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Sex/Work in Berlin – Experiences of Migrants from Central and Eastern European Countries (working title)

Kurfürstenstraße in Berlin

Kurfürstenstraße in Berlin
Image Credit: Ursula Probst

Ursula Probst

Sex work or prostitution often proves to be a controversial issue, as could be observed in Germany in the last few years, when sex work yet again was strongly debated in public. Following the question if the legislation of sex work in German facilitates or even promotes exploitation and human trafficking a main point of disagreement between various actors of this debate like activists, feminists, law makers etc. was whether self-determination is possible in the context of sex work or if it should rather be generally understood as a form of violence and exploitation.

These public debates were not only strongly gendered, as women (female sex workers) were labelled as victims and men (male clients) as perpetrators, they also separate between German and migrant sex workers, where self-determination and independence is only attributed to the former, while the latter are portrayed as particularly vulnerable. Within the German discourse about sex work, it is specifically the “Eastern European prostitute” that serves as a symbol for victims of violence, exploitation and human trafficking. And while a lot is talked about the “Eastern European prostitutes”, this group rarely gets included in these debates, which is why little is known about their own perspectives on their (work) lives.

This is the starting point for my research project, that, based on ethnographic research, aims to provide profound insights into the (work) lives of people from Central and Eastern European countries who are engaged in sex work in Berlin, which will allow for a differentiated analysis of the lived realities of this group of people.

Therein I especially focus on the question of how sexualities and corporealities can(not) be negotiated inside and outside of sex work and the role of labelling oneself and/or being labelled as “Eastern European” in these processes. Thus highlighting the connections and interactions between notions of belonging and different forms of discrimination the research project also aims to critically engage with and challenge the stereotypical portrayal of the “Eastern European prostitute”.


Funded by the Elsa-Neumann-Stipendium of the State of Berlin

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Dilger

Second Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Thomas Stodulka

Berlin Southern Theory Lecture