Warning: Disturbing content!
The state fully sanctioning the sex trade does not prevent lethal violence against people in it – it may even provide its own justifications for violence. So indicates the first-ever study into murders in the German sex trade written by Manuela Schon and Anna Hoheide, as well as my own assessment of 40 years of cases from the wiki project “Sex Industry Kills” – run by Schon, Hoheide and two other women, including a sex trade survivor. In order to distinguish which numbers and assertions are from the peer-reviewed study and which are my own, I will give page numbers from the study.
For the last 20 years, Germany has averaged c. 8 (attempted) murders of women in prostitution per year. The actual number may be considerably higher, as murder victims are not necessarily identified as having been in prostitution, people in the sex trade going missing doesn’t necessarily alert authorities, if they are unaware of them or the case is kept confidential until solved or declared a “cold case”. Knowing how few women in the general population – never mind the sex trade or victims of organized crime – feel able to report rape or battery, the number of attempted killings will be shy of the real number of cases. Overall the information available is insufficient to make definitive statements about an increase or decrease in lethal violence over any period of time (p. 7).
The data presented here is based entirely on cases collected by the wiki project “Sex Industry Kills” (SIK) which takes its information from accessible news and police reports. There is no data available from the German Bureau of Criminal Investigations since – according to a representative – these numbers aren’t tracked on principle as this would “further stigma” (p. 3). The same is true for the approach to reporting on murders in the sex trade: Schon and Hoheide observe a change from frequent reports about victims’ living conditions to less reporting and a tendency to keep details confidential, which protect victims’ privacy but also keeps the public in the dark as to the circumstances of these murders (p. 15).
Studies from the U.S. put the likelihood of being murdered in prostitution at 18 times that of a comparable sample of the general population. The homicide rate of people in prostitution is 229 per 100.000, which is higher than the highest workplace homicide rates of any regular occupation, such as liquor store workers (8 in 100.000), taxi drivers (27 in 100.000) and soldiers (counting combat-related deaths: 27 in 100.000). There is no comparable German data available.
In the twenty years before and after 2002 (the liberalization of German prostitution laws) nearly 100% of killings involved a male perpetrator – usually individuals, sometimes acting in pairs or groups when committing a robbery or organized-crime-related execution.
In all cases except one, women acted alongside a male perpetrator, e.g. as accomplices in the context of robberies escalated into murder. In one case a woman was an accomplice in her boyfriend’s plot to murder two prostituted women and steal all of their belongings. She’s guilty of assisting him, but it should be mentioned that he spent years threatening, abusing and raping her and forced her to have an abortion. In her testimony in court, she said, that her boyfriend threatened to murder her next.
Organized crime-related murders with mixed-sex groups included e.g. a group of 4 men and 3 women torturing and killing a woman indebted to their escort agency. Only 1 case involved a woman as the sole suspect, but her guilt was never confirmed. Consequently, I will use “men” to speak of the perpetrators, keeping in mind that less than 1% of perpetrators were female.
Men of all ages kill women in prostitution (p. 15). The youngest killer was 18, the oldest 61. The mean age was around 33. The finding of men in their early thirties being the most common perpetrators in prostitution-related homicides is mirrored in U.S.-based research.
Almost all killers were German – only in a few cases were they migrant sex buyers or criminals exploiting women in Germany.
Most killers were completely sober while committing their crime, though some were high or drunk.
The most likely killer is a sex buyer.
The biggest commonality between all killers is the fact that about half were sex buyers (p. 9). This included first-time sex buyers, or those with no prior interaction with the victim, as well as “regular customers” of up to 10 years. There is a debate about whether men who pose as sex buyers but intend to rob, rape or murder instead of pay for sex, belong in this category (in the graphic down below they were not counted as such). Considering that it is the dynamics of how the sex trade operates that enabled these men to access women’s apartments or get them to climb into their cars, it does not matter very much what their intention was, as long as it was undiscernible to the victim or she had no choice but to risk it because she needed money.
