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  Europe
World Cup & Sex
World Cup, a Boon for Sex Workers in Germany
Sex Workers in Germany Expect Eecord Business
A sex worker in Europe

Even before a ball's been kicked, there is a World Cup controversy: Are women being smuggled into Germany to work in the world's oldest profession?

Though it's half hidden behind a tire store along a busy highway, the two-story, red neon sign makes it hard to miss Berlin's biggest brothel. Open since last September, Club Artemis is strategically placed just a few subway stops from the venue for the World Cup final, the 74,000 seat Olympic Stadium. It is also at the center of the biggest controversy of the World Cup: Are women being trafficked into Germany to allow soccer fans to score off the field?

The German sex industry, legalized in 2002, is expecting a 30 percent boom in business during the tournament. Brothels have been opening in host cities like spring flowers, temporary trailers (generously dubbed "performance boxes") have been built near some cup stadiums, and organizers plan to distribute 750,000 free condoms during the games. "With six games in Berlin, we're expecting some very high-intensity days," says Artemis press spokesperson Vanessa Rahn. "We're looking forward to a big rise in business." That has led to howls of protest from everyone from New Jersey Republicans to European women's rights groups. They claim that East European women will be smuggled into the country to meet the soccer fraternity's sexual needs.

Inside Artemis, there is little sign of the public controversy brewing outside. The bordello includes the usual trademarks: dark red carpets, overstuffed leather sofas, stripper poles, way too much gold paint, round beds under huge mirrors, and mock Greco-Roman murals. Like similar clubs in Hamburg and Cologne, it's a testament to erotic excess. From 11 a.m. to 5 a.m., dozens of prostitutes can be found wandering the four-story, 4,000 sq. meter club in the buff—except, of course, on "Lingerie Wednesdays." (During the tournament, management is considering keeping Artemis open around the clock.) For downtime, there are two porno theaters, a well-screened rooftop bar, a gym, and a pool. Men leave their clothes and valuables in lockers in the lobby and cruise the club in fluffy white robes.

To be sure, this is no place for a cheap pre-match warm-up. A shot of courage, or glass of beer, runs $13, and at $1,600 a celebratory magnum of Krug Grand Cuvee could buy you 36 cheap tickets. Just walking in the door will cost you $90, and "the usual" is $75 per half hour—anything extra is up for negotiation between client and companion. "We have 46 private Love Suites, but sex is allowed anywhere in the club except the pool and the restaurant," Rahn helpfully points out. Technically, she explains, the prostitutes are freelancers, paying the club an entrance fee and then drumming up business from the hundreds of men who visit on an average day.


Artemis and its fellow establishments have raised hackles and cultural sensitivities. Muslim extremists threatened to bomb a Cologne brothel that flew the Iranian and Saudi flags. Claes Borgström, the Swedish government's equal opportunity ombudsman, urged the national team to boycott the World Cup to protest prostitution. Most Germans, though, feel that the outrage expressed over the World Cup's pay to play sideshow is misplaced. Many German politicians argue that the intent behind legalizing the oldest profession—besides dragging Teutonic ladies of the night into the sheltering arms of Prussian bureaucracy—was to make it easier for women to leave the business. With employment records, social security contributions, and a clean tax record, they'd be in a better position to move into a different line of work.

Critics, both at home and abroad, don't buy that argument. "The presence of legal prostitutes can create a demand for victims of forced prostitution," argues anti-trafficking activist Holly Burkhalter of the U.S.-based International Justice Mission. At one point, rights groups estimated smugglers and pimps were bringing 40,000 women from Eastern Europe to Germany against their will just to service World Cup fans. That number has been widely criticized as a gross overestimate. But everyone agrees that sex trafficking is a major problem—and not just a German one. Human trafficking is Europe's fastest-growing criminal activity. The European Parliament puts the number of trafficking victims in the European Union at more than 100,000 each year. Officials acknowledge that, willing or not, most of the sex workers in Germany are migrants.

The United States defines all prostitution as "inherently harmful and dehumanizing," and blames the world's oldest profession for "fuel[ling] the growth of modern-day slavery by providing a façade behind which traffickers for sexual exploitation operate." Just this week the State Department used the release of its annual report on human trafficking to slam the German approach. The practical consequence of this policy is that nongovernmental organizations fighting human trafficking and HIV/AIDS must explicitly condemn all sex work to get U.S. federal funding.

Right or wrong, this moral clarity puts U.S. policy decidedly out of touch with most grassroots organizations working to help the world's sex workers. Eyes in Berlin rolled when New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith held hearings on "Germany's World Cup Brothels" on the eve of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's May visit to Washington. "There's no proof that the legalization of prostitution has anything to do with the number of trafficked persons or forced prostitution," says Ulrike Helwerth, spokeswoman for the umbrella lobbying group the National Council of German Women's Organizations. "Forced prostitution has little to do with sexuality—it's about social advantage and disadvantage. The gap between rich and poor countries is widening, and for many women coming from poor countries this is a question of survival."

What, then, is the solution? In the short term, it's down to carrots and sticks. The German government is restricting visas from East European countries such as Ukraine and Belarus for the duration of the tournament and stepping up police raids on German brothels, looking for illegal immigrants and evidence of coercion.

A coalition of German human rights groups is running a rather ambiguous program called "Responsible Johns," encouraging clients to take responsibility for the problem. It warns drunk, horny men that if their prospective companion says "she has extremely high debts with the owner of the brothel," "she is being exploited," or "tells you that she is being forced into prostitution" the deal should be off. In case the heart-to-heart gets bogged down, they recommend you bring a dictionary along and offer her your cell phone to call the authorities.

Long term, the only real way to stop human trafficking is to improve the lives of people at the source. The global traffic in people is the product of economic inequality, and Europe"s porous borders make the problem more visible. Sex traffic victims aren't usually violently kidnapped; they're deceived—with tragic consequences. "Women coming here from southern or eastern Europe are looking for a better life," says Helwerth. "When a teacher or nurse isn't able to earn a living and gets an offer for a very good job in a bar in Germany, it's difficult to say no."

At big sex clubs like Artemis, owners say they carefully check the papers of the many women coming to Germany from points east—Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia. If German authorities follow through on their pledge to monitor business, such establishments will probably be even more careful. Of course, most of Germany's prostitutes meet their customers on street corners and in parking lots. It's unlikely that there will be anyone blowing the whistle on their behalf when the games are done.

Andrew Curry is a freelance writer and Fulbright Journalism Fellow in Berlin.

The above article is from Foreign Policy.




 

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