Trafficking in dubious horror stories

Meet the unholy alliance of Bushies, Christians and feminists trying to convince us that World Cup 2006 is a cesspit of trafficked women and sex-slavery.

Bruno Waterfield

Topics Politics

World Cup 2006 in Germany has united European left-wingers, feminists, police officers, Christians, the American right and US President George W Bush. But it is not football that has brought these diverse forces together. It is the issue of trafficking and forced prostitution, and a belief that the World Cup tournament is packed with male fans looking to have sex with one of the 40,000 ‘sex slaves’ reportedly trafficked into Germany.

Even before the tournament started we were being fed almost daily reports and horror stories about how the event would be tarnished by drunken fans using and abusing enslaved women. Both the left and right, Christians and feminists, joined forces to argue that Germany would become the temporary home to hordes of uncivilised football fans and victimised women from Eastern Europe.

Nothing better captures today’s anti-humanist outlook than this degraded view of the World Cup. Here we have a tournament which millions of people around the world are enjoying, and all that various politicians, police authorities, religious groups and feminist campaigners can see, often on the basis of unsubstantiated or inflated figures, is an opportunity for degradation and abuse on a massive scale. We should show these scaremongers the red card.

The horror-story claims about trafficking into Europe were first made in the European Parliament, by a German Green MEP Hiltrud Breyer, who also sits on the parliament’s women’s committee. Her Austrian socialist colleague Christa Prets (1) then took up the issue in an announcement made on 14 December 2005, where she linked, for the first time it seems, an influx of prostitutes from Eastern European countries with Germany’s hosting of the World Cup. The bandwagon was soon rolling all over the world; it dominated the marking of International Women’s Day in Brussels in March (2).

On the European Parliament’s women’s committee, an unusual political alliance between left and right has emerged. The committee’s chair, Anna Záborská, a right-wing Slovakian Christian Democrat, had previously found her self out of step with her left-wing and famously PC European colleagues (3). Yet she put such differences aside when she joined the new crusade against forced prostitution, leading the parliament’s sisters in an EU assembly debate as the World Cup opened (4). ‘While the head of world football refuses to condemn, even symbolically, the trafficking of women and forced prostitution, a mega brothel has opened in Berlin to cater for 3,000 clients’, she said. ‘And as long as [FIFA chief Sepp] Blatter does not condemn them openly and publicly, one must assume that he acknowledges their existence. After all, isn’t it true that in the masculine world football and sex go hand in hand?’

Lurid imagery and prurient photographs from German ‘mega brothels’ soon scored goals in media headlines around the world. One claim made in the media coverage, and repeated over and over again, is that as one to three million mostly male football fans converged on Germany, 40,000 foreign women would enter the country’s brothels to satisfy the demand for sex. Most of these women, insisted the activists, would be from Eastern Europe, Africa or Latin America, and many, went the claims, would be forced into sex slavery.

Julie Bindel, British feminist, founder of Justice for Women and adviser to the Home Office, attributed the figure of 40,000 to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), an international US feminist group with right-wing links (more of which later). ‘This figure is based on the number of women needed to fill the additional brothels being set up’, argued Bindel (5).

It is not clear how this nicely rounded figure of 40,000 trafficked women was determined by CATW, and whether it can be substantiated at all. It soon began to annoy the German authorities. ‘There is no sound proof whatsoever that would corroborate any of the figures about thousands of women expected to be trafficked into Germany’, said one official press release (6). The US newspaper the Christian Science Monitor poured some cold water on the sex-slavery hype, quoting Felicitas Schirow of a German brothel called Café Pssst talking about ‘overblown’ estimates of an influx of 40,000 foreign prostitutes; in her brothel, she said, all the sex workers have German passports.

Schirow also doubts there will be much forced prostitution, much less an epidemic of it. ‘There are enough others who do it willingly’, she said. ‘Why should clients go to those forced into it?’

Before long, the cause was taken up by a US Congress probe into trafficking and forced prostitution. Republican New Jersey Congressman Christopher H Smith led the charge. Smith has a fine right-wing and Christian pedigree (7), but he is adept at building links with feminists, including Bindel’s CATW. The chairman of the Congress’s Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee held hearings at which Germany was named as a human rights abuser and ‘pimp’.