The high rate of sex buying perpetrators concurs with international research and a Family Ministry study into the health and well-being of women in the sex trade which concluded that 78% had experienced fear for their safety in the presence of a sex buyer and 41% reported having experienced physical or sexual violence in a prostitution context, naming sex buyers as primary perpetrators. German homicide detective Jürgen Schmidt who has investigated various murders of women in prostitution comments: “The first suspect is [always] the most recent punter.”
Men from all walks of life murder women in prostitution (p. 9). They are all ages, all types of living situations and all occupations: German perpetrators included members of organized crime, homeless men, unemployed men, asylum seekers, waiters, ordinary office workers,, successful doctors, (ex-)soldiers, (ex-)policemen; some with mental handicaps, others as cold calculated killers; some neo-Nazis, others liberal men voting Labor and Left-Wing; some single, others married, one on his honeymoon, many with kids; some were still in high school, some were retired. There is simply no definitive profile of a man who will or won’t be dangerous to a woman in prostitution (if she is even in a position where she gets to turn men down who seem unsafe).
One occupational group stood out: A disproportionate number of serial murderers caught were truck drivers. Their job usually entails crossing borders inside Europe, which means they can rob, rape or murder a woman miles upon miles from their home and be gone and far away just hours after. They also target some of the most vulnerable women, i.e. those next-to highways or in “love mobiles”, most heavily isolated from society. In the US there is an association of truck drivers who recognize the issue of their occupational group helping to fuel sexual exploitation and are trying to take action against it.
Roughly every 10th woman was murdered by men who make a living by taking money off women in prostitution – known to most people as “pimps” or “traffickers”: Pimps are sometimes mistaken for “protectors” of women, but really protect their source of income and often enough themselves pose the biggest danger to her. While some act as individuals, many are part of organized crime networks, systematically exploiting women, often across several cities or countries.
In what other occupation are your most likely killers your customer or your boss?
Unsurprisingly a number of men had a history of violence against women and girls, such as serial rape and battering their partners. Several were incarcerated men out on day parole when they committed the murder, just like the man who murdered Marylène Lévesque in Quebec, a case that shook the world in 2020. A few had a documented history of enjoying the torture of animals. Nonetheless it remains to be emphasized that perpetrators included men who were by all available information “upstanding citizens” with a clean record – this included many married men, fathers and those in full regular employment.
About 1 in 5 women were murdered by a current or former partner, in about half of those cases the perpetrator was also a pimp or sex buyer. In the graphic above men who were exploiters or sex buyers of women, as well as partners were sorted into the “pimp”/”sex buyer” category rather than the “partner” one, because these partnerships commonly were extensions of exploitation rather than meaningful relationships: In cases where a married former sex buyer killed his partner, he was usually significantly older than her, often several decades, while she was from an impoverished migrant background indicating a situation of social and economic dependence and exploitation e.g. “mail-order brides”. Yet other men were what’s known in Germany as “loverboys” – meaning exploiters who will use relationships and fake love to keep women on an invisible leash, but hurt or kill them when they “outlive their usefulness”.
Roughly every 4th woman was murdered by a serial killer, many of them were also prolific sex buyers which is why distinguishing the two categories is tricky (in the graphic above serial killing sex buyers were classed as “serial killers”). According to German homicide detective Jürgen Schmidt, when authorities investigate prostitution-related murders, they will always look for previous and consequent cases by the same killer, because men who murder prostituted women being serial killers is “normal”. Every few years a serial killer, often dubbed a “ripper” will kill several women in the German sex trade, but reporting and public interest is either sensationalist or non existent. Overall Schon and Hoheide observed considerably less public interest in these crimes in Germany than in e.g. the UK or US (p. 16). Research from other countries confirms that serial killers targeting women in the sex trade is no cliché, but brutal reality.
