2006; 368: 105-106
Fears of World Cup sex trafficking boom unfounded
[Scroll down for "Inside Berlin's largest brothel"]
By Samuel Loewenberg
Months in advance of the World Cup, which comes to an end in Germany this week, women's organisations were warning of a massive influx of prostitutes, illegally trafficked from eastern Europe, to cater to the fans. But, says Samuel Loewenberg, the reality has been very different.
The audience attending the Sweden–Paraguay game of the football World Cup at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin had many odd costumes, from face paint to silly hats. But even for them, the two women dressed as enormous penises stood out.
When a group of beefy blond Scandinavians wearing blue and yellow jerseys stopped to stare at the cheerfully bobbing phalluses, a petite grey-haired woman in a T-shirt and cap quickly approached them. She smiled broadly, holding out a hand full of plastic-wrapped gifts. “You want to know what we are doing?” she asked brightly. “Handing out condoms so that men will use them when they go to prostitutes.” The young men stared at her in surprise, then tentatively reached out to grab the proffered condoms. One of them decided to double-dip. “Then I'll need one more”, he said with a grin.
In the weeks before the World Cup opened in Germany, the newspapers were filled with warnings that an army of prostitutes would invade the country to service the 3 million fans attending the games. Many of them, the media warned, would be women and girls from eastern Europe forced into service by human traffickers. The reports sparked an international outcry, including calls from human rights advocates that some countries boycott the games and allegations from American politicians that the German government was little better than a state pimp, because of its 4-year-old policy of legalised prostitution.
But so far, say German women's groups and police officers, all the talk of a bonanza of sexual slavery seems to have been hysterical media hype. Although there are scattered reports of an increase in prostitutes, it is nowhere near the 40 000 predicted by the newspapers, and there is as yet no evidence of an upsurge in forced prostitution.
“It is no surprise for us that the numbers are not so high”, says Heike Rudat, a spokeswoman for the German Union of Criminal Investigators. Germany already has so many prostitutes, say experts, estimated at nearly 400 000, that there was simply no need to increase the population, especially for such a short period. In addition, high-security conditions during the games make it especially difficult for criminal sex traders.
In fact, most police officers are happy that prostitution is legal because it makes it easier to crack down on serious crime, according to Rudat, who is also a detective-commander in the Berlin police force. “In Germany we chose a way so that we legalise prostitution, but at the same time, we watch the Red Light districts closely”, she says. “It is better when you can see the prostitutes, the pimps, and their clients. When prostitution is forbidden, you can't see these things. And so the danger of crimes associated with prostitution will be higher.”
The allegations that state-sanctioned prostitution leads to exploitation are also disputed by local women's advocates. Last year, there were 972 complaints about forced prostitution in Germanythat's a small number, even counting the many that are not reported, considering the estimated number of prostitutes working in Germany.
Forced prostitution is “exaggerated”, says Wiltrud Schenk, the grey-haired condom-distributer. In her day-job, Schenk is a social worker who has run a health clinic for prostitutes for 17 years in the Berlin neighbourhood of Charlottenburg where many brothels are based. While forced prostitution is always a problem, she says, she has seen no evidence of an increase because of the football championships.
Wiltrud Schenk giving out condoms to football fans [Photo: Samuel Loewenberg]
“In Germany prostitution is a job like any other, like being a construction worker”, says Schenk, chatting merrily in between handing out condoms to befuddled male football fans. She draws a distinction between forced prostitution and illegal prostitution. Many prostitutes in Germany are illegal, she says, but they are not forced. They are just immigrants trying to earn a living who do not have working papers.
Even women's groups that campaign against forced trafficking say that prostitution itself is not the problem. “When there are women saying that they have chosen this profession, and they want to do this, then nobody has the right to tell them what to do”, says Marion Steiner, director for the campaign against forced prostitution for the National Council of German Women's Organisations. “It is about letting women live their life as they want to do it. It's their choice”, she says.
Germany made prostitution fully legal in 2002. Before then, it existed in a grey area. Women could be prostitutes, but it was illegal to employ them. The law made sex-for-sale a bona fide profession, giving women access to health insurance, unemployment benefits, job training, and a pension. But even with this law, the reality, say advocates, is that most prostitutes operate without officially registering, because then they must pay taxes and make a public record about what kind of work they do.
