A US lawmaker and rights groups have accused Germany of doing little to prevent the exploitation of women during the World Cup, with one expert calling Berlin an official "pimp" for the event.
There are fears the World Cup will lead to a huge jump in human trafficking
"While the winner of the World Cup remains unknown, the clear losers will be the thousands of women and children trafficked and sold in Germanys legal sex industry to accommodate the huge influx of demand experts anticipate will be generated by male fans attending the games," said Christopher Smith, the Republican chairman of a human rights panel in the US House of Representatives.
Germany legalized prostitution in 2002 and some 400,000 work in the sex trade, according to various estimates.
The US says Germany isn't doing enough to stop trafficking
Traffickers plan to bring in some 40,000 additional "sex workers" to "service" fans during the month-long soccer event that begins June 9, according to Smith and rights advocates who testified Thursday at a congressional hearing entitled "Germany's World Cup Brothels."
Some of the 12 cities that will host the soccer championship are also reportedly planning mobile brothels and condom distribution to meet the demand for sex during the month-long event.
Critics accuse Germany of being official "pimp"
"The German government has made the highly controversial decision ... to act as an official 'pimp' for the 2006 World Cup," Juliette Engel, director of the Moscow-based MiraMed Institute, a public charity, told the hearing.
She said sex businesses anticipate 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."
Women from Russia and eastern Europe are feared to be at risk
Engel said women from Russia and eastern Europe were most at risk of being trafficked into Germany and forced into prostitution to accommodate the huge number of fans set to converge on the 12 cities where the World Cup tournament would be held. Some 3.5 million people are expected in Germany for the event.
"If Germany proceeds on the current path, the world will not remember the excitement of the sport of football so much as the legalized rape and degradation of trafficked women," Engel said.
US wants Merkel to take stance against prostitution
Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, said the World Cup offers a great opportunity for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to crack down on sex traffickers.
"The World Cup plans are so odious that, wonder of wonders, they have even made allies of France and the United States," Horowitz told the hearing, referring to outrage expressed by the French World Cup coach over the reported sex trafficking.
An anti-prostitution poster by a women's group in Germany
The German government, for its part, has rejected accusations that it was turning a blind eye to human trafficking in the run-up to the World Cup and insists that it is taking measures to combat abuse. It has also denied accusations that it is subsidizing the construction of new brothels.
Smith urged Merkel to reverse her country's decision to legalize prostitution as a way of illustrating her commitment to abolish human trafficking.
"It is time for Chancellor Merkel to take a stand and speak out against the exploitation of women and children in the name of sport," he said.