In the 80s and early 90s two serial killers (Stefan Schmitz and Gerd Wenzinger) targeted prostituted women. They were active in the same area and were both doctors performing crude operations, organ removal and torture on women. To this day the police aren’t sure to whom which murder can be correctly attributed. There were nicknames circulating in the media for both men, including “Havel Ripper”, “Torture Doctor” and “Doctor Porno”, but it’s hard to even discern which nickname describes which killer because these two were so horrifically similar and sources disagree with one another. Both are estimated to have killed about 20 women, not all but most of them in prostitution.
Nearly all victims were women (p. 7), with one man disappearing and assumed to be murdered in 2004, five boys killed by an unknown serial killer targeting exploited male children in Frankfurt in the 80s, and 4 transwomen losing their lives to lethal violence since the early 80s. Because the vast majority of victims were female, I will from here on usually refer to victims as “women”, in acknowledgement that the sex trade also harms men and that transgender people, most of them trans women, are driven into it – especially the street sector – at vastly disproportionate rates (in Germany about 30x as high as their percentage of the general population).
People of all ages were victims of murderous violence in the sex trade. The youngest victims being two boys of 14 and the oldest a woman of 65. They included everyone from high school age students, to pregnant mums to women old enough to be grandmothers. The mean age was – same as the killers – around 33 years. To highlight how many years were stolen, if we imagine that each person would have been given a fair chance at a safe life in Germany, their life expectancy would have been around 80 years.
The significant number of women in their 40s, 50s and 60s shows that prostitution is not a situation only young women find themselves in. About half of all women in prostitution are mothers, usually trying to feed a family, who is often far away back in their home country, shown in how many victims leave behind younger and older children who have to cope with the trauma of losing a mother to violence. A number of women had lost custody of their children to the father, their parents/grandparents or a foster family. Many women themselves grew up in similar circumstances having lost one or both of their parents to prison, suicide or other kinds of early separation or death.
A large minority of women were first sexually exploited as children, a majority experienced some level of childhood neglect or abuse, a fact mirrored in the biographies of many victims and confirmed by the one available Family Ministry study. A number of victims however also entered the trade later in life after falling on hard times, e.g. after the end of a marriage, the loss of a job or becoming disabled. Yet others are in prostitution for decades – since prostitution contrary to popular belief does not usually pay well or set one up for retirement.
Many killers look for someone vulnerable.
A significant number of women were homeless, struggling with alcohol, drug addiction, illness or mental health problems and e.g. climbed into the killer’s car in a state of severe intoxication. This is in general not a rarity in prostitution where high rates of substance addiction to cope with fear and abuse are well-documented.
„[The sex buyers] will even get horny, when the woman is HIV positive and covered in wounds.”German police detective
There is no law that prevents men from legally purchasing access to women whose ability to give sexual consent is seriously compromised and they do so repeatedly. In response some German support agencies (inadvertently) victim-blame women by telling them to “stay professional” and “away from drugs” rather than looking at the root cause of women’s distress and asking why men seek out women so severely incapacitated.
Analyzing changes between pre- and post-liberalization Germany is difficult considering many cases lack detailed information. Counting up women’s origin however one can observe changing demographics in the sex trade over the years: An ever-increasing number of women are migrants who have come to outnumber local women (confirmed by government data from 2019 putting the number of licensed migrants in the sex trade at 81% – which means the actual number including unlicensed women is likely even higher). While in the 80s and 90s the majority of murder victims were German, this reverses in the 00s and 2010s (p. 7-8).
Between 2002 and 2020 43% of victims are Eastern European, primarily Romanian, Bulgarian, Polish and Ukrainian, c. 12% from Asia, predominantly Thai, c. 6% African, 4% Latin American and 4% Western/Southern European. Almost all countries of origin were unsurprisingly significantly poorer than Germany and showcase how poverty is one factor that leads women into the German sex trade in the first place. Information on several cases reveals a number of women were trafficked, by force and by fraud e.g. by false promises of regular work in Germany, such as a waitress, cleaner or nanny. Some women knew they were entering the sex trade, but the level of control enacted over their lives would still qualify them as trafficking victims in many countries.
