An abolitionist group in Germany has outed potentially hundreds by cataloguing personal details online - sex workers tell us why the outcome is dangerous and violent
Last week, an anti-sex work group in Germany added dozens of addresses belonging to sex workers across Germany, Belgium and Denmark to Google Maps.
The map gave names and addresses of residences belonging to sex workers, in what many have condemned as a citation of violence and intimidation.
This comes after news that several parties in the neighbouring Dutch government would be backing a new law, which would restrict the 2002 legalisation of prostitution, to criminalise buyers of sex if there is a suspicion that a sex worker is a victim of human trafficking. Justice Minister Ard van der Steur expressed concern of the ‘legal uncertainty’ about the proposed threshold of proof, but that it was up to parliament to decide. Amnesty International, in a report last week, publicly recommended “the decriminalisation of all aspects of adult consensual sex work due to the foreseeable barriers that criminalisation creates to the realisation of the human rights of sex workers” across Europe.
Johanna Weber, the founder of the Professional Association of Erotic and Sexual Services, said: “It happened because the abolitionists wanted to show that all around Germany sex workers are working, and (to them) sex work means brutality and slavery. They wanted to show that it happens in every corner. And so you can´t close your eyes.”
Fabienne Freymadl of the same organisation said she had “a sinking feeling” when she first encountered the map. “Mapping and outing sex workers is a horrible and potentially dangerous thing to do,” said Freymadl.
Freymadl is fully outed becaused of her position as a spokesperson for the BesD e.V, an organisation by and for sex workers that fights for rights in Germany. She said she was angry, and feared for the safety of her colleagues.
The description on the map, which has now been pulled down, said that it was ‘incomplete’, mainly showing clubs and brothels. Freymadl said it alluded to data that was unobtainable as of then, because it needed to be found out over the phone. “It could be read as if the abolitionists responsible for the map had been phoning sex workers (to publish private) addresses.”
“I did not find any proof that they did, but I think it’s very likely. They asked people to send them addresses to a Google Mail account so they could publish them. I believe they did not have the time nor the will to verify that the addresses were not private, so I suppose they just published any addresses they got send.”
Freymadl claimed however that an admin for a Facebook page dedicated to sex workers and allies had found multiple addresses on the maps of sex workers they knew.
According to the German sex workers collective, it was an abolitionist named Manu Schon who created the map, support by well known abolitionist group Sisters e.V.
“Decriminalisation is definitely safer, but that’s bad because it would keep the sex industry intact and therefore sex workers are collateral damage” – Laura, English Collective of Prostitutes
Freymadl pointed to Manu Schon and Sabine Constabel as “well voiced and well known radical sex work-exclusive feminists, who devote their time and funds in a publicity war against feminists”. The abolitionist group fight what they refer to as “the pimp lobby”: in a speech at the Bunestag, Constabel stated idefinitely: “women are not a commodity”. Freymadel observed: “Sadly, they are fact-resistant, and won’t listen to sex workers who are not feeling ‘oppressed’.”
She told me that the climate towards sex workers in Germany is only changing for the worse, as partly religious, partly radical feminist-funded movements “misinform the public with horror stories.”
Because of sex work’s highly stigmatised status, many sex workers of any gender work in secret. “Publishing their addresses to anyone opens them up to forced outing and violence," she said. "They might lose custody of children, lose contact with family and lose any other jobs they hold. Many sex workers screen their clients carefully before they give out their addresses. If they’re readily available, anyone can access the data.”
Laura, a spokesperson from the English Collective of Prostitutes, explained why releasing private details of sex workers encourages such violence. She told Dazed: “Women are worried about having a brick thrown through their window, or being forced of their home. We have fought a number of cases against eviction when someone’s been outed. It’s a very dangerous thing to have those details exposed and publicised when you’re a mother too. They’re worried about being exposed, full stop, because many are very underground, and it’s a simple way to identify people.”
Laura wasn’t surprised by the “underhand tactics” used by anti-sex work lobbies. She said, in the past, groups have used inflated and false statistics to see in legislation that harms, not helps, sex workers.
She also referred to the failure of the Nordic model, which has been pushed on countries like France, Norway and Sweden. It’s been mulled over by the UK parliament too. She explained: “They are ready to campaign for legislation and the criminalisation of clients, which has been proven over and over again to put sex workers lives at risk, they’re not worried about that. They wouldn’t be worried about releasing sex workers addresses. Decriminalisation is definitely safer, but that’s bad because it would keep the sex industry intact and therefore sex workers are collateral damage.”