Juliette Engel, director of the MiraMed Institute in Moscow, told the hearing: ‘The German government has made the highly controversial decision in the eyes of human rights activists throughout Russia and the world to act as an official “pimp” for the 2006 World Cup – anticipating millions of dollars in revenues from the exploitation of women’s bodies and souls by tens of thousands of male football fans notorious for their drunkenness and violence.’ (8)

Smith grabbed the headlines when German Chancellor Angela Merkel headed for a summit in Washington on 3 May, at which she and Bush were due to discuss Iran’s nuclear ambitions. According to Spiegel magazine and others, Smith declared that more than nukes would be on the agenda; George W Bush would also, he said, raise the issue of how to combat forced prostitution in German brothels. Smith said: ‘It is an outrage that the German government is currently facilitating prostitution and we believe women who will be exploited will be treated as commodities… President Bush has very strong views on this issue and will make them known to the German chancellor.’

America is using the allegations of forced prostitution during the World Cup to put pressure on Germany (9). John Miller, head of the US State Department’s human trafficking office, told Congressman Smith’s committee that he was expecting a report soon from German officials. The State Department’s sixth annual human trafficking report, published on 5 June 2006, referenced the World Cup and took issue with Germany’s prostitution laws:

‘The upcoming World Cup Soccer championship has generated widespread concern among some NGOs and governments over the potential for increased human trafficking in Germany surrounding the games. Germany has legalised prostitution. The US government opposes prostitution and any related activities, including pimping, pandering, and/or maintaining brothels as contributing to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons. These activities are inherently harmful and dehumanising.’ (10)

The new alliance between the US right and feminists was noted by Anna-Louise Crago, a founding member of Montreal’s La Coalition pour les droits des travailleuses et travailleurs du sexe. Writing under the headline ‘Unholy collaboration’ in Rabble in May 2003, she charted the Bush administration’s moralisation of USAID policy and funding cuts to projects perceived as supporting ‘trafficking of women and girls, legalisation of drugs, injecting drug use, and abortion’. Despite protests from women’s groups over the Bush administration’s often moralistic strictures, she noted that ‘feminist groups found a diamond in the rough: the provision on prostitution, at least, could be counted as a victory’. The Bushies’ move against prostitution was welcomed by CATW. ‘The challenge now is to implement these landmark policies in order to free women and children from enslavement’, Crago quotes a ‘celebratory’ Donna Hughes, CATW spokeswoman, as saying (11).

Donna Hughes is professor and Carlson endowed chair in women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island; she’s also the leading light of CATW’s ‘Buying sex is not a sport’ campaign. ‘Merkel’s silence and the complicity of German officials in this mass violation of women’s human rights will cause permanent damage for Germany within the EU and with the US’, wrote Hughes on 1 May (12). ‘Already Germany is acquiring the reputation as the world’s most callous exploiter of women.’

A statement put out by Hughes, titled ‘Germany rolls out welcome mat for sex traffickers and pimps’ (13), shows that both traditional religious groups and victim-feminist outfits have joined forces in this campaign. Supporters include not only Hughes and CATW, but also the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity.

At the same time as the European campaign was growing alongside its strident US twin, there emerged a powerful British alliance between the police, Christians, feminists and a government rights quango.

On 2 February, the Women’s National Commission (NWC), the ‘UK government’s independent advisory body on women’, wrote to the FA encouraging it to support the crusade against forced prostitution in Germany, which sparked further media interest and also recycled CATW’s figure of 40,000, which still has not been explained or backed up in any way. The letter was written by Liz Kelly CBE, veteran feminist professor and chair of NWC’s violence against women working group. ‘It has come to our attention that news reports predict that the World Cup will herald the arrival in Germany of 40,000 foreign prostitutes’, wrote Kelly. Her letter was circulated to British Methodists as a ‘practical action guide’, which also included CATW campaign materials and information about a European socialist petition on forced prostitution and the World Cup (14).

