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EU: Germany Should Do More Against Forced Prostitution

Marlis Schaum (jam)February 1, 2006

German business is looking forward to an influx of customers during the soccer World Cup; the country's bordellos are too. But many prostitutes won't be working by choice. The EU says Germany should do more about this.

Some say increased protection for women forced in prostitution can help convict pimpsImage: AP

Anna is Bulgarian, 20 years old, and until recently worked in Brussels, but not because she wants to. She was brought here three years ago against her will and forced to work as a prostitute. Just last month, she was finally able to escape the men who kept her prisoner. The police brought to her to Pag-Asa, an organization who helps the victims of human trafficking.

"It's a hard period for me but Pag-Asa is doing their best to help me and people like me," she said. "I feel good here and I think things are going to change."

The chances of Anna's life taking a turn for the better improved substantially when she agreed to testify in court against those who kept her here. As long as the investigation continues, Belgian authorities will allow Anna to stay in the country, take language courses and work. If the court recognizes her as a victim of human trafficking, she can apply for a permanent Belgian residency permit. Such provisions are nearly unique in Europe; only Italy has similar regulations.

Harder in Germany

In most of the federal states in Germany, for example, Anna would have less of a chance to stay. According to Lissy Gröner, a Social Democratic member of the European Parliament, Germany needs to improve its protections for victims of human trafficking -- especially in the lead-up to the World Cup, where it is estimated up to 40,000 prostitutes will travel to Germany, thousands of them against their will.

Prostitution in Tschechien Nachtclub
An influx of up to 40,000 prostitutes is expected during the World CupImage: AP

"If a woman is ready to testify, she has to be protected in the country where she is seeking refuge," she said. "Experience has shown us that deporting these women quickly is only in the best interests of the culprits."

Sally Beeckman, a criminologist for Pag-Asa in Brussels who helps victims in the courts and over various administrative hurdles, confirmed that investigations depend on these witnesses and that personal testimony is important in bringing cases to trial.

"It's kind of a give and take system," she said. "The person agrees to make a statement and to help in the investigation and the person gets the possibility to stay here even if it's sometimes only temporary."

Increased protection needed

European parliamentarian Gröner wants to see better protection for the victims, but she would also like to see prosecutors go after the men who go to prostitutes who they know are working against their will. She said information campaigns would help protect women and sensitize Europeans about the problem.

Reeperbahn Hamburg
Hamburg's red light districtImage: dpa

"The World Cup gives us an opportunity to see with our own eyes that there are thousands of women here who are being forced into prostitution," she said. "Justice ministers, European Commission heads and even the European Parliament, don't close your eyes!"

But the issue of forced prostitution is politically sensitive and the problem is seen differently in different EU member states. Often in eastern European countries, where there are fewer women in political positions, the issue often gets put on the back burner, or not taken very seriously.

That poses a problem for Europol, the European policing authority. It cannot act in many cases on its own, but has to first get permission from national governments, which has slowed the fight against international human trafficking.

Still, most aid organizations doubt that Germany will change its residency laws or go on the offensive against johns, even in the lead-up to the World Cup and under political pressure from Brussels.

But for Anna, at least, the outlook is pretty positive. She herself said she just wants the basics: a house to live in, a nice job and to take care of her child.

"To have just a normal life, like everybody," she said.