The German Fairy Tale „the Star Money” by the Brothers Grimm (Revisited)

Although it is among the best known of the Grimms´ fairy tales in the English-speaking world, it is still a beautiful and powerful story about an orphaned girl who, despite being poor herself, shows a lot of compassion and generosity towards less fortunate people. She sets off in search of a better life with only her clothes and a piece of bread. On her route she meets other poor people and does not hesitate to give them all that she has until she ends up in the woods naked. In the Brothers Grimm version, the story has a happy ending in which she is rewarded for all her good deeds: ‘…and although she had just given away her last shirt, she was now wearing a new dress made of the finest fabric and innumerable stars fell from the sky, which immediately turned into shiny silver coins. From that night on, she never had to suffer hardship again’.


The fairy tale ‘The Star Money’ does not come true for women who are forced into prostitution. No silver coins appear for them when they stand naked in front of their suitors. And nobody gives them a new dress made of fine fabric. Even the “lovely” film adaptation of ‘Pretty Woman’ as a romantic portrayal of the life of a prostitute with a happy ending is just a Hollywood movie. And as such has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the life of a woman who is forced into prostitution and who often has to fulfil the role of a sex worker in poor surroundings (in the best case in a reasonably clean room). Customers certainly do not look like Richard Gere, often trigger the desire to run away and expect certain services for their money despite the miserable amount they actually pay for body-friendly services. On top of all that, the so-called “agent”, supposedly the “protector”, usually gets his share of that money in addition to the accommodation costs being deducted from that little amount as well. The only things that count are customer satisfaction and a high customer frequency, which are not always easy to achieve. Customer dissatisfaction or a reduced frequency is often punished with violence – physically or psychologically. The people affected cannot afford to get sick and the outrageous enforced requirements often lead to drug and alcohol abuse. It is all a downward spiral.


This statement comes from Salomé Balthus, a ‘luxury prostitute’ who actively chose this profession for herself (freely) and enjoys what she does. She runs the agency ‘Hetaera’ in Berlin with like-minded women. The keywords here being everyone´s own free choice of being a part of it and, so it seems, doing it with a lot of joy whilst earning a particularly good income. The big difference to forced prostitution is obvious: ‘I actively decide what I want to do with my body’.


Women who are forced into prostitution develop certain strategies to deal with this brutal kind of life. The spectrum ranges from a kind of Stockholm Syndrome to self-contempt. It takes an enormous amount of courage to realise and become aware of the gravity of the situation the person is in, which is experienced and thought of as ambivalent for a long time, and to then deal with the rising thoughts of leaving/escaping. The pretence of a “protector” and admitting what the lived reality is truly like, as well as the difference between one´s hopes of having a somewhat better life through the sale of one’s own body and the actual experience of having to do so in real life, is mostly very disappointing for the people affected and creates an unbridgeable gap between reality and any sort of fairy tale. Fear of violence from the “protector” is often a reason why those affected do not run away or escape. ‘But where can I run to?’ is a major question that inevitably comes up. As is the question of ‘with what/how do I escape/run away?’. It is not uncommon for the “protector” to have taken away all relevant documents of his victims and thereby eliminating almost every path to freedom – especially if you are not in your own country anymore.


And, as is so often the case in life, there is always the proverbial drop that brings the barrel to overflow, after which the person affected plays with the idea of escaping, refusing to participate in what is going on and putting an end to it all. The rocky and long road ahead starts here, costs a lot of strength and is paved with setbacks and hardships. It is always difficult leaving one´s known environment behind for something unknown, no matter how bad one´s situation is or was before. Reorienting oneself is all well and good, but in which direction can one go? Any previous kind of “friendships” cannot be relied upon anymore and have to be given up in addition to having to protect oneself from the so-called “protector” can be overwhelming and create uncertainty and the question of where the new path should lead to. Putting down prostitution as professional experience in a CV will rarely be helpful with successful applications and who will be the one to reach out to those affected to support them in establishing a foothold somewhere?

From fairy tale to reality: HOPE FOR THE FUTURE helps and assists any person affected with advice and support with regards to their thoughts and hopes of escaping forced prostitution and building a new self-chosen life. Sympathetic conversations and chats, valuable pieces of information and respectful interactions throughout the process are essential components towards a life in freedom. HOPE FOR THE FUTURE is the anchor for those women who want escape prostitution and are seeking help to do so.

Translated by Sophie Kitchen