Many women were feeding whole families in their home countries, some of them aware of where the money was coming from, sometimes taking an active role, and sometimes unaware. The case of Christina B. (25) from Romania highlights what male violence against women in prostitution costs entire families: Shortly after Christina was murdered by a “long-term customer” who was registered with her German escort agency, her older sisters, also in the sex trade, vanished, police presuming another murder. The reality is that families are sacrificing daughters, sometimes multiple women and girls, into the sex trade in Western Europe to make ends meet. This journey West is an acute risk to physical and mental well-being and repeatedly an early death sentence – so much that some Romanian feminists have started describing it as a “genocide”.
Overall the biographies of victims indicate that most women killed in German prostitution were not making a free choice to enter the trade, but engaged in it due to lack of choices, if not outright force. Many victims were in the process of trying to leave prostitution or had tried before.
But ultimately it does not matter to the killer who she is.
The idea that a high degree of choice or perceived glamour makes a woman safe is an illusion: Take for example the case of Maren S. (19), a German woman, who compared to many other victims, made one of the least constrained choices to enter prostitution, as she chose it over training to become an assistant radiologist. She was murdered on her second day by a sex buyer in an apartment brothel shared with multiple other women. Or Monika E., a 62-year-old dominatrix, with no third-party exploiter – by many people’s standards an “independent sex worker” – murdered in her own studio by a “regular customer” of 10 years. I have written about the false narrative around “high-class escorting” before, discussing Rosemarie Nitribitt in the 50s, possibly the most famous case of prostitution-context murder in Germany, who had no pimp and was making 7 times the average German’s citizens yearly income. Did Maren’s, Monika’s or Rosemarie’s killers care that they were independent women? No.
Overall locations of crimes correlate closely with population size (p. 11). The deadliest cities are also Germany’s biggest, i.e. Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, etc. The murders in rural areas simply showcase that prostitution happens all over the country, e.g. when street prostitution areas or mega-brothels are placed in sparsely populated areas to avoid conflict with local residents. To see where exactly murders took place, see this map.
There are many myths that need busting around what is and isn’t a safe sex trade venue. The short answer is: Nowhere is safe. The long answer is that outdoor i.e. street prostitution is statistically more dangerous than indoor prostitution, as women are particularly vulnerable (highest levels of poverty, drug addiction and biggest mobility for the sex buyer or a random attacker/kidnapper/serial killer to drive her to a secluded location of his choice), but since c. 90% of German prostitution is indoors it’s still important to highlight the 75+% of murders that happened there (p. 8, 10) and how the safety mechanisms in place are insufficient to prevent lethal violence.
About 40% of all murders happened in so-called “apartment brothels”, which cannot be directly conflated with victim’s private home, although women do often live and sleep there. A minority of women directly rent and permanently stay in the apartments where they operate from, however, the majority, esp. migrant women with no work visa, are far more likely to be moved in a bi-weekly manner from city to city, apartment to apartment, under the control of organized crime. Anecdotal evidence from witness testimony indicates how women on the street sometimes develop systems of communicating with and warning each other, in order to collectively avoid suspicious curb crawlers – women in apartment brothels who don’t speak German or are under the control of organized crime however appear to be even more isolated, meaning once she opens the door it may already be too late. A number of victims shared apartment brothels with one or multiple other women or had a “protector” present, but this, too, offers no reliable protection from lethal violence. If other women were present – the perpetrator often attacked them, too, sometimes ending in double homicide.
