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Survivor testimony for the SR VAWG‘s report on violence against women and prostitution

    Autorin: Pani K.//

    Survivor testimony for the SR VAWG‘s report on violence against women and prostitution submitted by Pani K., survivor of prostitution and sexual exploitation.[1]

    “How is the issue of consent dealt with? Is it possible to speak about meaningful consent for prostituted women and girls?”

    Consensus means that everyone involved wants the same thing and has given their valid consent. Consensus is neither a compromise nor a deal!

    Consent to sexual activities must be given out of one’s own volition, without external influence. It must be personally and expressly communicated and acknowledged before the sexual activities. Consent must continue to exist during the sexual activities and is freely revocable. If negative consequences are to be feared or expected in the event of revocation, consent does not exist. It can be both specific and conditional and cannot be given retrospectively.[2]

    Consent is invalid if:
    1. the person is incapable of giving consent (due to alcohol, drugs, sleep…).
    2. there is a lack of will (due to error, deception…).
    3. there is a lack of knowledge (What will happen? What are the possible consequences?..).
    4. distress is exploited (homelessness, hunger, illness…).
    5. coercion is present (threat, “will-bending” violence).
    6. force is present (“will-breaking” violence).
    7. indisposable right is affected (life, physical integrity, freedom…).[3]

    In prostitution, incapacity to give a consent or exploitation of distress are usually ignored.
    Although prostitutes cannot revoke their consent without negative consequences, coercion is not recognised. The exertion of influence by means of payment to bend the will is also not recognised as coercion. A lack of will is not assumed, despite the necessary extrinsic motivation (payment).
    Each of the above 7 cases is common reality in prostitution! And any form of sexual activities for payment – paysex – is the complete opposite of consensual sexuality.

    Consensus in non-commercial sexuality is in fact very different from the commercial kind: in prostitution, pornography and paysex in general, consent is merely part of the deal. The john wants sex, the prostitute wants payment – it’s not consensus, it’s commercialised rape!

    German law defines prostitution as a sexual service and prostitutes as persons who provide it.[4] In this case, payment transforms coercion and rape into a “service”. The legislator applies a double standard – depending on whether sexual activities take place with or without payment. Moreover, German courts have ruled that women in prostitution had to pay 500 Euros because johns were not satisfied with the paid “service”.[5] Also, German job centres that have forced unemployed women to provide this “service” under threat of financial sanctions.

    To be clear: consensus cannot exist in prostitution or paysex because:
    1. participants do not want the same thing.
    2. any offer of payment for sexual activities influences the free decision-making process.
    3. any denial of consent has negative consequences.
    4. any revocation of consent has negative consequences.

    Furthermore, any consent to prostitution is fundamentally invalid, as inalienable human rights are threatened:
    5. prostitution violates human dignity.
    6. prostitution is de facto equivalent to torture, which occurs repeatedly and lasts for weeks, months or years – it is commercialised systematic rape that is tolerated or legalised by the state. Systematic rape is recognised as a method of torture and is therefore absolutely prohibited without exception.[6]
    Paysex is by definition unfree for prostitutes: it is a contract and sex is their duty. But no human being has the right to rape other humans, with or without a contract. And no human being can contractually renounce their own human dignity or consent to torture.

    Germany sees it differently, here torture is legalised and is administered, taxed and advertised everywhere – even with female slaves.[7] Rape centres are subsidised,[8] because that is exactly what countless brothels in the middle of German cities are. Torture is renamed as work and service, while inalienable human rights degenerate into a question of individual negotiating skills. Prostitution is normalised, there are reports of “14-year-olds who prostitute themselves of their own free will”.[9]
    Sex purchase is seen as inevitable and all efforts and progress made by other countries in combating it are discredited by Germany.

    However a sex purchase ban alone is not sufficient – the system of prostitution can only be abolished with a systemic approach: namely by the equality model.[10]
    In particular, help for prostitutes and survivors must include more than decriminalisation and livelihood security. The commercialised, systematic and immanent violence in prostitution must be considered cruel treatment and torture.

