Exposed: the myth of the World Cup ‘sex slaves’

It was widely claimed that 40,000 women would be trafficked into Germany as prostitutes during the 2006 World Cup. New EU reports seen by spiked suggest that nothing of the sort happened.

Last summer, lurid headlines claimed that 40,000 women would be smuggled by sex slavers into Germany to be prostituted to World Cup football fans. The truth is very different indeed. Newly unrestricted European Union documents reveal that the German police uncovered just five cases of ‘human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation’ related to the international football tournament.

Despite a huge ‘awareness-raising’ campaign, the setting up of telephone hotlines run by non-governmental organisations, and extra police checks on Germany’s borders, the prostitution scare stories, boosted by an unholy alliance of European left-wingers, feminists, police officers, Christians, the American right and US President George W Bush, have turned out to be pure fiction.

Having reported on the trafficking claims, and the people behind them, for spiked last June (1), I applied for restricted Council of the EU documents that had been circulated among European immigration and police officials in January this year. The reports - Council of the European Union documents 5006/1/07 and 5008/7 - are now available and they reveal a huge magnitude of error in the claims made by campaigners that were splashed across media headlines around the world (2). The five cases are 8,000 times less than the 40,000 predicted.

‘The increase in forced prostitution and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation during the 2006 World Cup in Germany which was feared by some did not materialise’, concludes one report. ‘There was no sign whatsoever of the alleged 40,000 prostitutes/forced prostitutes - a figure repeatedly reported, also in international media - who were to be brought to Germany for the 2006 World Cup.’

German police officers and border guards stepped up operations in the run-up to and during the World Cup, but the huge effort failed to find the pimps, or their victims, said to be swarming across Europe’s frontiers.

‘Of the 33 investigation cases reported to the Federal Criminal Police Office on the grounds of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation and/or the promotion of human trafficking, and which took place at the time of the 2006 World Cup, only five cases were assumed to have a direct link to the 2006 World Cup’, concludes the report.

In contrast to the horror stories involving enslaved Africans, Latin Americans, Asians or Russians, the five were from countries that are members of the EU, or which were soon to be members, and all were entitled to travel freely to Germany; indeed, one was actually a German. Of the others, two were from Bulgaria, one from the Czech Republic, another Hungarian victim was a 20-year-old man.

Some claim, including the German authorities, that the high profile given to police operations may have deterred the human traffickers, or that the pimps and prostitutes simply found their way around the border controls. This argument might contend that even if the 40,000 prostitutes failed to materialise there could still be a problem with slaves imported before the crackdown to toil among Germany’s estimated 400,000 sex workers (3).

Government-funded telephone hotlines seeking to support ‘victims who are looking for help but shy away from contacting the police’ might here have shown the extent of forced prostitution in Germany’s mega-brothels. However, the helplines, which were widely promoted by fliers, posters and media coverage, with the strident support of the National Council of German Women’s Organisations, failed to uncover a problem commensurate with the levels of hysteria and outrage – and no cases of alleged forced prostitution linked to the World Cup were reported to these hotlines.

‘Fifty-one cases of forced prostitution were discovered, 23 of those were suspicions, 28 cases proved to be cases of forced prostitution’, says the report. ‘However, all these cases, as all calls in general, were not connected to the FIFA World Cup, but to trafficking in general.’

Another key feature of the sordid debate leading up to the World Cup was a prurient focus on the brothels and the sexual vileness widely attributed to football punters. Last summer reports claimed that, ‘Alongside the beer tents and burger bars catering for a massive influx of fans to Germany, entrepreneurs are preparing to sell a product already openly on sale throughout Germany: women.’ In an article on the ‘dark side’ of the World Cup, Joan Smith of the Independent argued that ‘the combination of sport, booze and sex is a huge problem, encouraging degrading attitudes and sometimes actual violence towards women’, which might possibly include violence against the ’40,000 women being imported [to Germany] for the “use” of visiting fans’.

Writing in the Guardian, Julie Bindel, British feminist, founder of Justice for Women and adviser to the UK Home Office, spoke to ‘Elda (not her real name)…trafficked to England from Albania when she was 17 and put to work servicing up to 20 men a day in a brothel in King’s Cross’:

‘She tells me many of her friends in Albania have been offered the chance to go to Germany for the World Cup. “My pimp told me that I can make thousands because the fans and players want to celebrate when they win.” Is she tempted? She says not. “I often saw football fans who would pass through on their way to take the train home after a match. I had to work 14-hour shifts and was not treated well by them, especially those who wanted to have sex with me in groups.”’ (4)

The reality of what actually happens and how people really behave has not lived up to such degraded visions, in which humans seem to be regarded as abused or abusing, damaged or damaging. Germany’s sex industry, like their feminist critics, certainly identified an opportunity in the 12 cities hosting World Cup games, thinking they could make some money from the influx of men. But it was the fans, not the pimps, that confounded the worst expectations of campaigners.

‘In the run-up to the 2006 World Cup an increase in the number of prostitutes was recorded at game venues and the surrounding areas’, notes one of the EU reports. ‘However…the increase in the number of punters which was forecast by some did not materialise and this was the reason why some prostitutes left before the 2006 World Cup was over.’

While the hype surrounding the World Cup is long gone, the prejudices about European men remain. These new facts might give the lie to the claims about sex slaves being trafficked to Germany to satisfy the apparently rapacious desires of football fans, but the anti-human consensus that sustained the campaigns and the government interventions lives on.

John Miller, head of the US State Department’s human trafficking office, continues to pursue the ‘good fight’ to have prostitution identified as the new slavery (5). ‘What is occurring is the use of language to justify modern-day slavery, to dignify the perpetrators and the industries who enslave. Governments, NGOs and citizens who care about fighting human trafficking and want to break the cycle of stigmatisation and victimisation should not use words such as “sex worker”’, he said in a speech on 15 December 2006.

‘Language is as important in fighting modern-day slavery, also known as human trafficking, as it was in fighting historic slavery. In earlier centuries, to avoid facing up to the suffering of slaves, words such as “houseboy”, “field hand” and “servant” were used. Today, words such as…“sex worker”…and “child sex worker” are commonly used. To abolish modern-day slavery we must not be afraid to call slavery by its real, despicable name.’

British commemorations of the two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery - which occurred on 25 March 1807 - will see many of these same arguments put forward, as UK prime minister Tony Blair gets set to trumpet new legislation aimed at protecting modern-day sex slaves (6). ‘The interesting thing is now for us to see how we can capture the imagination of people…but then how we can take this lesson and campaign into the future as well’, Blair said in January.

The facts of the FIFA World Cup 2006 show that to compare contemporary misanthropic hyperbole to the historically documented slave trade is a cheap and nasty lie. Claims of widespread trafficking to satisfy fans’ lusts were wild and unfounded. They were a kind of morality tale about human corruptibility and vileness, which turned out to be just that: a tale. Yet the same naked bigotry that saw ordinary football fans compared to slavers looks set to be the measure of Blair’s ‘anti-slavery’ campaign over the next year.

Bruno Waterfield is Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

(1) See Trafficking in dubious horror stories, spiked, 22 June 2006

(2) Council of the EU, 5006/1/07; Council of the EU, 5008/7

(3) BBC News, 15 May 2006

(4) Guardian, 30 May 2006

(5) See Trafficking in dubious horror stories, spiked, 22 June 2006

(6) Guardian, 22 January 2007

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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