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Activists Blow Trafficking Whistle on World Cup

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Germany expects 3 million soccer fans during the World Cup tournament over the next month. That has provoked concern about the trafficking of women into the country, which legalized prostitution in 2002.

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Germany expects 3 million soccer fans during the World Cup tournament over the next month. That has provoked concern about the trafficking of women into the country, which legalized prostitution in 2002.
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Zita GurmaiPRAGUE, Czech Republic (WOMENSENEWS)--Three million fans are expected to flock to Germany for World Cup soccer matches in 12 cities across the country from June 9 to July 9.

In a country where prostitution was legalized in 2002, that large and presumably heavily male guest list has caused a flurry of preparations by women's groups and European Parliament members to thwart the sex trafficking of women into the country.

The trafficking of women is a shadow behind all the large festivals for sport and similar big money-making ventures, said Lissy Groener, a German Parliament member and women's rights spokesperson for the Parliament's socialist group. "We will not accept this violation of human rights and this violation of women's rights."

The European Parliament along with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, based in Amherst, Mass., predicts that as many as 40,000 women could be trafficked into Germany for the World Cup, where an estimated 400,000 sex workers are already employed.

To pre-empt sex trafficking during the World Cup, the Berlin-based National Council of German Women's Organizations, an umbrella group of about 55 women's groups, in March launched a $90,800 awareness campaign funded primarily by the German government.

The campaign, along with Germany's record of prosecuting criminals, contributed to the nation's Tier 1, or top, ranking in the 2006 human trafficking report issued Monday by the U.S. State Department. The majority of women believed to be trafficked into Germany for the sex trade are from Central and Eastern European nations, the report said. Those include the Czech Republic and Russia. Both those countries were given middle, or Tier 2, rankings. The Czech Republic was cited for weak sentences for traffickers and concerns about forced labor practices. Russia was placed on a "watch list" for failing to comply with minimum standards for eliminating the problem.

The State Department report estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year; of those, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are minors.

Some Red-Light Districts

Since the legalization of prostitution, which leaves related regulation and zoning to municipal governments, some German cities--including World Cup hosts--have designated red-light districts for the trade.

In recent months, for instance, city officials in the western city of Dortmund, with a population of 586,000, took steps to ensure that its red-light district on the outskirts does not spill into residential areas during the games. City officials arranged for the construction of drive-in sex huts equipped with emergency buttons to alert police to problems.

But major cities, like Berlin, have not tried to segregate sex work from the general economy.

Last year, a 3,000-square-meter brothel was built just down the street from the Berlin stadium. Its owners have denied that the World Cup prompted construction of the facility, which cost $6.5 million. In a September 2005 article, however, Spiegel Online quoted Norman Jacob, the project's attorney, as saying "football and sex belong together."

During the World Cup, the National Council of German Women's Organizations will operate informational booths in each of the 12 host cities in Germany to distribute anti-trafficking literature, speak with fans about trafficking and encourage those purchasing sex services to look for signs of trafficking, which could be as simple as asking if a sex worker is there on her own, free will.

Thirty additional groups, such as the Bonn chapter of Amnesty International, will help distribute the group's pamphlets, posters and whistles, and hotlines are being funded by the government.

Football Federation Makes a Donation

The German Football Federation has donated 2,000 euros--$2,590--to the anti-trafficking campaign. The games are expected to generate about $3.2 billion in revenue for the Federation Internationale de Football Association, the organizers of the international soccer games.

Zita Gurmai, a Hungarian member of the European Parliament and chair of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, called the World Cup an "occasion to raise public awareness about the existence of human trafficking and forced prostitution, all over the world and all over the year."

But some anti-trafficking groups take issue with the German effort.

Janice Raymond, co-executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, which objects to Germany's legalization of prostitution, calls the campaign "an ethical John's program" that certifies some women as usable and others not and is skeptical of its effects.

"The men aren't going to say, 'Hey, babe. Have you been forced here or are you here on your own?'" Raymond told Women's eNews during a phone interview from her office in Amherst, Mass. "Our message is that sex is not a sport under any circumstances."

Raymond says her group has circulated an online petition against all forms of prostitution and has so far collected some 112,263 signatures from 120 countries to be presented to the German government and the governing body of the World Cup games.

German parliamentarian Groener calls that effort counter-productive.

"In Germany, there is a difference in the moral judgment," she told Women's eNews. "In Germany, prostitution is legal . . . I want really not to split powers. I want to join powers to fight modern slavery."

Problem Beyond Prostitution

At La Strada, an anti-trafficking organization based in Prague, the Czech Republic, staffers say the World Cup campaign missed a chance to broaden awareness of human trafficking as a problem that goes beyond prostitution and involves people forced into various kinds of work, from selling souvenirs to working in sweat shops.

"On one hand, the campaign is good because you hear about trafficking," Petra Burcikova, national coordinator for La Strada, told Women's eNews. "On the other hand, you don't hear about the other forms of trafficking. All people walk away with is: 'Trafficking equals prostitution. Good. We were right.' . . . If we talk about forced labor, it concerns everyone."

In March, La Strada alerted media to the possibility that the Czech Republic, as a neighbor and transit route to Germany, might experience an increase in human trafficking during the World Cup.

Burcikova calls the 40,000 projection figure for women who will be trafficked for sex a bit exaggerated. "I think the guys who are coming to watch the championship would not have time to watch any games because they would have to be engaged in having sex with all of those prostitutes all of the time."

Katharina Cetin, project leader of Hydra, a prostitute advice center in Berlin, supports any effort to stop trafficking, but she called the 40,000 figure "hype" designed by Germany to make the campaign more shocking.

The National Council of German Women's Organizations hope that its anti-trafficking campaign during such a high-profile event like the World Cup will help push the problem higher on the political agenda, said spokesperson Ulrike Helwerth.

Gurmai, the Hungarian parliamentarian, said the campaign will help measure the long-term response to trafficking in Germany.

"Germany's concrete measures to tackle this problem are still unknown," Gurmai said.

Mindy Kay Bricker is a freelance journalist living in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

For more information:

U.S. State Department--
2006 Trafficking in Persons Report:
http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2006/index.htm

Trafficking in human beings: Global Patterns, April 2006:
http://www.unodc.org/unodc/trafficking_human_beings.html

La Strada:
http://www.strada.cz/en