    But there is no need for complex legal arguments in this discussion. As a survivor of prostitution, I can clearly testify that almost all prostitutes don’t want to have sex with johns. Almost all prostitutes don’t want to be in prostitution at all. Even the johns themselves confirm this!
    Is it really important whether consent to sexual activities in return for payment can be hypothetically valid? The only crucial question is: Should johns be allowed to do what they do in prostitution and pay sex in general? Should humans be allowed to impose and inflict on other humans what happens every day when buying sex?
    As a survivor, I can only answer one thing: No! No human being is allowed to do that!

    Nobody must have the freedom to buy a Yes! Nobody must have the right to buy their way out of their own crimes! Sexual freedom or pleasure cannot justify the destruction, suffering or death of women or girls.
    Nothing can compensate for or redefine these crimes. And as long as johns are allowed to rape for payment, all women and girls are neither free nor equal nor safe. As long as access to a human being’s body can be bought, every human being is a commodity.
    Prostitution, like slavery and torture, must be abolished!

    Personal testimony:

    I grew up in Russia and Moldova, and live in Germany. I am unable to work and chronically ill: complex PTSD, dissociation, depression, panic, sleep disorders… I have suffered abuse and violence since birth. I experienced my first rape at the age of 16. At the age of 17 I was forced into prostitution, at 30 I was broken and considered no longer marketable. I have been in prostitution in Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Germany: on the street, in hotels, flats, clubs, studios and as an escort. I have experienced the world of paysex in many facets – from sex model to dominatrix, with pimps and without, self-determined and forced. I was recruited, trafficked, threatened, blackmailed, arrested, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, interned, deported, almost sold into slavery – and raped again and again.

    There were more than 300 rapes. I say „more than“ because I stopped counting at 300. I managed to escape the first attempted rape when I was 14. After the rape at 16, I became pregnant, was expelled from school and forced to have an abortion. At 16, I was a ‘fallen girl’ and ‘worthless’. Some perpetrators had knives or guns, others used coercion or violence. I only fought back once, self-defense only meant escalating the perpetrators’ anger to increased violence, greater pain and acute danger to my life.

    Rape means absolute powerlessness and overwhelming fear of death. Someone else has control over me, seizes my most intimate parts, rages inside me – like an explosion from within. I am defenceless inside myself, completely at the mercy of others, I have to endure everything and be silent – it’s like drowning in pain. There is no hiding place, no escape route, no rescue. The only way to escape this horror is to “switch off” – it’s like dying – the soul leaves the tormented body, the consciousness dissociates and the light goes out – literally. It’s like being dead, for minutes or hours…

    For many people, a near-death experience is not just a trauma, but a turning point in life. Afterwards you are a different person, nothing is as it was. After more than 300 near-death experiences caused by rape, I’m not sure whether I’m really still alive. The connection to my body is very fragile, the connection to other people – unstable. I often feel dead and wonder why my body moves or feels anything. Living dead – that’s what I call it. I often think it would be better not to survive.

    Survival means: having to remember – the unbearable. It means having to live with the pain that remains stored in the body. Having to endure the fear that violence will be inflicted again. And having to endure guilt – for the fact that you survived but the others didn’t… All the other women who were raped next to me, who cried and fought back, who fell unconscious, who never came back. They deserved to survive. They should have had that luck – instead I had it. But I’m not happy about it, it’s a burden and an agony, I feel guilty – because I’m still here. And I despair because I can’t remember their names. I would love to remember them – but I can’t even do that…  And then there’s the everyday life: everything is a challenge that can trigger panic and start a crises. I never feel safe when people are around me. And I notice the helplessness of the helpers – they suffer when they can’t help. But respect for pain is also a kind of help, sometimes the only one possible.

