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GERMANY: World Cup – a Magnet for Forced Prostitution?

Anxela Iglesias

BERLIN, Jan 4 2006 (IPS) - Football players, fans and journalists from all over the world are getting ready to head to the World Cup in Germany. And among those packing their bags are about 40,000 sex workers who will be there to satisfy the high demand for their services.

Some German cities are planning mobile brothels and condom distribution for the booming business expected in June, when FIFA (International Football Federation) holds its world championship.

Initial estimates have mentioned 40,000 prostitutes from other countries, although there is no named source for this figure. Women’s organisations and trade unions fear that many may be tricked into coming with deceptive job offers and then find themselves defenceless and vulnerable in a country they do not know.

“Experience shows that at every big sporting event where a large number of men gather, there is a spectacular rise in the demand for sexual services,” Ulrike Helwerth, spokesperson for the non-governmental German Women’s Council, explained to IPS. She recalled a similar thing happening at the Olympic Games in Athens, in 2004.

The Council has no quarrel with this, given that prostitution is legal in Germany and treated on a par with other professions. People engaged in it are, in theory at least, entitled to social security and to sue clients for non-payment.

Big expectations have helped the business to flourish. The country’s largest and most luxurious brothel opened a few months ago in Berlin. Its facilities occupy 400 square metres and its 70 rooms can cater to some 600 clients a day.

In the German capital, sponsors are being sought to distribute 100,000 condoms in the vicinity of the Olympic stadium, and the town halls of the 12 cities that will host the football championship plan to provide special licences so that sex workers can offer their services on the street.

In Dortmund and Cologne, in western Germany, provisional brothels are being made ready or are already installed. They are individual garages, equipped with condom expending machines, toilets, alarms and emergency exits. This may appear scandalous to some, but to the city authorities it is merely a pragmatic response to demand.

There is no doubt that a sizeable portion of the three million fans coming to Germany for the championship will want to see football, drink plenty of alcohol, and pay to satisfy their sexual appetites.

None of the social organisations consulted knew exactly where the figure of 40,000 foreign prostitutes, in addition to their German counterparts, came from. However, it has been quoted in the media for several weeks, and is thought not to be unrealistic. What activists and organisations are really concerned about is that this number may conceal thousands who are not working voluntarily as prostitutes, according to the Women’s Council.

Trafficking of persons is not a new problem in Germany. It is estimated that there are 15,000 forced labourers, most of them women from Eastern Europe who were forced into prostitution.

Every year some 500,000 people are smuggled illegally into the European Union (EU). Nearly 90 percent of them are trapped into sexual exploitation, according to a report on the “Consequences of the Sex Industry in the EU”, presented in 2004 by a European Parliament committee.

The World Cup means that the traffickers will be even more active. Fraudulent job offers in hotels and restaurants may attract many women from Eastern Europe, who will enter the country on tourist visas.

“Others may be willing to participate in porn shows or as strippers, but in fact they will be forced to have sex with as many men as possible for very little money,” Helwerth explained.

To tackle the problem, the Women’s Council, which represents fifty associations, trade unions and political parties across the country, sent letters to players and representatives of the German Football Federation a few weeks ago.

“You are an example for many men and your word sometimes counts for much more than that of politicians,” the letter reads. “Therefore we ask you to state publicly that ‘real men’ are against the trafficking of persons and forced prostitution.”

Franz Beckenbauer, Oliver Kahn and other German football stars have so far remained silent. Only Jens Lehmann, goalkeeper for the English team Arsenal, promised to take the matter up with his fellow players

Spokespersons for the Football Federation said they receive dozens of petitions every day asking them to support “just causes,” and they cannot possibly respond to all of them.

This is not an acceptable excuse for the women’s organisations. “Our impression is that they don’t want any publicity for the problem,” said Helwerth, who announced an intensive education campaign over the coming months.

The aim is to join human rights organisations, like the London-based Amnesty International, and the German security forces, to explain to politicians, public opinion and potential clients the need to help women forced into prostitution, who are often under threat, isolated or watched closely and are not in possession of their documents.

Other groups are sceptical about the initiative. “Raising awareness is positive, but I think to be really effective we have to reach the women involved, inform them of their rights so that they can deal with the problem,” said Emilja Mitrovic, a sociologist and expert on prostitution at the United Services Union, which has a membership of 2.8 million.

Mitrovic is hoping for support from the authorities to set up an advice centre in the railway station in the northern city of Hamburg.

She believes that many young women will arrive at the city of their own free will, and then find themselves isolated in housing units or industrial zones, unable to speak German and not knowing whom to turn to.

“We want a group of social workers to hand out cards with emergency telephone numbers, and to hire interpreters in order to be able to talk to these women at any time of day,” Mitrovic told IPS.

“It’s really important that they should know where to go to protect themselves from violence meted out to them by pimps, other women or clients. They need to know that there is a way out,” she said.

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