Prostitutes' 'people skills' are used to care for elderly

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The Independent Online

Prostitutes in Germany are learning the secret of survival in the modern world - transferable skills. The state of North Rhine Westphalia is spending €1m (£700,000) of local and EU money to get sex workers off the streets and into care homes. All they have to change is their uniform.

The retraining scheme, backed by Diakone Westfalen, a welfare programme that runs nursing homes across the country, is based on a simple observation: prostitutes, because of their experience of dealing with people, make excellent carers of the elderly. Officials say they are often better at the job than trainee nurses.

Rita Keuhen of Diakone Westfalen said: "They have good people skills, aren't easily disgusted and have zero fear of physical contact. These characteristics set them apart. It was an obvious move."

Despite high unemployment, running at 12 per cent, nursing homes in Germany are seriously understaffed. Squeamishness and a reluctance to take on a caring role dealing with personal hygiene have left 6,400 vacancies nationwide.

Diakone Westfalen plans to offer 30 prostitutes aged from 20 to 40 the chance to train for a new career, with two years of courses and vocational training.

Heinz Oberlach from Germany's Federal Labour Agency said the idea of using prostitutes as care workers was "very logical" and "fits together like the pieces of a puzzle". But Ms Keuhen warned there was one danger. "Nursing home bosses will have to be discreet so that elderly men don't try to get more than they are paying for."

Gisela Zohren, 56, a former prostitute who now works at a help centre for sex workers called the Midnight Mission in Dortmund, said life was getting tougher on the streets and at least half the women she met wanted to leave the business.

Thousands of prostitutes had come from eastern Europe and South America, swelling the ranks of the local women forced on to the streets by the shortage of employment.

She said: "Prostitution taught me to listen and to convey a feeling of safety. Isn't that exactly what is missing so much in care of elderly people?"

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