It took awhile to get the president of the German Soccer Federation on board. But once Theo Zwanziger saw a police show on television about a woman forced into prostitution, he decided to change his organization's position on the topic: from a head-in-the-sand approach to active engagement. Now, he has become the patron of a new program called "final whistle -- Stop Forced Prostitution," which was officially launched on Tuesday, the day before International Women's Day.
"We did underestimate the whole issue and I regret that, I say it quite openly," Zwanziger said at a Tuesday press conference, referring to his group's initial shunning of the matter. "When I saw (the television show) it was clear to me that we should do what we could to help."
The initiative, along with a number of related efforts to combat the problem of forced prostitution in Germany and Europe, specifically has its eye on the World Cup. Estimates as to the number of additional prostitutes that may travel to Germany for the month-long tournament go as high as 40,000. But while many doubt that Germany's 400,000 legal prostitutes will need that much backup, nobody doubts that human trafficking -- a problem in the EU -- will be magnified by the World Cup.
With the tournament kick-off just three months away, Zwanziger isn't the only one rushing to help. The European Parliament on Wednesday is drawing attention to the issue by holding a seminar on forced prostitution during sporting events and will discuss the issue on the floor of parliament next week. European Union officials on Wednesday called on member countries, especially Germany given its status as World Cup host nation, to increase attention paid to the issue.
"There's all the money in the world available to fight terrorism," Lissy Gröner, member of the women's rights commission in the European Parliament, told reporters on Tuesday. "The same focus on fighting human trafficking is needed. This modern form of slavery must come to an end." An estimated 200,000 women were brought to Europe in 2004 according to an EU estimate.
EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said on Wednesday that he would propose special visa requirements for citizens of some non-EU countries for the duration of the tournament in an effort to combat illegal and forced prostitution. "I am referring to all third countries where, according to statistics, ... women are exploited for sexual purposes," Frattini said.
The "final whistle" program will fund thousands of posters to be hung in bars, bathrooms and trains across Germany during the World Cup in an effort to publicize the problem. Other programs have also been launched to help out. Late last week, the program "Responsible Johns" began under the motto "responsibility cannot be measured in centimeters." The Web page offers johns clues that may indicate a prostitute has been forced into the red light scene. "No matter how long your penis is," one part of the site reads, "you are the only one who can spot whether a woman has been forced into prostitution."
Calls to ban prostitution outright during the World Cup have so far been rejected by politicians and women's groups alike. Prostitution, after all, is legal in Germany, and mobile huts will be placed outside several of the stadiums during the tournament to meet the increase in demand. A number of new brothels will likewise have gone into operation by June.
Forcing women into prostitution, however, is a serious crime in Germany that has attracted increased attention in recent years. "This year ahead of the World Cup in Germany, many organizations have called for vigilance to protect women from this particular type of exploitation," a European Parliament statement said. "Human rights bodies in Europe fear that trafficking of women and forced prostitution will significantly increase during this event."