The British police signed up on 21 February, with the launch of their anti-trafficking Operation Pentameter. The Methodists encouraged people to campaign around this issue in the run-up to the World Cup: ‘Contact your local radio stations, offering to be interviewed. Link the World Cup and trafficking with a more local issue – Operation Pentameter – and suggest they interview a local police officer about it…. Many boroughs and local towns produce a newspaper. Contact their editorial office and ask a reporter to highlight this issue. Offer to be interviewed and suggest linking the World Cup with Operation Pentameter for a feature article on the trafficking of women.’ (15)

The British police’s high-profile anti-trafficking campaign, like many of the European campaigns, takes up the issue of trafficking in a much broader context than the World Cup – it also depicts freedom of movement itself in Europe as something dangerous, suspicious, a potentially dystopic nightmare. Passengers arriving at Glasgow’s Prestwick Airport from Poland were only the first to be approached by police and given ‘leaflets in Polish asking if passengers have travelled willingly’ (16).

Entry points into Britain were soon plastered with posters showing a woman or a man with the loaded multiple-choice question: ‘Female or male friend? Human trafficker? How can you tell?’ (17) Posters were translated into Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian as well as English, ‘which indicates the current thinking on where the majority of these women are coming from: Poland, Romania, Estonia and Lithuania’, noted a BBC radio programme. All of these are, of course, new EU countries or are set to join in January 2007. In what once might have been called unwarranted harassment, police have been offering to ‘help’ travellers, visitors and workers arriving from overseas. ‘Police officers will also be…greeting travellers arriving from Eastern European source countries and handing out specially designed business cards containing helpful contact numbers for people who may be afraid that they are victims of trafficking.’ (18)

The British police’s view reflects a wider European outlook which says that the opportunities brought to millions by open EU borders and eastern expansion has a dark side of slavery and forced prostitution. ‘EU enlargement has facilitated human trafficking by bringing borders closer to economically instable countries such as Ukraine, Albania, and Belarus. For natives of these poorer countries, the EU is a close and attractive destination’, notes the pro-European Café Babel (19).

One theme unites the World Cup trafficking debate across the EU and the US, and it represents a new political consensus that transcends political categories of left and right, feminist or social conservative – and that is today’s profoundly anti-humanist sentiment which regards human beings as either damaging or damaged. A report by British feminist Julie Bindel sums up this worldview that regards people as perpetrator-scum or helpless objects easily turned into commodities. ‘Alina was considered “second-hand” and sold on to another criminal gang, who transported her to London in the hope that she would make money in a Soho brothel. “I was worn out, literally used up and spat out”, she says, talking from a safe house in London. “During the games I saw hundreds of men, some British, who thought that a good day was watching sport, drinking and having sex. We were just part of the entertainment”.’ (20)

Campaigners seem to delight in the real and sometimes the no-doubt imagined sordidness of German brothels and the alleged wooden sex huts or performance boxes reportedly set up for the convenience of football fans. Comparisons have been made between the huts and ‘toilets’ (21), or as Christianity Today had it, ‘portable potties’ (22). This captures the metaphor motivating this degraded debate about the lethal mix of the World Cup and EU enlargement – a view of humans as shit or shat on.

The Guardian, Britain’s leading liberal broadsheet, tried to go one better than the campaigners by pointing out – in a piece headlined ‘Nightmare world of suburban sex slaves’ – that forced prostitution of Eastern Europeans is not the preserve of the Germans (23). This is a paper that once would have mocked Daily Mail-style moral panics about ‘white slavery’, now itself finding nightmares in the fabric of everyday British life. The article quoted Operation Pentameter’s Grahame Maxwell: ‘Many women are being held against their will in normal residential streets, and neighbours are completely unaware – we didn’t realise the extent of this. There are very few places in Britain, if any, where this is not happening.’

The idea that sex slaves live on every street in Britain is ridiculous. Such an idea exposes the profound loss of faith in human beings that is driving this almost perverse obsession with sex slavery. It is striking that Operation Pentameter, on 21 June, four months after its launch, became a permanent police outfit after a number of high-profile raids, the rescue of 84 victims, and acres of news coverage (24).

