Prostitution at the World Cup

A Time to Make FriendsOn a more ominous side of religion-morality coverage of the World Cup, the most obvious and glaring case is the legalization and promotion of prostitution in Germany. The New York Times did a somewhat wishy-washy piece dealing largely with the business of prostitution while failing to give proper attention to the horrors of sex trafficking:

BERLIN, June 30 -- On the night before Germany was to play Argentina in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, the prostitutes who work at the Artemis Sauna Club here were putting on their game faces.

With tens of thousands of soccer fans piling into Berlin for the game on Friday, this was going to be one of the women's last big chances during the tournament. The mood in the club, however, was as subdued as the lighting.

"The last time Germany played, not that many men came here," said Luna, 33, a Serbian woman who came here from Bavaria to work during the four weeks of the tournament. "Maybe they went out to a pub and drank instead."

To the list of pernicious things that have not happened at this World Cup, add one more: a spike in the sex trade. While clubs like Artemis have been busier than usual after games, the tournament has generated nowhere near the surge in demand for prostitution -- or the influx of temporary prostitutes from Eastern Europe and Asia -- that many experts predicted.

"Our business is O.K., but it's not great," said Egbert Krumeich, the public relations manager for Artemis. "We get 250 to 260 customers on a game day. We'd be happier getting 600 a day."

Soccer and sex, it appears, do not mix very well -- even in Germany, where prostitution is legal and the World Cup organizers have pushed the slogan "A Time to Make Friends." There are plenty of friendly fans here, most of them male and many pie-eyed by alcohol. The bad news for the sex trade is that they would rather guzzle another beer than go looking for a prostitute.

I wonder what the editors at the Times thought in coming up with the angle for this piece. I'm sure the paper has written extensively in the past about the subject of legalized prostitution, so now that's it legal, they might be thinking, "What's the big deal? We'll just cover it like any other industry." Other suggestions, anyone?

The German government says it's well-regulated, but forced prostitution and sex trafficking are known to occur. I noticed that the piece put heavy weight on the statements of government authorities (hmm, where have we seen this from the Times before?) and failed to deal with the well-documented horrors of the sex trade. The reporter was too busy explaining why the brothels are getting less business to shine any light on the trade's moral degeneracy.

The Kansas City Star took a slightly more serious look at the matter, and for that it deserves praise:

Here in Germany, prostitution is legal. Here, there are no pimps. They are sex businessmen, supported by the government with the benefits of a legitimate profession. With a climate like this already in place, it was widely predicted in the months before the World Cup that tens of thousands of women would be trafficked to Germany to fill the brothels.

"Trafficking is a major worldwide problem," the Rev. Carrie Pemberton, CEO of Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe, wrote to The Star in an e-mail. "We are aware that there are (nongovernmental organizations) in Germany and the German police themselves who have been very (concerned) about this problem during the last few weeks.

"We have been working with this issue since 2003 and know of definite examples where sporting events have been used for trafficking women into and across Europe for sexual exploitation."

For those reasons, human trafficking has become a hot-button topic at the World Cup, as the U.S. State Department, the European Parliament and countless nongovernmental organizations pleaded with the German government to implement a plan to stop the traffickers.

Rather than seeing the sex trade as just another business, like gambling or the local beer store, Star reporters attempted to report the true nature of the trade: a form of modern-day slavery. One may ask: As long as the business is legal and women are willing participates, what's the fuss? All I have to say to that is look at the history of slavery.

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