US Congress held a hearing Thursday on the event's expected draw of 40,000 sex workers to Germany.
Germany's motto in hosting this summer's soccer World Cup is "a time to make friends." But in the run-up to the month-long tournament, police officials, women's groups, and human rights organizations are issuing warnings about just what kind of "friends" some fans might choose to make.
In addition to the estimated 1 millionmostly male fans anticipated here, officials expect an influx from another quarter: illegal prostitutes.
The pull of the World Cup - and the fact that prostitution is legal in Germany - may prove too attractive for traffickers of young, mostly Eastern European women. The prospect has unsettled officials abroad and kicked into high gear efforts here to draw attention to the problem during the month-long tournament, which begins June 9.
"It is an outrage that the German government is currently facilitating prostitution and we believe women who will be exploited will be treated as commodities," said US Rep. Chris Smith (R) of New Jersey, ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's White House visit earlier this week. A House subcommittee on human rights chaired by Representative Smith held a hearing on the issue Thursday.
Sweden's equality ombudsman Claes Borgström has also weighed in, calling last month for a boycott of the World Cup by the Swedish team to highlight the problem. However, despite such calls for action, advocates say they are still facing an uphill battle in bringing attention to the issue.
"Forced prostitution has yet to become a public issue of concern as a severe violation of human and women's rights," says Brunhilde Raiser, director of the National Council of German Womens' Organizations. "Our goal is to bring it as far up the political agenda as possible."