President Bush, crusading right wing congressmen, Donna Hughes and British police officers have found European allies in ex-communists such as Swedish MEP Eva-Britt Svensson. She argues that all prostitution is forced. ‘[N]o woman chooses prostitution. She is forced due to different circumstances, for example unemployment or poverty, and we can also see that there is a connection between prostitution and women who have been exposed to physical, psychological or sexual violation. (25) Her argument is identical to that of Hughes: ‘Prostitution is not work; it is not a job like any other. It is abuse and exploitation that women only engage in if forced to or when they have no other options. Even where prostitution is legal, a significant proportion of women are trafficked.’ (26)

Of course prostitution is deeply problematic, and usually the last resort for hard-up women. But the circumstances that give rise to prostitution will not be addressed by the self-indulgent and sensationalist campaigning of European worthies and US congressmen and feminists. This looks more like moral posturing, handwringing, than anything like a meaningful campaign to improve the lives of Eastern European women by creating more job opportunities for them or allowing them greater freedom of movement to find work where they want it. The view of prostitution as always being forced also denies that women are subjects, sometimes forced into making bad decisions, yes, but also capable of running their own lives without the help of Bush, ex-Eurocommunists or radical victim-feminists.

The apparently anti-capitalist rhetoric about exploitation of people as ‘commodities’ cannot disguise a misanthropic agenda that regards all forms of interaction, including the free market, with fear and loathing. According to Juliette Engel, in her comments to the US Congress committee: ‘[W]e are seeing an effect of the market principles of supply and demand in operation. There are not enough “legal prostitutes” in Germany to meet the sexual demands of the anticipated mobs of sex-seeking men or to fill the beds of the mega brothels condoned by the German government. Unfortunately, pimps do not have to look too far to find a supply of tens of thousands of desperate women in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union who still believe the Western media hype of a glorious life just across the border.’ (27)

The forced prostitution story, kicked centre stage during the World Cup tournament, shows that humanity today is seen as both abused and abusing. This new consensus, which is now deeply entrenched across the political spectrum, is corrosive of people’s sense of self and damaging to the idea of individual freedom and fighting for a better life. The new freedoms offered by the opening of the EU’s borders, however limited they may be, have given millions of Eastern Europeans the chance of trying a new life – and many are taking the opportunity to experiment with how they live. Yet across the world, there are those who seek to turn both the freedom provided by open borders and the fun of a World Cup tournament into a nightmare vision of sexual abuse and exploitation. That really is perverse.

(1) European parliament, Strategies to prevent the trafficking of women and children who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, committee on women’s rights and gender equality, rapporteur, Christa Prets, See page 10, section 28

(2), EU prepares for international women’s day, March 7 2006

(3), Anti-abortionist takes EU women post, July 27 2004 and Zaborska defends EU women role, July 27 2004

(4), EU red card on World Cup forced prostitution, June 12 2006

(5) Guardian, Foul play, May 30 2006

(6) Christian Science Monitor, World Cup goal: stem prostitution, May 5 2006

(7) Project Vote Smart, Representative Christopher H. ‘Chris’ Smith (NJ)

(8) Statement of Juliette M. Engel, MD, Director, MiraMed Institute, Moscow, Director of International Relations for The Angel Coalition, Moscow, May 4, 2006 House Committee on International Relations

(9) Iranian nukes and German prostitutes, Spiegel, May 3 2006

(10) New York Times, Ahead of World Cup, US warns Germany about sex trafficking, June 6 2006

(11) US State Department, Trafficking in persons report, June 5 2006

(12) Rabble News, Unholy collaboration, May 15 2003

(13) National Review online, Chancellor Missing Her Chance, May 1 2006

(14) Germany rolls out welcome mat for sex traffickers and pimps

(15) Methodists, practical action guide 3, The 2006 football World Cup: Raising awareness of brothels and trafficked women

(16) Methodists, practical action guide 3, The 2006 football World Cup: Raising awareness of brothels and trafficked women

(17) BBC, Forces target human traffickers, and, Drive to help trafficking victims, February 21 2006

(18) BBC, In harm’s way, February 27 2006

(19) Association of Chief Police Officers, press release, Operation Pentameter, February 21 2006

(20) Café Babel, The world’s oldest trade, March 20 2006

(21) Guardian, Foul play, May 30 2006

(22) CATW

(23) Sex isn’t a spectator sport, Christianity Today, July 2006

(24) Nightmare world of suburban sex slaves, May 8 2006

(25) The Times, Sex slavery unit set up to tackle growing trade, June 21 2006 (Skelly’s job information is wrong here)

(26) All prostitution is forced, March 16 2006

(27) Prague Post, Legalising lies, May 20 2004

(28) Statement of Juliette M. Engel, MD, Director, MiraMed Institute, Moscow, Director of International Relations for The Angel Coalition, Moscow, May 4, 2006 House Committee on International Relations

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Topics Politics


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