Forced prostitution

Behind the scenes in Germany’s red-light district

The image of voluntary, self-sufficient sex workers is widely distributed in Germany, yet only applies to a very small proportion of people. The majority of those affected in the red-light district experience a completely different world.

Overview of contents

Red light as an umbrella term for a spectrum of realities

What is “German Red Light”? Everyone will personally envision something different. Red light in Germany is highly heterogeneous and encompasses a wide spectrum.

Firstly, there’s the publicly visible sector: public red-light districts in cities, street prostitution, apartment brothels, sauna clubs, and mobile homes. Alongside these are less visibly prominent areas: escort agencies, private sex parties, the BDSM/fetish scene, small brothels in industrial areas or on remote farms.

Digital Prostitution

Also included is prostitution in the digital realm. Platforms like OnlyFans, live cams, or within the context of pornographic recordings offer various forms of prostitution in the digital space.

Each of these places represents a different facet of prostitution. Some places immediately reveal the misery, such as street prostitution areas; others suggest decadence, sensuality, and eroticism. They portray prostitution as a form of self-determination and sexual freedom, as an unconventional lifestyle choice for women who have turned their passion into a profession.

The Opposite of Glamorous and the Opposite of Autonomous

In our work, we experience a different perspective on the red-light district that we present here. We witness misery in various forms: unimaginable distress behind the scenes, trauma from violence both before and during prostitution, dependencies, lack of knowledge about rights, no health insurance, unfamiliarity with language or location, no personal perspective or dreams for their own lives. We experience the opposite of glamorous and the opposite of autonomous.

Lured to Germany under false pretences

Some underage women are brought from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and South America to Germany under false pretences to be exploited in brothels. They take any option due to poverty and necessity. Prostitution is not a choice for them; it is their only means of survival. The majority of prostitutes in Germany come from Bulgaria or Romania. German brothels that regularly advertise new women are informed that traffickers are bringing “fresh goods”. Many foreign and native prostitutes regularly change location. Sometimes they spend only a week or two in a town before moving on. They have no idea where they are.

Young girls from Africa, particularly from Nigeria, are tied to a pimp’s demands by means of a voodoo ritual and death threats and sent to Europe for prostitution in the thousands. They must work and pay huge sums of money to their pimps or else bad things will happen to them or their family back home. The ruthless pimps regularly demonstrate the violence that will happen if they disobey. These helpless women are at the mercy of violent mafia gangs.

Biker and mafia gangs control different areas of the red-light district.

Biker and mafia gangs from various nations control different areas of Germany’s red-light districts. Domination of the red-light district is important to them as it guarantees high income. They control the brothels and people working there. The majority of income goes to these gangs. At the same time, they dictate the working conditions and create a parallel world with its own rules and principles. This includes loyalty and absolute secrecy from the outside. Everyday life in the red-light district is characterised by violence, hierarchical mindsets and total obedience.

Even German women end up in prostitution, some even underage – lured in by a loverboy. Young, good-looking men pose as a boyfriend to lure the girls into prostitution. Using insidious manipulation and a ‘carrot and stick’ approach, they make the girls believe that it was their own decision to enter the red-light district to help their boyfriend get out of a difficult financial situation. The loverboy involves luring a woman (sometimes several at the same time) into long-term prostitution and then exploiting them. Those involved experience systematic brainwashing which makes leaving difficult.

The Prostitution Act aims to establish a framework but the reality is quite different

The Prostitution Act aims to establish a framework for prostitution through counselling services and employment protection regulations in order for it to be a recognised profession. However, the reality is that most woman are forced to work. Paid holiday does not exist. Very few have health insurance and must therefore work every day, regardless of whether they are ill or pregnant. Some women are forced to work late into pregnancy, up to several hours before giving birth. Every night they work the streets, sit in their small brothel room or wait in caravans on country roads for the next client.

They are at the mercy of the needs and demands of the client. Despite their distress, they are dependent on satisfying a client’s needs – no matter how much it may disgust them – because they need the money. A look into the choice of ‘services’ in the red-light district reveals: prostitution has almost nothing to do with sexual intercourse. It is far more about exerting power, oppression, sexual violence, loathing and perversion. Urinating (‘golden shower’) and defecating (‘caviar’) on women is a common part of the service.

A panel of punters reveals the daily suffering of women in prostitution:

The owner, Eddy*, is trying to control all the Romanian women there and the fact that they are forced to work for him was confirmed later on. That’s [...] pimping and I also saw a woman getting beaten up. Additionally I got the feeling that Eddy was either drunk or high.[...] Two women told me that they are scared of him, that he threatens them [...] and forces them to work against their will. [...] It’s more like a mafia place now, where the girls are afraid.

Hands off: Had also booked the animal. Her apartment stinks of cat piss. Also the bed was broken and the so-called execution mattress is so filthy that you can catch all kinds of things. She wasn’t shaven – even though I demanded that [...]. She had to keep consulting her boyfriend/pimp.

You got young women from Hungary, so scantily clothed that it amounts to Christian charity to take them inside and warm them up with your body. [...] The beds are a catastrophe – you can see traces of the previous guy’s sperm. [...]

There was a girl, around 13-14 years old, very young looking. She hadn’t even developed tits yet. At any rate, she was so tight that I couldn’t deeply penetrate her hole. It seemed to hurt her and she fought me off. I just had to do what came to mind. I relieved myself several times in her mouth, she swallowed it all. Had a bad feeling. Perhaps she was on drugs.

The services presented here are just some of a much wider range

The misery and violence openly inflicted in the red-light district of this country is merely the sad tip of the iceberg of a much greater suffering. The services presented here are just some of a much wider range of illegal forced prostitution. The public is repeatedly given a small glimpse into this other world. Particularly when videos emerge featuring the sexual abuse of small children. Pornography and child abuse are taking place on a grand scale, however it is difficult to detect in society as it takes place in secrecy and seclusion. The sexual exploitation of children and the production of pornography that glorifies violence towards children and adults forms a solid basis for the future exploitation of adults in legal places of prostitution.

More information on child exploitation:
In our ritual violence topic area

The general situation in the red-light district is challenging as there is no trust. It’s mostly bad experiences to be had in the brothels. The men who work there are in control. If there are any problems, the pimp finds out and puts pressure on you directly. It is very extreme in Germany if people are forced to do things they don’t want to. But you don’t trust yourself to fight against it because you know that you will be physically overcome... You let a lot of things go before you... . Yeah, you have this crazy fear that you will die or something. That is why you stick to the rules you are given. You are put under loads of pressure by people.

Figures from the 2004 study by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs on the prostitute situation in Germany

Prior to the age of 16,

  • prostitutes in Germany had
    • experienced violence between their parents 56%
    • experienced violence by a parent 73%
    • experienced regular sexual abuse 43%
  • After the age of 16
    • experienced physical abuse 87% (of which 34% were threatened with weapons, 38% beaten up, 37% threatened with being killed, 62.6% were painfully kicked)
    • experienced sexual abuse 59%
    • experienced psychological abuse 82%
  • 35% were locked up, shackled or had their freedom of movement restricted against their will at least once
  • 24% battle with suicidal thoughts
  • 88% take substances such as painkillers, psychotropics and drugs


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