Women murdered in hotels or in perpetrators home were usually “escorting”, a euphemism for when the sex buyer calls the number of an agency or brothel picks a woman from essentially a “menu” (age, body size, hair color, ethnicity, practices she will (have to) do) and orders her to wherever he pleases. This may be a hotel or his private home – either way a location often completely unfamiliar to her, where she has no idea about the lay-out, possible escape routes or what exactly awaits her. Some escort agencies do keep “client lists”, but this still wasn’t enough to stop sex buyers from killing women. The romanticizing of escorting needs to die a swift death considering how dangerous it really is in practice.
Finally the famed legal mega-brothels of Germany are supposed to have the strongest safety measures in place, such as cameras in the hallways, panic buttons in every room and bouncers on every exit. However, SIK recorded at least 13 publicly known murder (attempts) inside mega-brothels since 2002 (and one finds many more prior to liberalization since brothel-keeping has never been completely illegal in Germany):
With 150 women on offer at any given time (with one entire floor dedicated to transwomen, as though they were a “flavour”), the “Pascha” in Cologne is Europe’s biggest legal brothel (pictured). In 2003 a woman from Thailand was stabbed to death by a sex buyer inside its’ walls. The owners promised improved security, but not only was there human trafficking uncovered in 2004 and at least one minor exploited for months, there were two more documented cases of women barely escaping violent attacks with their lives – one in 2006 and one in 2015. Inside another “Pascha” brothel in Salzburg, Austria, an 18-year-old woman gave birth and in distress threw her child out the window.
The “Eros Center” is one of Germany’s biggest legal brothel chains. Murder (attempts) inside this chain date back to the 60s: 1968 in Hamburg, in the 80s a serial killer was able to kill 3 women over a 6-year time span in the Eros-Center Kiel, more murders were committed in 1994 in Trier, 2007 in Neu-Ulm, 2009 in Bonn and most recently in 2014 in Osnabrück.
The “Paradise” chain has some of Germany’s largest brothels, with the one in Stuttgart being visited by 56.000 men per year. Owners boasted about good working conditions with an “in-house gynecologist” and “close connections to local authorities and women’s officers”. In 2016 “Gerit” from Romania was shot to death by a “regular customer” in front of the brothel. In 2019 the owners were sentenced for knowingly profiting from systematic human trafficking used to meet demand for the last 10 years.
Despite the availability of legal venues (even though they are not free of violence or trafficking, as we just saw), illegal brothels still flourish in Germany – masking themselves as private homes, or strip clubs, spas and massage parlors. In 2017 two Asian women were murdered in a massage parlor brothel in Gelsenkirchen by a man of Chinese background, the motive remaining unclear. Most recently Phoosuk Düstersiek, a 57-year-old woman from Thailand, who ran and sold sex inside her Thai Massage parlor, vanished and was found dead 9 months later. The suspects in her case are sex buyers.
In all cases except one, the male perpetrator was the initiator of the violence. While several murders followed verbal altercations, the decision to get violent was nearly always made by the killer and there is little to no argument for murders of self-defense. Many of these murders were planned and executed with exceptional brutality. I will not mention all the details as I am not interested in sharing “gore” anyone might find titillating, but I do want people to understand the level of danger women in legal prostitution live in.
While researching this subject I came across the worst kind of violence I have ever read about. It went beyond my imagination and I can only hope there isn’t even worse out there. I will not go out of my way to tell gruesome stories, but still want to put the strongest possible trigger warning before reading this section. If you do not want to read about explicit violence against women, but still gain knowledge as to why murders of women in the sex trade happen – please skip ahead to “Why?”.
The number of women shot is rather low, because of Germany’s strict gun control laws – this is likely the main reason why not a single of the studied cases was a mass shooting (though a few did include 2-3 people shot, including by shooters on a rampage). More common methods were stabbing, strangling and beating, with some using torture and poison. Schon and Hoheide point out in their study that it is insufficient to keep out guns or knives from brothels when men can murder women with the use of pillows, clothing items or just their bare hands (p. 9-10). It has to be noted that U.S. based research, too, indicates that prostitution-related murders are often “impromptu” and also carried out “manually”, despite a wider availability of firearms. Overall, Schon and Hoheide posit that the brutality with which murders are carried out has increased over time, moving from strangulation with an object to the use of bare hands or repeated stabbing (p. 15).
