As Ukrainians continue to flee the conflict, disturbing trends are emerging with the women being considered fodder for the legal sex trade in Germany by some men and pro-sex trade activists.
Elly Arrow, an advocate for the abolition of the sex industry, says that she noticed an uptick in sex buyers discussing the implications of the conflict with respect to the prostitution market within a few days of it hitting international news.
Arrow has been documenting German sex buyers since 2018 by combing through forums where men share their “reviews” and opinions of the prostitutes they’ve visited, as well as the sex trade in general.
Her project, The Invisible Men, follows in the footsteps of similar efforts that have been launched in other countries, and seeks to expose male attitudes towards the vulnerable women in Germany’s legal sex trade, often exposing a theme of dehumanization.
Speaking to Reduxx, Arrow says she wasn’t surprised to see the discussions break out amongst German sex buyers about Ukrainian women, noting that she spotted some men even debating about the difference between exploiting a war refugee and an economic refugee.
“Some men did feel like war was worse, and others would call that hypocritical. It is amazing that they sometimes have this capacity to self-reflect, and they still don’t care. They will still pay [for sex].”
Arrow says some of the buyers even felt “holier than thou” by asserting they’d rather go for a Bulgarian or Romanian woman over a Ukrainian one, identifying the latter’s situation as too dire. But Arrow noted others didn’t have such qualms.
“[They might say] ‘I don’t give a f*ck, because I paid therefore I’m not responsible for how she got there,'” Arrow paraphrases, “All of the discussion about what race or background is worth what amount of money isn’t surprising [either], it’s all very familiar.”
The sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women fleeing war has taken the spotlight since the conflict came to a head at the end of February.
As Reduxx has previously reported, Google searches for terms such as “Ukrainian girls,” “Ukrainian porn,” and “war porn” spiked during the first week of the conflict. Likewise, the top trending searches on PornHub included “Ukraine” and “Ukrainian girl.” Other porn sites like XVideos also saw marked increases, with tags such as “Ukraine teen” and “Ukraine prostitute” adding thousands of new videos in those categories.
In Germany, a transgender-run “sex work” organization was recently slammed for soliciting Ukrainian women who might be interested in entering the country’s legal sex trade.
“Even before the war, Ukrainian women were a significant percentage of the exploited women in Germany…” Arrow says, continuing: “German men [already] had this image of Eastern European women — especially Ukrainian women — as hyper-feminine, submissive, and poor. So, easy to exploit.”
In some of the quotes she has translated into English, German sex buyers seem to laud the idea the influx of women could drive down prices for buyers.
“Many are speculating on falling prices. It’s also possible that they’ll adjust to the market prices as they stand. Ukrainian women aren’t really known for offering service without condoms either,” The anonymous buyer wrote, “For that, I remain thankful to the faction from Romania and Bulgaria!”
Another quote Arrow translated shows a man saying, “You can make a moral judgement all you like – the fact is: [The conflict] will have a positive impact on our hobby. There will be more choice and, should enough of them come, prices will decrease a bit as well.”
Other quotes Arrow has published include one man admitting that he’d been scoping out the train stations where Ukrainian refugees were being welcomed into Germany.
“I had a look around the main station to see who was arriving [from Ukraine]. Some really hot women there, so we can soon look forward to a number of them wanting to make a bit of extra money.”
Arrow says that despite the sometimes difficult nature of her work, documenting the seedy perspectives of German sex buyers is making an impact. She mentions that the pro-“sex work” lobby has been getting nervous, with some activists on the opposite side of the debate looking to discredit her.
But Arrow’s project currently comprises of hundreds of quotes she’s collected from all over Germany in an effort to create a comprehensive picture of what the nation’s sex buyers are really thinking. Her finds have been used by abolitionist groups and have even caught the attention of some higher-ups.
“I’ve had politicians themselves reach out to me and ask about the subject. People are always really shocked about this — it’s the best way to cut through the [myth] that the sex trade caters to lonely men who just want to cuddle with a consenting woman, or such things,” Arrow says.
“The one hopeful thing that has happened is how the German public is responding … Up until now, we have had a hard time trying to get people to understand that women entering the sex trade out of a desperate economic need isn’t really a choice. But with the war, people get it,” She noted.
“It is breaking through that base layer of the ‘sex work is work’ line. Because if it is work, what’s the big deal if a war refugee ends up in a brothel? It’s work! But everyone gets that it’s not okay.”
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