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An old, slightly grainy picture on her cell phone shows a woman with peroxide blond hair, high heels and gaudy underwear, posing for the camera in a brightly illuminated hallway. Julia struggled to explain why she kept the photos. Perched on a couch, her makeup discreet, her plain plaid shirt buttoned up, she spoke eloquently and calmly about her time as a sex worker and her decision to leave the profession. She told DW about the panic attacks that started creeping up on her almost every day a few months ago.
Panic attacks, depression and insomnia are usual symptoms of the trade, according to Sabine Constabel. Constabel is convinced that sex work is nothing else than rape. It's a word she keeps on repeating. They're nothing more than dirt. Women and men who voluntarily enter the trade? Nothing but a myth, propaganda propagated by lobbying groups propped up by brothel owners, she told DW.
It's a distinction that German lawmakers also make. Sex work was officially recognized as a profession back in In theory, women and men can now register as sex workers and pay into the social insurance system. So far, only a minority of sex workers do so. A law enacted in requires that brothels and prostitutes be better monitored. One thing is clear: There's a constant supply of women who enter the trade.
The main reason driving women into prostitution, she explained, was poverty. It's impossible to say how many women and men work as sex workers in Germany. It could be tens of thousands, maybe as many as ,, a figure that social workers keep on citing. There are no official figures, and it was only in that the German government decided to collect data. It's clear though that the majority of sex workers are from Eastern Europe, mostly from the EU's two poorest countries, Romania and Bulgaria.