Prostitutes are also no longer required to submit to biweekly health checks, as they were previously compelled to do by law. Although this may seem detrimental from a public-health standpoint, Schenk, the clinic director, says that most of the women who came for health checks never had problems. Now, many sex workers still come voluntarily. Interestingly, she says, since the change in the health-inspection requirement her clinic sees more of the male clients. She sees this as a benefit, as evidence that the men are taking responsibility for their own health, and not relying on the state to protect them.
Mobile billboard advertising a brothel in the Prenzlauer Burg section of Berlin [Photo: Samuel Loewenberg]
Inside Berlin's largest brothel
Berlin's newest and largest brothel looks like nothing so much as a Holiday Inn. Located off of a busy highway overlooking train tracks, the four-story bordello, called Artemis, is just a few minutes from the Olympic Stadium where World Cup games are held. Artemis is not a seedy backroom; it is more a supermarket of seediness.
Upon entering the club, male clients are led to a locker room, where they stow their clothing and emerge wearing only a bathrobe and slippers. The prostitutes fill the large bar area, themselves wearing only a towel, although many walk around topless or completely naked. Downstairs from the bar is a “wellness” area, complete with a tropical-themed circular swimming pool, two jacuzzis, three saunas, a fitness room, a masseuse, and an outdoor terrace where barbeque is served to hungry clients and prostitutes alike. There is, of course, an elevating platform in the pool area to allow for wheelchair access.
Sex can occur anywhere in the establishment, and often does. During the World Cup, clients accompanied by prostitutes sat together in the club's two porno theatres watching the football. If the games were slow, some men received oral sex right in front of the other clients. The couch potatoes did not even have to get up when the act was completed, as rolls of paper towels lay strewn about for easy clean-up. “The first principle of this house is cleanliness”, says Egbert Krumeich, the smooth talking manager with a perma-tan and razor-thin moustache.
Drugs are forbidden in the club, and the women appeared sober and healthy. “Mina”, a sex worker from Belgrade, who has been working at the club since it opened in September, says that she visits a gynaecologist once a week, although she is not required to do so. Anecdotally, many of the women seem to be new to prostitution. One woman says she formerly worked in construction; another says she was training to be a kindergarten teacher.
More than 70 women work as prostitutes at Artemis, and most of them also live in the establishment (although they do not sleep where they work). The women come from Russia and across eastern Europe, and about one-third are German. The women are not employees, but must pay €70 to the club per day. After that, they get to keep what they earn and can work as many or as few hours as they like. The prostitutes are unsupervised, and get to choose whom they have sex with. They can even turn a potential client down if they want to, although this is probably not too common. Some women will see as many as 20 clients per day.
The menu of sexual options is straightforward. The price for oral and vaginal intercourse is €60 per half hour. Anal intercourse is €100 extra. Condoms are mandatory, but most of the women do oral sex without using protection. The men like it more without condoms, and the prostitutes like it too, although for different reasons: if the client ejaculates in the prostitute's mouth he must pay another €50, says “Katya”, a blond woman from Dusseldorf who says she just started working as a prostitute in January because she needed the extra money. She is saving up for a holiday to Ibiza.
The idea of distributing condoms at sporting events came a few years ago. Schenk says she was discussing the issue of safe sex with some of her clients, and it became clear that while prostitutes almost always wanted to use protection, it was the men who usually resisted. Football matches, they realised, were an ideal place to spread the word. “We were thinking: where can we find the men? Because there is no organisation of ‘johns.’” The condom distribution project, complete with phallus mascots, has now been picked up by women's groups in towns across Germany.
Along with the condoms, Schenk and her troops give potential johns a ten-point how-to guide. It is available in eight languages, including Brazilian, Swedish, and Russian. The guidelines are typically German in their frankness and dark humour: says rule 2: “Alcohol may help you overcome your fears, but it affects your ability to keep it up. The less you drink the more fun you'll have,” and rule 9, “Whatever happens, don't demand your money back.”