Several killers who went into the situation planning to murder their victim used paying for “BDSM practices” such as “bondage“, etc. to restrict her freedom of movement without the victim suspecting lethal violence.
A number of men killed women during or after “having sex” with them. Think about this for a minute. After one of the most intimate things you can do with a person, murder should be the farthest thing from your mind. Yet a lot of murders happen during or after a man sexually used the body of a prostituted woman. What does this tell us about the level of dehumanization those men feel when they pay to access her body? A significant minority of perpetrators would be classed as “sadist” and/or “necrophiles” – among those a number filmed their crimes and shared them with other men. Unsurprisingly this group included men who were addicted to pornography and wanted to recreate it.
The methods of serial killers mirrored those of all serial killers: Killing either coupled with robbery or torture. Often taking “souvenirs” such as personal objects or body parts.
The disposal of victims’ bodies highlights again how disposable women were to murders: Many were left in trash bags or cans, dumpsters or by the side of the road, often partially or entirely naked. A few men urinated on their victims.
I also want to mention that a large number of women survived murder attempts and live(d) with the traumatic consequences and injuries. Many carry live-long severe PTSD and disabilities as a consequence, such as an unnamed 39-year-old woman whose attempted killer cut her vagina with a butcher’s knife, which she survived through emergency surgery or Temenuzkla Y. (25) from Bulgaria, who after a knife attack by a sex buyer is bound to a wheelchair and has to be fed via infusion for the rest of her life. Ioana Condea, a then 19-year-old Romanian woman was beaten to a pulp by her pimp till she lost consciousness, drenched in nail polish and set on fire. She spent 4 years in care, before succumbing to her injuries.
The real answer as to why men murder women in prostitution is misogyny, racism, entitlement, lack of empathy, outward-directed self-hatred and in the case of robberies greed. Anything else are excuses made to justify the crime or incite sympathy before a jury. Nonetheless, I will outline the excuses men have made to explain their thinking and show how society may encourage their actions when feeding into certain narratives.
If one wishes to use the term “whorephobia”, this is when to apply it.
Men kill women in the sex trade because they see them as less than 1) because they are women and 2) because they are “loose women”. These murders are the worst consequence of irrational aggressive hatred towards women who are viewed by the perpetrator to be “devalued because of too much sexual contact with men” and/or to be “exploiting men’s natural urges for financial gain”. The idea that women in the sex trade are “shrewd”, “hardened” and “less sensitive to pain” likely also plays a role, considering how many men in studies state that women in the sex trade “can’t be raped”.
As is common when men murder women they have no personal relation to, many killers use the woman as a stand-in for a generalized hatred against women e.g. in cases of unresolved rage at an (ex-)partner or other forms of “romantic rejection”. Stories of personal pain unrelated to the victim, such as years of bullying, the loss of a job, fear of deportation, the recent death of a loved one are not uncommon but should be taken with a grain of salt considering they are delivered usually in the context of a lawyer trying to mount a defence in court (and obviously most of us who go through these experience do not murder anybody…).
Just like the Atlanta shooter, a huge number of men feel that women in the sex trade had done them some level of harm – this comes e.g. in the form of one sex buyer going on a shooting rampage for thinking he had contracted HIV in a prostitution context and more commonly when a sex buyer feels “exploited” for having to pay (too much) for what he feels is owed to him (mirrored in U.S. research). This can be the “regular” who feels that having spent 4-5 digit sums on one woman, she is basically his possession, the man feeling cheated out of time, several men being angry over not managing to orgasm, yet others attacking the victim over sums as little as 20€ and finally those who find themselves unable to pay and prepared to kill a woman before admitting it.
Some form of “escalated price haggling” is a strongly reoccurring motive in the narratives of men justifying prostitution context femicide, and directly fueled by a culture among sex buyers that holds up a male right to access women’s bodies and seeks punishment of women who “do not deliver” after payment. To describe women who practice this “exploitation” German sex buyers have coined the term “Abzockfotze” (“rip-off-cunt”).
Repeatedly perpetrators feel that women should be punished for assertiveness or outspokenness: Murderers have stated in court that they killed women for “refusing anal sex” or other specific acts. Women were also blamed and punished with lethal violence for making fun of or simply observing sex buyers’ erectile dysfunction. Obviously, women’s behaviour did not cause these murders, and advising women in the sex trade or women in general to tip-toe around men’s fragile egos is not a solution to the problem: In reality, these men carry deep-seated hatred for themselves and the people around them and are simply looking for an excuse to take it out on someone, thereby in their minds reasserting masculine control. If it’s not her laughing at his limp dick, it will be that she didn’t smile or moan enough or whatever else he can come up with.
Men who were women’s partners killed them for the same reason most men kill their girlfriends and wives, i.e. entitlement to and loosing control over her body and life: A number of men viewed their partners being in prostitution as cheating justifying violent punishment. Many others were (former) sex buyers or pimps, the relationship characterized by power imbalance, stalking and abuse from the start, murdering her before she could built an life independent of them. In German sex buyer circles men who believe themselves to be in a love relationship with a prostituted woman are known as “Liebeskasper” (“fool in love”), indicating how most of them do not believe that these are meaningful genuine partnerships.
Schon and Hoheide do a case study on the victim-blaming of women killed under such circumstances and quote sex buyers commenting on what happened to “Gerit”, the woman shot by a long-time sex buyer in front of the legal “Paradise” mega-brothel (p. 13):
“I’m actually surprised, that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. […] When a john stabs a hooker to death, she probably deserved it. The kind of hookers who not only rip you off, but enjoy playing with the feelings of ‘unstable’ men—well, they’re literally playing with fire. […] Sometimes that means a smack in the face… or a knife between the ribs.”– German sex buyer
“In my opinion, [the victim] carries joint guilt in this whole drama. She should have either dropped that fool in love early and decisively or continued the business relationship and provided decent professional service.”– German sex buyer
One excuse that actually worked for some perpetrators in court is that of the “BDSM mishap”, e.g. claiming that the woman asked to be strangled for pleasure’s sake and that he merely complied a little too hard and too long. One man got 2 years probation for this crime where other men get decades or life. If this is a subject of interest to you, I recommend following “We Can’t Consent To This” – a British feminist campaign to stop murderers using the “consensual BDSM” excuse in court.
In general pimps murder a woman when they loose power over her, e.g. when she plans to exit prostitution and/or threatens to report him to authorities. This is also done to demonstrate to other women, that not paying up debts or trying to escape will get you killed. In other cases the murder is motivated by the pimp viewing the woman as a drain on his energy and income: In the case of Andrea K. (19), her pimps killed her in 2020, when she was too sick with schizophrenia to turn a profit for them. A migrant woman too sick to “work” will usually be sent back to her home country, but since Andrea was German there was nowhere abroad she could disappear to, so drowning here was seen as the logical solution.
Alternatively, girls and women exploited by organized crime sometimes ended up in the crossfire of rival gangs, such as Michelle (30) killed by a car bomb intended for her pimp or Mandy Z. (16) shot in the face by a man who also killed her exploiter.
Regarding the matter of greed – a large number of murders were committed as part of escalated or spontaneous robberies: While some robbers came to women doors with the intention of taking money, others were sex buyers who robbed her after paying for sexual access. One thing we can do to dissuade such crimes is to stop perpetuating the myth that prostitution makes women rich and that they carry small fortunes around with them in cash (advice given to women in the sex trade always includes avoiding carrying big sums of money and not showing the sex buyer where she keeps the payment).