    I’m often asked about my exit, as if you could just get out of violence or poverty. I didn’t have this self-determined “exit”. I was simply no longer marketable – I couldn’t stand being touched by johns – called “broken-fucked”. I couldn’t talk about it for a long time, it was too painful… I didn’t know that there was help for prostitutes. It was alone my problem, how and whether I survived. But survival is just the first step on the way back to life…

    Payment is part of the problem: rape always remains violence – whether it is paid or unpaid. Being raped every day is torture – no payment in the world can change that.
    I didn’t want sex with the johns, I needed money – money for pimps, brothel owners, hotel owners, police officers, border officials, paper forgers – and also for my family. I wanted my sister to never have to endure what I endured. That I wouldn’t have to endure it either – ever again – but I couldn’t afford to say No. Purchased rape is not a ‘service’. Commercialised rape is not ‘work’. The payment for it – blood money – is not a salary. I can judge that well, I had to endure it for a long time with and without payment…

    A single rape can be enough to break a person forever, one is scarred for life – maimed. After more than 300 rapes, I am broken into more than 300 pieces. Scars, cracks, shards – that’s me and I’ll never be whole and healed again. Time does not heal all wounds – living with them is a great challenge.
    Victims of violence should not be reduced to their role as victims – that’s true, but it’s half the truth. My problem: I wasn’t recognised as a victim of violence. Because I never filed a complaint, there were no witnesses or they were gone and the perpetrators are unknown. My memory is fragmented by the trauma. That is enough for me not to be recognised as a victim and not to receive compensation. Justification: That’s just the ‘occupational hazard’. Legislation is part of the problem. The sentence “Human dignity is inviolable” – that doesn’t apply to me. For me, there is neither dignity nor justice. It’s degrading to endure that. Institutional violence is so “clean” and overpowering…

    I often hear that sexual freedom is important and a human right. 
    I answer: Sexual freedom is not freedom to rape. 
    No woman or girl should have to endure what was done to me. 
    Johns and pimps must be punished.
    Payment for sexual activities must be considered a crime against human dignity and humanity.
    Because it affects all humans – every day!

    © Pani K. – 2024

    Source references:

    [1] My identity is known to the NGO’s Netzwerk Ella, Bündnis Nordisches Modell and End Demand Switzerland.

    [2] What is Consent?, in TAP808, https://www.tap808.org/consent, accessed on 27/01/2024.

    [3] Einverständnis und Einwilligung, in Juracademie, https://www.juracademy.de/strafrecht-at1/einverstaendniseinwilligung.html, accessed on 27/01/2024.

    [4] Prostitutes Protection Act, Section 2 Definitions, entered into force on 01/07/2017, https://www.gesetze-iminternet.de/prostschg/__2.html, accessed on 27/01/2024.

    [5] Wolfgang Gleich: Kein Orgasmus: Freier verklagt Prostituierte, 13/02/2020, last updated 03/03/2023, in ZVW, https://www.zvw.de/lokales/winnenden/kein-orgasmus-freier-verklagt-prostituierte_arid-148075, accessed on 27/01/2024; Huschke Mau: Der Staat als Zuhälter, 26/02/2020, in Kontext Wochenzeitung, https://www.kontextwochenzeitung.de/debatte/465/der-staat-als-zuhaelter-6533.html, accessed on 27/01/2024.

    [6] Was ist Folter?, in Amnesty International Schweizer Sektion, https://www.amnesty.ch/de/themen/folter/zahlen-fakten-und-hintergruende/was-ist-folter, accessed on 27/01/2024.

    [7] Sklavinnenstudio, Abenteuerland Subkultur, https://abenteuerlandsubkultur.de/sklavinnenstudio/, accessed on 27/01/2024.

    [8] Dagmar König: Keine Corona-Hilfen für zwielichtige Bordelle, 02.12.2020, in CDA, https://www.cda-bund.de/aktuelles/dagmar-koenig-keine-corona-hilfen-fuer-zwielichtige-bordelle/, accessed on 27/01/2024.

    [9] Wolfram Lumpe: Wuppertal: Freiwillig in die Prostitution mit 14?, 20.11.2023, in WDR, https://www1.wdr.de/nachrichten/rheinland/ermittlungen-jugendliche-zuhaelter-prostitution-wuppertal-100.html, accessed on 27/01/2024.

    [10] Entschließung des Europäischen Parlaments 2013/2103(INI), 26.02.2014, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-7-2014-0162_DE.html, accessed on 27/01/2024; Entschließung des Europäischen Parlaments 2022/2139(INI), 14.09.2023, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2023-0328_DE.html, accessed on 27/01/2024.

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