Thursday, February 4, 2016

Greggor Mattson’s “The Cultural Politics of European Prostitution Reform”

Greggor Mattson is associate professor of sociology at Oberlin College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Cultural Politics of European Prostitution Reform: Governing Loose Women, and reported the following:
“Smash a brothel cartel” begins page 99 of my book, a comparative account of prostitution regulations in northern European countries that, from an American perspective, seem quite similar: secular, multiparty democracies with strong welfare states and human rights protections. I conducted interviews with policymakers and administrators in four countries of the European Union: the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Finland. Page 99 is about Germany’s prostitution law, what I call the “German compromise on sex work.” Popular and scholarly attention to prostitution policy overwhelmingly focuses on the Netherlands and Sweden as the extreme cases in an international “sex war” about whether prostitution should be legalized and regulated, as in the Netherlands, or whether buying sex should be criminalized, as in Sweden:
If prostitution in the Nordic countries was defined as gender inequality, and in the Netherlands as work, the German ruling was a compromise between important cultural principles of workers’ rights and protections for the vulnerable encoded in its welfare state.
I put these disputes in the context of national welfare legislation, which I argue are important cultural indicators for how societies protect vulnerable women. This German chapter shows how prostitution legalization is not monolithic, but operates according to local imperatives and national cultural logics. For example, German legalization was prompted by two state court rulings:
The first move toward national prostitution reforms in Germany came not from national legislation, as in Sweden or the Netherlands, or municipal reforms, as in Finland, but from two court cases. The first one occurred in 2000 when the State Court of Hesse ruled that brothel prostitutes were employees for the purposes of a compensation case. The decision clarified prostitution as an occupation requiring work permission for Frankfurt’s migration authority. In Germany, immigration is controlled at the municipal level. Concern had been building throughout the 1990s over the apparent rise in illegal migrants in Frankfurt’s brothels and a spate of spectacular crimes perpetrated by organized crime networks from other countries. The second ruling, in Berlin, ruled that prostitution was not immoral (sittenwidrigkeit) in 2001, removing the Christian jurisprudential basis by which prostitution had been prohibited. The ruling allowed Café Pssst, a hotel and bar established for prostitutes and their clients to meet, to retain its restaurant and liquor licenses. If prostitution in the Nordic countries was defined as gender inequality, and in the Netherlands as work, the German ruling was a compromise between important cultural principles of workers’ rights and protections for the vulnerable encoded in its welfare state.
This section gives a sense of the internal cultural logic of German prostitution regulation and its contrast with the Netherlands, a comparison I pursue further by noting the ostensible similarities in both countries and exposing the German words that animate their differences:
The proposal to legalize prostitution [gave] sex workers access to the health benefits, pension schemes, and unemployment benefits accorded to self-employed workers. In line with the law’s strengthened prohibitions against sexual exploitation, however, the prohibition on employment contracts between businesses and sex workers was maintained. The new law created a seeming paradox under German employment legislation by defining prostitution as a trade (Gewerbe) but not a business (Betrieb). In other words, sex work was legalized only in the context of self-employment, and sex workers could not sign contracts with an employer. This compromise marked a stark distinction with the Dutch legislation with which it is often lumped, and institutionalized a state classification that was neither purely rational, nor one with precedent in German law.
To give a sense of the logic of the German compromise, I explore its similarity to German abortion law, which is quite foreign when compared to United States discussions.
The German compromise on sex work does resemble its solution to abortion, however, in the way that the state reconciles important individual and social concerns. The German Constitutional Court ruled that fetal life is protected from conception onward, but ruled permissible a law that permits abortion through the first trimester if accompanied by counseling to persuade the woman to bear the child and a government guarantee of day care for all children three to four years of age.
Page 99 reflects the whole of the book well, by demonstrating the logic of comparing phenomena within a country case study (sex work to abortion) and the variety of ways that otherwise-similar societies attempt to organize sexuality. The rest of the book pursues these internal and external comparisons in these four countries, discusses the impact of European Union integration, and the blame heaped on globalization for preventing a coherent European response to human trafficking. While the book not yet in softcover, ask your library to obtain one today!
Learn more about Greggor Mattson at his website or follow him on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue