Forced prostitution in Europe – sex, suffering, & money

“If you don’t do what I say, I’ll kill you. And throw you somewhere. No one will know you existed”. A threat heard daily by thousands of forced prostitutes in Europe. They are modern-day sex slaves. Abducted by human traffickers or loverboys who have promised them great happiness in the western world. A reality you wouldn’t wish on anyone else. A reality that happens in the middle of our streets. “Forced Prostitution in Europe“. A summary of the ARTE documentary with the same title.  


“I’ve been struggling and crying. I don’t want to do this”. One woman tells of being sold abroad. A fate she shares with many others. Women, mostly from Eastern Europe, are trafficked, sold off as commodities and forced to perform sex services abroad. However, the type of work referred to as “official service” in Germany and Austria is more appearance than reality. It is what it is: sex out of poverty. Sex because of a lack of prospects. Sex because they are the puppets of an illegal scheme. 


The scams of how the brothel owners and pimps get women and how the women get to Europe and the West are different. Many fall in love with men who promise them – in Eastern Europe – a nice life in Germany. A good life, full of wealth and bliss. The women go with them. Out of naivety, but also because the prospect in their own country usually seems hopeless. They see no other option, especially in the countryside where there are hardly any jobs for women without a good education. It is only in the shelters in Germany, Austria or Switzerland that the women usually learn that they have to prostitute themselves for “the good life”. But not for their own beautiful life, but for the life of the men who brought them here. If they don’t do as the men say, they are threatened with murder or injury. The two options are clear: death or streetwalking. 

The schemes are planned in advance by networks. The so-called loverboy method has long served one purpose: to make women compliant by force and to make profit from prostitution. Profit that makes the women dependent and mentally completely drained. 

Others slip into prostitution because they are children of rape. They have been abused from an early age and now believe that they are not worthy of being loved. They believe, without the help of others, that they are in the world solely for sex. People use them for that purpose. Once raped, it imprints itself throughout their lives. 


It is estimated that up to 90% of women are forced into prostitution, both in Austria and in Germany. The young women, some even underage, have up to 40 clients per day. Each one brings in around 50 euros – money they need to live on and which is still mostly taken away from them by the pimps and gangs. At the end of the month, the women are left with a maximum of 300 euros: an almost ridiculous amount for the exploitation of the body and soul. 

To protect themselves, women develop a certain tunnel vision. As soon as the man comes into the room, they switch off their brain for about 15-20 minutes. They dream themselves into distant worlds, imagine being somewhere else. Imagining they never fell for the lover boy scam. Some even imagine their own death. Anything’s better than being a forced prostitute. 

Anyone who thinks that women in Germany and Austria in particular are getting help is mistaken. In contrast, they are viewed as social scum. Many people see no point in helping prostitutes, particularly those who work in the red light district. For society, they only exist when women take care of their own needs quickly and cheaply. In the patriarchal world, they are one thing: a hooker. 


The majority of prostitutes suffer from wounds, pain and internal bleeding. The men thrust unconcernedly and roughly without consideration for injuries, hurting the women in their genital area. The women are literally being raped for money. But the even bigger problem is the mental suffering. The women carry a huge burden inside of them. They can’t form secure attachments with others. They have lost faith in humanity. They can no longer have anything to do with men. They are what society and the men make of them: empty shells of a human with broken bodies. 

Even though there are restricted areas in all European countries and in their cities, prostitution still exists everywhere. In private apartments and in children’s rooms, if need be. Only a few people are aware of the fact that they can report this to independent agencies. Some come from far away – even from countries such as Jamaica. The prostitutes associate the abuse they endure in Austria and Germany with that in their own country. They think you have to bribe the police to get them to help you and so they don’t even think of asking anyone for help. In addition, the women are pulled into bad neighborhood with high crime rates. The police are often not around, especially in these areas, so the prostitutes don’t come into contact with them.   


That the women are treated like commodities becomes clear at last when one learns that they are being shipped back to their home country as soon as there are no more jobs for them or they no longer “perform”. They get trafficked, are often lined up and forced to present themselves like livestock. The minors are sold without the consent of their parents. With fake passports, they can travel to faraway places. They are simply passed around. To Italy, Romania, Hungary and back again. When there are no more jobs for them in one place, they are simply sold to another. 

If they are “sorted out”, they are left to their own devices after years or decades of exploitation. Out of a sense of hopelessness, these same women in turn find themselves as prostitutes in other countries. They set out on their own to find clients. Without the criminal gangs. They simply have no other choice, according to the motto: If you want to eat, you need sex. Day after day, the women go to the streets to prostitute. Many of them have tried to find a job, but nobody wants to employ them and they have nothing to live on. Poverty in Romania, for example, is also much worse than in other countries. Almost half of the women are even still underage. 


No matter what the prostitutes do in their lives, they always carry the stamp of “being sold” with them. After the terrible exploitations, they have been stripped of all dignity. They have been punished and sold and declared useless so many times that they themselves believe it. But, instead of integrating the women into society within Europe, they continue to be dropped. So, the struggle does not end for the women even after the struggle for survival. They receive neither spiritual nor financial support from the state. They are trapped. In a culture and its subculture. Sex. But what can be done? 

Educating, as always, is the best way to make the world a better place. For example, men in particular should stop referring to prostitution as a sex service that is legal. As a man, using a prostitute should not be an after-work event. It should be kept in mind at all times that these women have been trafficked. That they are a commodity and have to struggle to find their way back to a “normal” life after being exploited. 

Everyone can make a contribution. In Sweden, sex for sale is already penalized entirely. 

And most importantly, women need people to help them and stand behind them. If society continues to see them as scum, nothing will ever change. Organizations such as Hope for the Future are important – providing support, advice, and building trust.

Translated by Emily Schiffer

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