On the question of sexual gratification many men murdered women in hopes of covering up rape, while others took sexual pleasure in the act of torture and killing specifically. Considering the number of perpetrators who shared films or photos of their crimes with other men or committed them in groups, some of these crimes can be classed as “bonding rituals” between men, proving to each other just how “dominant” and violent they can be. I don’t think I need to explain how that expresses misogyny and will not go into any detail here, since what information may be useful to know on this matter has already been outlined in the “how” section.
Finally, it’s safe to assume that many killers were encouraged by the assumption that they are less likely to be caught, because of the continued low social status and a high degree of isolation of most prostituted women (contrary to popular belief prostitution does not move completely out into the open when legal, as all parties involved, prefer to maintain anonymity). In general German police does appear to take these cases seriously and to clear them at a reasonable rate – there is however often a practical barrier to identifying the killer i.e. a large pool of suspects, as in some cases police tests hundreds or thousands of men’s DNA. Again an issue inherent to the sex trade and observed across countries.
Personally I do not buy the claim that if we pretend like women in prostitution have no vulnerabilities, sex buyers will stop seeing them as easy targets. They are often up close to the milieu like few other people and can confirm the reality for themselves without needing to see a documentary or read a feminist blog to understand just how little protection women in the sex trade have. If you wouldn’t claim that denying vulnerability protects women in the general population, don’t say so about prostitution. The only people served by hiding power dynamics are those who abuse them.
In Germany prostitution has been a facet of society since Roman times: Sex buying was always accepted, normalized even, widely practised by male elites and commoners alike. Brothel keeping was usually at least semi-legal. Only the seller has been historically marginalized, stigmatized and targeted by industry insiders and outsiders, which highlights the necessity of untangling the views on and the interests of these different groups. All that happened in 2002 was the state giving its final stamp of approval to all parties involved (although in practice the law still mostly benefits buyers and profiteers and comes with significant burdens for prostituted women).
The state labelling prostitution a “regular industry” – casting sex buyers as “regular consumers” – does not prevent murder of women in the sex trade. It does not stop male entitlement to female bodies – it likely exacerbates it, as men feel they are customers paying for a service which they expect to be carried out to their satisfaction – (perceived) non-compliance being an extremely common motive for murder. She may no longer be seen as a criminal, but in practice is still seen as less than fully human by the men who pay, rape and kill, and by much of society.
Legality does not alter power dynamics in the industry significantly with (local) white men with excess income purchasing access to socially isolated impoverished (migrant) women. Legality says that the women’s marginalization doesn’t matter and that no great harm is done paying to access someone in visible distress. Men get away with raping women in prostitution all the time – is it surprising that they think no one will care all that much about a missing or dead “hooker”? Legality does not dissuade organized crime from profiting, instead they become (semi) legal business men and according to experts control the majority of the milieu.
Safety mechanisms even in legal licensed brothels fail routinely and women all across the sex trade get advice on how to not get “robbed, raped or murdered”, being gaslight into thinking this is normal or even acceptable. But as the German government has bought the narrative that speaking critically of the sex trade equals speaking badly of prostituted women (while also collecting lots of tax from women, advertising sites, legal brothels and sex tourism) we do not even have official statics on most matters regarding the industry (there’s only recently been a shift with some data collection the last 4 years).
Nonetheless a debate is evolving and there are more and more voices supporting drastic change, but most would still prefer to see these murders as tragic outliers, not as culminations of exploitative systems of power and millennia-old patriarchy. The question is now whether we let them.
Remembering those murdered in German prostitution (1982-2020)
There is usually very little personal information public about the women, girls, men and boys who were victims of lethal violence in the German sex trade. But in order to humanize them as much as possible here are their names, some photos and information about their lives and deaths. Murder attempts were not included. Read about all cases here.