out of prostitution and was therefore killed by her pimp and stored in a freezer, where she was only found years later by accident.

Or like Doris, who was stabbed by a client because she didn’t want to perform oral sex on him for 10 Euros. 110 dead women and girls in German prostitution since the year 2000. Nothing and no one will bring them back to us.

Fifth, legalisation produces more johns. Laws have a normative effect. If lawmakers give feedback that it’s okay to do something, more people will do it. We see the consequences in Germany, where over a million men go to brothels every day.

Sixth, where there are more punters, more money ends up in the red-light district. New brothels are opening and that means: more women are needed to “work” in these brothels. This is where traffickers and pimps come into play. There will never be enough women who sell sex “voluntarily”, the majority will always have to be forced. A society that accepts and legalises prostitution is a society that simultaneously accepts human trafficking and forced prostitution. Legalisation leads to more johns leads to more brothels leads to more human trafficking and forced prostitution – because pimps and human traffickers see the opportunity to make a lot of money here.

It is a downward spiral: more johns, more brothels, more trafficked and forced prostitutes, and with that: a dullness of johns and society towards the suffering of women, so that even more men become johns, even more brothels and so on. It’s like a pull, and more and more demand from clients means that more and more women and girls are being pulled into prostitution, even by force. After all, you can make money with them. Germany is the brothel of Europe, and it has worked hard to earn this title.

Seventh, the fact that forced prostitution and human trafficking are formally prohibited here does not change this. Because pimps and women traffickers use the legal structures they find here. It is legal brothels, licensed street prostitution, where the violence takes place. In Germany, forced prostitution mainly takes place in legal brothels.

Eight. For a society, more johns also means more men who behave in sexually problematic ways and think it’s OK to have sex without consent and to sleep with a woman who doesn’t actually want to. This behaviour doesn’t stay behind closed brothel doors. Johns carry it out into the rest of society.

It is a behaviour that has an impact on all women, because all women in a society have to deal with johns, whether they know it or not – and wherever the purchase of sex is accepted, the rate of sexual assault on non-prostituted women also increases.

Nine. Any liberalization of prostitution leads to a dulling of society towards violence against women. In Germany, pimps are allowed to laugh publicly on television about the fact that the police consider it slavery when “their women” have to work 16 hours a day. Pimps, human traffickers and brothel operators have an incredibly good laugh in Germany.

Ten. Legalising and accepting buying sex deepens and reinforces every single form of discrimination that can exist in a society: sexism, racism and classism – and others. Because that discrimination is linked to sexual degradation (through prostitution) and acted out. Ethnicity, for example, becomes a fetish – women are advertised, sold and bought based on assigned “racial characteristics”. A john who buys “submissive Asian women” in a brothel twice a month will no longer perceive Asian women without prejudice even outside the brothel.

Prostitution not only arises from misogyny and racism, it also leads to even more misogyny and racism. In Germany we live in a society that sees no problem in the fact that masses of young women from certain social classes and from the poorest countries in Europe are trafficked and abused as sex slaves for German men.

Compassion and horror are replaced by a party atmosphere and a barely concealed sensationalism. This is degrading, inhumane and racist, but it is precisely a consequence of the fact that prostitution in Germany is considered an untouched men’s right – and, incidentally, as an opportunity to act out colonialist and racist behaviour: when buying the “wild, promiscuous black women”, the “submissive Thai”, the “hot Latina”, the “anal sex-hungry Brazilian with the big butt” and so on. Legalisation means creating and tolerating more racism. Johns even try to buy women who have fled Syria and the Ukraine.

Eleven. Where buying sex is considered OK, there is an anti-sex and misogynistic sexual morality that aims to replace sexual consent with a dollar bill and that implies that sex is something that men have a right to and that women have to provide.

Buying sex means persisting in the worst traditions of sexual behaviour: everything is geared towards the man’s needs, the woman’s satisfaction is completely irrelevant, and even whether she wants the sex is completely irrelevant. There can be no sexual liberation where prostitution takes place.

The legalisation of prostitution is something that affects and changes society as a whole.

Prostitution is classist, sexist and racist. It is recruited from violence, it is violence and it leads to violence. Why do we need it? The fact that men buy sex has absolutely no benefit for society; on the contrary, it does irreparable harm.

I summarize.

The legalisation of prostitution, especially the legalisation of the purchase of sex, leads to sexual morality that is hostile to pleasure and misogynistic. It leads to sex without consent becoming socially acceptable. It means that women can no longer get out of prostitution but are trapped in it. It conceals problematic behaviour and sexual abuse by clients. It suggests to men that they have a right to sex. It encourages clients to assert this right to sex, through court or through violence.

The legalisation of prostitution leads to more violence, more rapes, and more murders of women and girls in prostitution. It also leads to more men becoming active as johns and thus creating demand. This in turn means that it becomes good business for pimps and human traffickers to force women into prostitution – because there is a lot of money to be made from them. So: more johns, more brothels, more human trafficking and more forced prostitution.

The legalisation of prostitution leads to a horrendous image of women in society and thus to more violence against women who are not in prostitution. It also makes society numb to the suffering and misery of women and girls who are exposed to violence.

Legalising the purchase of sex reinforces all forms of discrimination that can exist in a society: misogyny, racism, devaluation based on social class, and so on.

These are the results of legalising sex purchasing that we can see. And we realize: this is the wrong way. We don’t need any of this. We don’t need the buying of sex. We don’t need johns. This can all go away.

We want more equality, we want more humanity. And we know that we can only achieve this if we abolish the legalised prostitution system and introduce the Nordic Model. The Nordic Model leads to fewer johns, less forced prostitution and human trafficking, more safety for women in prostitution, and more equality. THAT is what we want.

And we abolitionists in Germany are working hard to establish exactly that. Because things can’t go on like this. All the dead, raped, injured, exploited, physically and mentally damaged women and girls. Every day. All the brutalized men who think buying women is OK. We don’t want that anymore. We will abolish it. Wish us luck.

For more of Huschke Mau’s writing, see her website,

Breaking the Cycle

Huschke Mau spoke on the afternoon panel at the conference. You can watch it here (starting at 27:59):

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