Sex Workers’ Rights in Europe

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The idea of rights began when philosopher Thomas Hobbes declared that men had the right of choice in his book, The Leviathan. Soon after, other philosophers added to this concept. Finally, in 1948, the United Nations finalized these thoughts in a universal human rights declaration, articulating the rights allowed to every human being. However, there is a debate pertaining to one of the rights in this document: the right to work in a safe environment. This human right is argued when it comes to the prostitution controversy.

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Presently, sex work is a disputed topic in Europe. Eight countries have legalized prostitution, and other nations have complex laws about what is legal and who is punished. Significantly, in France, it is illegal to buy prostitution, not sell it. Consequently, clients of sex work are arrested instead of the workers. In Germany, however, sex work is completely legal. The differences in countries’ laws have caused a dispute to grow around sex work.

To understand this argument, it is important to know that the word John is in reference to a client of prostitution, and the word brothel refers to a house where sex work is purchased. It is also vital to know that often, only women are mentioned in the sex work argument. Ergo, this essay excludes male prostitutes from the controversy. The prostitution debate begs the question: To what extent do 21st century German and French laws regarding sex work allow workers the aforementioned human right to work in a safe environment?

French laws opposing prostitution stand upon core moral values. They emphasize that prostitution is morally wrong, because it will accentuate a power imbalance between the genders and degrade sex workers. Through these laws, sex workers’ freedom is validated. However, German laws supporting prostitution advocate for workers’ human rights. They allow safety and liberty within the profession of sex work.

French sex work laws are grounded on the concept that prostitution is immoral. These laws justify the violation of sex workers’ rights with the belief that prostitution enforces misogyny. The common attitude is that nothing could fix the power imbalance and inequality that exist in prostitution. Supporters of French laws claim sex work creates an unfair, sexist society. Ergo, workers’ liberty is violated because of the idea that prostitution is unjust.

French laws recognize that completely banning prostitution would be inequitable, as discrimination is present where sex work is illegal. Notably, in 2004, it was found that 3,204 prostitutes but only 950 Johns were arrested for sex work in the city of Chicago. This statistic reflects common discrimination in current society: Women are punished for sex, while men are excused from the consequences. Furthermore, in a 2002 study, it was found that customers were often the causes of frequent violence in sex work. Likewise, according to Darla Mueller, a Chicago homeless coalition worker, Johns are the cause of most prostitution through manipulation of food, money, and shelter. Henceforth, most problems in sex work are caused by clients. Based on the instance of Chicago, there is extensive discrimination and violence towards women when prostitution is illegal.

In the first place, France views sex work as immoral, as something that should be removed from society. However, it is noticed that discrimination and injustice is immense when prostitution is completely banned. Ergo, French laws justify taking sex worker’s liberty with the belief that the solution is just.

In addition, supporters of French laws see prostitution as impure. Significantly, Agnès Laury, a former sex worker, believes that legalization condones the degradation of women. Similarly, the EWL (European Women’s Lobby) regards prostitution as a violation of womens’ right to dignity. These notions are present in France, where prostitution is believed to be inhuman, dirty, abnormal, impure and animalistic. This view defends the limitation of sex workers’ human rights; prostitution is regarded as impure and French laws are considered the dignified solution.

Sex work is also viewed as unjust because of the belief that it objectifies women and enforces the misogyny in our society. Notably, Margareta Winberg of Sweden argues that, “You cannot compare a woman’s body to, for example, a shoelace, that can be bought wherever.” Not to mention, the EWL believes that legalization would say the human body could be viewed as an object. Usually, prostitution is accepted as the belief that women’s purpose is for sex. For this reason, Agnès Laury argued, “…couldn’t we call for the humanity principle, to a freely accepted limit on using humans as merchandise?” Banning prostitution supports the belief that sex work is derogatory to women. It condones taking away workers’ human rights, because prostitution is seen as unjust and belittling.

French laws limit sex workers’ human rights to work because of the belief that prostitution is impure. According to supporters of these laws, sex work reinforces sexism and causes discrimination in our society. It is seen as impure, demeaning and derogatory towards women. In France’s belief system, prostitution is morally wrong, ergo, sex workers’ right to work is eliminated.

German laws protect workers’ right to be safe while they work. For one thing, legalizing prostitution greatly improves the working environment. Notably, when sex work was legalized for a trial in Vermont, rape decreased by one third and sexually transmitted diseases declined by 34%. When sex work is legal, unsafe elements of the trade can be controlled and diminished. Legalization improves the circumstances of sex work and, ergo, protects workers’ human rights.

