Saturday, February 12, 2005

Forced Prostitution in Germany?

My friend Elise called my attention to this story from the British Telegraph:
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. Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners - who must pay tax and employee health insurance - were granted access to official databases of jobseekers. ... 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.
This looks to me to be a really sticky issue. There's no denying that forcing someone to work in the sex industry against her will is morally reprehensible. But I think it'd be morally reprehensible in just the same way to force someone to work in some other industry against which she had moral objections: it'd be wrong to force me to work in the factory farming industry, or the United States military. I'm not sure what a truly fair policy would look like. One option, which I don't find very attractive at first glance, is to just emphasize that this isn't an issue of force; no one is making anyone work these jobs, they're just offering money to those who would be willing to take them. That's a response, but like I say, I don't particularly like it, because it's still a government pressuring people to do things they oughtn't to be pressured to do. Maybe a better system would be somewhat parallel to the idea behind conscientious objector status to the U.S. draft? If people can prove that they have a moral objection to a certain job, then they're allowed to refuse it without losing unemployment benefits? It sounds like a giant mess to administrate, but maybe that's the best option? I'm curious what others think. EDIT: Snopes calls this story false!


  1. how does one go about proving that one has a moral objection to a certain job? And how can it be determined which jobs it is possible to have a moral objection to? Because it is quite easy to foresee people objecting to jobs willy-nilly in order to retain their unemployment benefit without having to work.


  2. I went through pretty much the exact same thought process as you on this. I think to obtain conscientious objector status you have to have a bunch of references, like a letter from your pastor and six reliable lifelong acquaintances, testifying that you've always been anti-war. So to get out of working in a slaughterhouse, I'd have to get everyone to witness to my longtime vegetarian lifestyle. It could work, I reckon.


  3. Take another example, though, one with less possible evidence than Sav's slaughterhouse/vegetarianism. I don't want to work at a nuclear reactor. I'm mostly, but not entirely, anti-war. I'm simply anti-nuclear war, and in favor of non-destructive energy sources, and that's not a wholly moral objection. My pastor and six lifelong acquaintances would be no help here.
    Is the objection to forcing the waitress into sex work wholly due to a moral objection to the job? Isn't there be some consideration given to the element of personal risk associated with both sex work and nuclear work? Nuclear risk is quantifiable and increasingly quantified, but (and maybe this is the problem) many of the risks of sexual service are difficult to track, and are therefore bundled in the term "moral objection." Such practical considerations might include the behavior of fetishist customers getting out of hand; the usual, STIs; psychological harm to the worker and his/her family; social harm to the worker and his/her family.
    I don't know that these are all moral objections. Certainly, it would be easier to legislate for them if they aren't.