Forced prostitution

Voluntary vs. forced prostitution

Can voluntary prostitution be separated from forced prostitution? The public debate on prostitution frequently differentiates between voluntary prostitution and forced prostitution. The term sex work is used to emphasise a voluntary nature and independence.

Overview of contents

The boundaries are blurred

From our perspective, it’s virtually impossible to separate these areas. The boundaries frequently become blurred. We find that women involved in so-called independent prostitution certainly experience force and violence. These moments shape their future path.

In our experience, many women alternate between moments of exploitation and moments of independent pursuit of prostitution. Since it’s not easy to escape the red-light district, very few women remain working independently, even if they manage to escape the pimps.

Is prostitution voluntary if...

…someone in a situation of poverty and lack of education sees no alternative of survival within their own family other than working the streets?

…someone regularly experienced sexual abuse during childhood and therefore internalised the feeling of being worthless and useful only for sex?

…someone is coerced into prostitution by a loverboy, eventually gets rid of him and then continues to prostitute themselves anyway because their self-perception was so damaged through the manipulation that they don’t see any other alternative?

…someone voluntarily enters prostitution but is heavily traumatised by the violence experienced and is unable to escape their situation?

Forced prostitution and “voluntary” prostitution are virtually inseparable

We find that the women often experience different phases of prostitution: phases with exploitative pimps and phases without. Times when they are sold and times when they make their own decisions.

We are therefore convinced that it’s difficult to separate forced prostitution from voluntary prostitution. Both are co-dependent. Both take place in the same environment. We are not disputing the fact that some people prostitute themselves voluntarily. It’s more important to note that the lives of prostitutes frequently contain both elements and that the majority of prostitution in Germany takes place under forced conditions. 

I find it such a shame how many women in the red-light district kill themselves because of their desperate situation. Well, I have lost four friends who killed themselves in the red-light district. Simply because they were afraid of their pimps.
[...] That’s why I think it should just be banned because I can confirm 99% that the women are not doing it voluntarily.
And each client that visits prostitutes in German brothels always thinks “well, the woman’s doing it voluntarily, she obviously wants to do it with me” – no, that’s not the case. Although the woman takes in the client, she’s still being raped each time. It’s psychological rape, even though you’re selling your body and people think “oh, that’s not so bad”, but it destroys their spirit.

– Ehemalige deutsche Zwangsprostituierte
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