Tuesday, February 01, 2005

'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits'

What with Iraqi elections and the traditional tax return frenzy, I missed this interesting news item from Germany.

I blogged this time last year :

Is selling sex in all its forms, from car adverts through Page Three and ladmag shoots to Amy and Lara, a major cause of gang rape, frustration and impotence, and eating disorders (Ms Bunting), ‘violence against women’ (femiluni Julie Bindel), is it just another job - sex work, or is it ‘a girl power thing’ where the exploited are the poor sad male punters (A Good Thing) rather than the girls (A Bad Thing) ?

After all, if sex is just another recreational activity, like a rubber of bridge or a game of tennis, then why shouldn’t some individuals sell their God-given talents and abilities ? And in a free market, you sell your assets or services at the market rate.For the TUC and their Women’s Equality Officer Rebecca Gill, ‘sex workers’ are ‘legitimate workers in need of protection’.

It looks as though in Germany, prostitution is just another job, following its legalisation two years ago.

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit.

"There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry," said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specialises in such cases. "The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits."

Woah. A little problem I foresee, quite apart from angry partners whose women were either a) insulted by being offered an interview or b) insulted by not getting a job offer ("you're saying she's good enough for me but not good enough for your punters, are you ?") . And what about sex discrimination in the hiring process ? Could a man complain about not getting an interview ?

As I noted last year, in Victorian times you could do what you liked with your money but what you did with your body was subject to many legal and social restrictions. Now the situation is totally reversed - to the point where sexual relationships are the only area where racism is acceptable. You cannot advertise for a white flatmate, but a white bedmate is fine.

The Old Labour sociologist Norman Dennis, in his 'Families Without Fatherhood', commented on the cultural change which elevated the freedom to have relationships as and when you chose (regardless of the damage to third parties - for example children or an abandoned spouse) to an absolute right. Already, he wrote, the the classic phrases of rampant capitalism come to mind as the number of fatherless families mount - "Cannot a man do what he likes with his own ? As for the other party, caveat emptor - let her take the consequences of her bad bargain !"

When I lived in the Smoke I used to note that race was specified in the Time Out and City Limits personals (showing my age there ... remember City Limits ?). If race was specified by house-sellers they'd end up in prison like Robert Relf did. UK activists like the English Collective of Prostitutes say that a "working girl" has an absolute right to pick and choose their client.

If the business is instutionalised over here, how long before Trevor Phillips' boys and the Downing Street Women's Unit are sending 'mystery punters' to check that girls aren't discriminating on grounds of race, gender, or sexual orientation ?

UPDATE - John Band points me to this page, which indicates that the status of this story is as indeterminate as the sex of a Church of England vicar. No-one seems to be able to find the story in the German original, only a piece saying that the scenario is possible under the changed law.

I don't know, you'd think you could trust the Telegraph. If I want fictional stories I'll go to the Guardian.