Since legalising prostitution in 2002, Germany has experienced a significant increase in sex tourism.
According to statistics, more than a million men now pay for sex with Germany’s approximately 400,000 prostitutes every day.
But as the country’s sex trade continues to grow, the new coalition government has promised reforms to the current prostitution law in response to fears that it encourages sex trafficking, profiteering and exploitation.
The number of sex tourists visiting Germany, as well neighbouring Austria where prostitution is also legal and regulated, is set to increase further as developers in both countries plan to open some of Europe’s biggest brothels in early 2014.
In Saarbrücken, West Germany, the Stuttgart-based firm Paradise Island Entertainment plans to develop a €4.5 million “mega brothel”, to employ 90 full-time sex workers, using the city’s close proximity to the French border to its advantage.
Saarbrücken is already popular with French male sex tourists at weekends, and the city’s sex trade is expected to get another boost after French lawmakers recently passed the first part of a new bill which criminalises the buying of sex.
On the outskirts of Vienna, an even larger brothel is under construction. The €14.2 million FunMotel will have capacity for more than 1,000 visitors per day across 147 rooms as well as parking space for coaches, according to media reports.
The brothel is being built just outside Vienna in order to bypass the city’s licensing regulations, and has already been approved by police and authorities.
But both the Saarbrücken and Vienna projects are causing concern among women’s groups and non-governmental organisations which offer support to victims of sex trafficking.
“The opening of such large brothels is proof of those countries’ failure to reach gender equality,” Pierrette Pape of the European Womens’ Lobby told Equal Times.
“We see these developments as an attack on human rights, and especially on women’s rights.”
According to Andrea Matolcsi, a Germany-based sex trafficking expert at human rights NGO Equality Now, “normalisation” of prostitution and increased demand means that women and girls – and in some cases, boys – are often brought in from poorer countries by traffickers.
“In countries that have legalised or decriminalised prostitution, there seems to be an increase in both the number of women in prostitution and demand for prostitution,” she said.
“With Germany and Austria, you see a lot of women from eastern and central Europe being brought to legal and illegal brothels and establishments.”
As many as 78 per cent of sex workers in Austria are from other central and eastern European countries, according to Sex Work in Europe, a 2010 study by the European Network for HIV/STI Prevention and Health Promotion among Migrant Sex Workers.
According to Helmut Sporer, Detective Chief Superintendent of the Crimes Squad in Augsburg, Germany, the number of sex workers from other countries in Germany is around 80 per cent, with the majority coming from new EU member states in south-east Europe.
“90 per cent of these women have not freely chosen prostitution, they are subjected to various forms of pressure,” he said.
Germany’s current legislation, the 2002 Prostitution Act, entitles sex workers to health and social insurance and recognises sex work as a legal activity, but does not require sex workers to register with any authority.
“The better part of all women in prostitution, therefore, do not officially exist,” said Sporer.
“If a woman goes missing, absolutely no one will notice. Of course, this makes Germany very attractive for traffickers and other profiteers.”
Only 44 of the country’s estimated 400,000 sex workers have registered for social insurance, according to Germany’s Federal Employment Agency.
Earlier this month, Germany’s future coalition government signalled that they will push through reforms to the existing laws in response to concerns about trafficking and exploitation.
As part of the changes, from early 2014 buyers will be prosecuted in cases where they have knowingly used the services of someone who has been forced into prostitution.
At the end of October around 90 prominent politicians, actors and other public figures in Germany, led by well-known feminist campaigner Alice Schwarzer, signed an appeal for reform addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel and parliament.
But there is some dissent.
Monika Lazar, spokeswoman on women’s issues for the Alliance 90/Greens party, has defended the current law, according to The Guardian, saying that making prostitution illegal will not help.
"Prostitution is still socially stigmatised, and that has not changed in the few years in which the law has been in effect," she says. "But the law is helping to strengthen the position of prostitutes and ensuring women, and men, are much better protected."