BERLIN, JUNE 10, 2006 ( Many are muting their cheers for the World Cup competition just getting under way in Germany. In the months leading up to the event, protests grew over plans to “import” large numbers of women to serve as prostitutes for the tourists visiting Berlin to watch the soccer matches.
Prostitution was legalized in Germany in 2002 and already by last year the situation for women was dramatic, warned the British newspaper Telegraph in an article Jan. 30, 2005.

The article recounted the experience of a 25-year-old woman who, after turning down a job providing “sexual services” at a brothel in Berlin, faced possible cuts to her unemployment benefits.

Brothel owners enjoy access to official databases of those registered for unemployment benefits. The woman, unnamed in the article, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a café. Later she received a letter from the job center saying that an employer was interested in her and that she should ring them. Only then did she realize that she was calling a brothel.

Germany’s welfare laws oblige woman under 55 who have been out of work for more than a year to take an available job — including in the sex industry — or lose benefits, the Telegraph reported. The government had considered making brothels an exception, but eventually ruled this out.

Brunhilde Raiser, director of the National Council of German Women’s Organizations, declared that in her country, “Forced prostitution has yet to become a public issue of concern as a severe violation of human and women’s rights.” Her remarks appeared May 5 in the Christian Science Monitor, ahead of the June 9-July 9 World Cup.

Red card

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, was interviewed by Vatican Radio on Thursday about the problem of prostitution during the soccer tournament.

Adopting soccer terminology, he said that the sex industry, its clients, and the public authorities merited a “red card” for taking advantage of the sporting event to promote prostitution. He cited estimates that up to 40,000 women, many of them against their own volition, will be engaged in centers set up for prostitution in Berlin and surrounding areas in these weeks.

Archbishop Marchetto also spoke of the work the Church does to help these women escape from prostitution, by helping them to obtain skills that lead to alternative employment. In Italy alone, around 200 women religious are involved in this pastoral activity.

In Germany itself the Church organization Solidarity with Women in Need, or Solowodi, offers a wide range of services, including accommodations, education and help centers.

The extent of the prostitution problem was revealed in a May 24 press release from Caritas Internationalis. Duncan MacLaren, secretary-general of the Vatican-based organization, estimated that the prostitution industry in Germany takes in $18 billion annually. At least three-quarters of the women are foreigners, most of them Eastern Europeans.

He also noted that according to the International Organization for Migration, some 500,000 women are trafficked into Western Europe every year, usually unwittingly to work as sex slaves. They are mostly lured with promises of well-paying jobs.

Soccer fans, MacLaren commented, should not tarnish the name of the game by exploiting fellow human beings. “We encourage all people of good will to raise their voice against an evil trade that treats women as things and not made in the image of God,” he said.

Concern over the issue extends to the soccer world itself, noted the British newspaper Guardian on May 30. “It is humiliating enough for me that football is linked with alcohol and violence,” said French coach Raymond Domenech. But this is worse, he commented. “Human beings are being talked about like cattle, and football is linked with that.”

Lars-Ake Lagrell, president of the Swedish Football Association, also protested, and was supported by Claes Borgström, the Swedish government’s equality ombudsman. Sweden, in fact, criminalized the buying of sexual services seven years ago after a long-running campaign by feminists, the Guardian explained. Since then, trafficking into the country has decreased.

Mere instruments

The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states: “Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure” (No. 2355). Engaging in prostitution is a grave sin, though the Catechism notes that factors such as destitution, blackmail or social pressure can attenuate the moral judgment on those involved in selling sex.

Prostitution, along with the trafficking of women and girls, is “an increasing scourge,” commented Archbishop Celestino Migliore last Oct. 14. The remarks by the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in New York came during a session of the General Assembly, held to examine the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women. Archbishop Migliore also noted that prostitution is often linked with violence against women.

On numerous occasions Pope John Paul II condemned trafficking in women and children. “The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights,” he wrote in a letter to Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, then Vatican secretary for relations with states.

The letter, dated May 15, 2002, was written on the occasion of an international conference being held on the human trafficking problem. “In particular,” John Paul II stated, “the sexual exploitation of women and children is a particularly repugnant aspect of this trade, and must be recognized as an intrinsic violation of human dignity and rights.”

“The disturbing tendency to treat prostitution as a business or industry not only contributes to the trade in human beings,” the Pope added, “but is itself evidence of a growing tendency to detach freedom from the moral law and to reduce the rich mystery of human sexuality to a mere commodity.”

The Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers held a meeting last June on the issue of pastoral care for women involved in prostitution. A woman in prostitution in many cases is “crying for help because selling her body on the street is not what she would choose to do voluntarily,” the concluding document observed. “Each person has a different story, mainly one of violence, abuse, mistrust, low self-esteem, fear, lack of opportunities.”

As for the clients of prostitution, the pontifical council meeting commented that often the men engage in this practice because of underlying personal problems, or a desire to dominate. “Buying sex from a prostitute,” the document warned, “does not solve problems that arise from loneliness, frustration or a lack of true relationships.”

The document also commented that these exploiters of women need not only an education in the hierarchy of human values and in human rights. They also need to hear a clear condemnation of their evil and injustice by the Church, if not by the state.

The concluding document further recommended that more work needs to be done with youth groups in schools, parishes, and families in order to develop correct ideas about human relationships, respect and sexuality. Many might say a good place to start would be Germany.