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Thursday, 28 December, 2000, 13:21 GMT
Berlin prostitution no longer immoral
Dutch brothel
Germany's brothels may become more like those in Holland
by Rob Broomby in Berlin

A recent decision by a Berlin judge could well trigger a change in Germany's attitude towards prostitution.

The ruling, which may be challenged in a higher court, comes as the government is considering whether to introduce new rules to end discrimination against prostitutes.

Although prostitution is not illegal, it has always been regarded as immoral. But not any more, according to a Berlin court.

The government is considering making the contract between a prostitute and her clients enforceable by law

Judge Percy Maclean said the profession was now broadly accepted, as long as it was freely entered into without force.

His decision came in a judgment on an application to close down a bar and meeting point for prostitutes and their clients. The now infamous Cafe Pssst won the day.

Prostitutes hailed it as the first legal brothel in Germany. Attitudes are changing, the judge told the BBC.

Twenty years ago homosexuality was regarded as immoral, but now we have gay marriage laws, he said.

Discrimination

The world's oldest profession is highly visible in Berlin. As night falls, the ladies of the night parade the Oranienburger Strasse in the heart of the capital.

Barely insulated from the winter cold with their artificially restrained waists, they are very clearly dressed for the job.

Berlin City Centre
Berlin's centre becomes a venue for prostitutes and their clients at night
Prostitute groups say Germany is slowly heading towards the Dutch model, where harm reduction rather than moral reactions guide social policy.

The Red-Green coalition government is determined to lay down laws to improve the social and legal situation for the nation's prostitutes.

A high level committee of the Women and Family Ministry is seeking ways to end discrimination in areas such as health insurance and unemployment benefit.

While about 10% of prostitutes actually pay tax on their income, they can find themselves excluded from the social welfare net.

The government is also considering making the contract between a prostitute and her clients enforceable by law, to reduce the chance of exploitation.

But the prostitutes' rights group, Hydra, says this won't help the majority of those on the streets, and could even be divisive.

Foreign sex workers - often in the country illegally - would be further marginalised, the group claims.

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See also:

01 Dec 00 | Europe
Germany debates 'gay marriage'
30 Sep 00 | Europe
Dutch OK sex for sale
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