In the same fashion, the environment for sex work in Germany is full of benefits, making work safe and equitable. The German Prostitute Protection Act provides prostitutes legal recognition, allowing them to sue for their payment if it is being withheld. They have more choice when it comes to their payment, what they do, and who their clients are. At the present time, prostitutes have the same rights as other workers; they get benefits such as unemployment assistance, sick pay, pension, health insurance and social security. Furthermore, laws keep an eye on sex work, so it can also be ensured that only adults become prostitutes. This is the result of the registration system in Germany. Registration also lends to the benefit of aliases: prostitutes are able to create a fake name for safety. Other benefits from German legislation include the requirement of condoms. Legalizing prostitution helps sex workers have legal and political rights; prostitution is safer and measured and workers’ human rights are protected.

Furthermore, legislation improves the rates of sex trafficking. In Germany, this is because of benefits from legalization. For one thing, the necessary registration cannot be given to anyone being forced into sex work. Similarly, brothels are required to have a permit, which makes it easier to stop sex trafficking if it does happen. Not to mention, counseling and help centers allow victims to receive support. All of these benefits have helped to lessen the rate of sex trafficking in Germany; in 1996, there were 1,473 people trafficked, but in 2011, there were only 640 trafficked. Sex trafficking is now controlled in Germany, making the field of prostitution safer. Victims of trafficking can be supported, instead of kept in the shadows. As result, legalization protects sex workers’ human rights to work in a safe environment.

German laws recognize sex work’s inherent danger and protect prostitutes through legislation. Prostitutes have more rights and benefits due to German law and sex trafficking is limited. Consequently, German laws allow sex workers their human right to safety.

German laws grant the human right to choose a profession. Despite popular belief, there are many women who feel empowered by prostitution. Germany protects these women’s right to work in the way they want. For example, Jacqueline, a 39-year-old, has been a sex worker for 12 years. She loves sex work because she enjoys making people feel wanted and less lonely; in fact, she compared it to social work. As she says, “There are many ways of helping people, but sometimes a snuggle, some undivided attention and sex are important.” Furthermore, she enjoys the way sex work makes her feel: “…confident, adventurous, and beautiful, and…so me.” Sex work is the perfect job for Jacqueline, and in Germany, she has the right to choose that profession. Another instance is Roos, a 48-year-old. She chose sex work because, “For me, having sex wasn’t sinful…Prostitution gave me a growing consciousness of my sexuality and a lot of personal strength.” Sex work makes Roos happy, and she deserves the right to feel that way. These women are examples of workers who love their job, and German laws protect their human rights to choose that work.

Equally important, sometimes, prostitution is a vital and needed option. In fact, Cicilia Gentili, a transgender undocumented immigrant, said sex work was her only choice, and that is why she supports legalization. Many people struggle to find other jobs, and German laws keep the option of sex work open for consideration. In contrast to popular beliefs, prostitution is like any other profession. According to a German parliament member, Petra Pau, “The image of the oppressed woman, who has been driven to this profession, can no longer be maintained. Prostitutes today resemble average business women.” Prostitution is similar to other jobs, and it is important that the right to select it is protected. The human right to choose this normal and necessary job is allowed through German legislation.

German laws allow sex workers the human rights to choose their jobs. When people have this freedom, they are ultimately happier. Not to mention, for people in need, sex work is an important option. Germany’s laws allow people their human right to control their life and their profession.

It’s important that the international community follows Germany’s example and legalizes sex work. Pursuing legalization would lower sex trafficking and make prostitution safer. People’s human rights to work in a safe environment would be protected, as sex work would be a safe option for those who want and need it. Allowance of prostitution would create a better society, with less rape and a lower rate of STDs. Given these points, it’s vital that sex worker’s international human rights are defended and they are given the justice they deserve through legalization.

To what extent do 21st century German and French laws regarding sex work allow workers the right to work in a safe environment? France stubbornly stands upon the ground of morals. They refuse to acknowledge the current limitation of human rights to work in their country. The liberty to choose the profession you love, or the job that is necessary in your life, is confined in France. In addition, France laws suffocate the safety needed in the sex work field.

Germany realizes that morals vary for humanity, and they recognize sex workers’ human rights. Truly, a person can choose the profession they love or need in Germany, as the human right of liberty is protected. Not to mention that sex work is immensely safer because of German laws. The human right to work safely is, to a large extent, guaranteed in Germany.

The matter of sex work is significant in our modern world. Prostitution is the oldest profession, and yet it is still illegal in many places, including the United States. When it comes down to it, the right to sex work is a matter of equality. Women should have the power to choose their profession without losing respect or being forced into the shadows. It is time to realize the weaknesses of our moral systems and allow sex workers to come into the light.

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Sex Workers’ Rights in Europe. (2021, Mar 20). Retrieved from