The United States and many Western European countries stand as a marvel in contrasting attitudes toward sex. The term “Victorian” evolved as an obvious reference to Britain’s longest-serving and possibly most-revered monarch, Queen Victoria. But it has come to mean, at least in reference to sexual attitudes, exaggeratedly proper, straitlaced and prudish. Victorianism originated in Europe. The sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s was a largely American cultural maelstrom. Today it seems more accurate to describe our attitudes toward sex as Victorian, and European attitudes as relaxed.
In many regards, European attitudes are more advanced. For example, high-school sex-education classes in the Netherlands give students unbiased information on all aspects of human biology with no redactions to placate the hyper-religious. Sex education in much of Western Europe stirs up no debate about God, the Bible, premarital sex or “abstinence only” education. Sex is a biological function, like eating or sleeping. Nude beaches are commonplace and no one cares. Perhaps as a result, Western European rates of teen pregnancy and transmission of STDs trend much lower than our own.
But I must say even I was taken aback when I learned about the German government’s sanctioning of its prostitution industry and the industry’s greedy wish to cash in on the flood of some 3.5 million tourists (mainly men) for the World Cup.
Germany is one of several European nations where prostitution is legal. Germany came late to this game, in 2002. In only four years, it built up a work force some 400,000 strong for its multibillion-dollar annual prostitution business.
Worldcupweb.com described the scene in Berlin, one of Germany’s World Cup host cities, thusly, “Berlin’s largest legal brothel, the four-story Artemis near the Olympic stadium, is ready for the hordes of mostly male soccer fans from around the world who are flooding the city … Miniature soccer balls decorate the reception area, where each guest pays a 70-euro charge, or about $90, for access to the women, whirlpools, restaurants and bars. The 50 or so prostitutes have been outfitted with thong bikinis with a soccer ball motif. The movie theater will interrupt its usual pornographic features to show live games.”
My admiration for relaxed European attitudes toward sex comes to an excruciatingly cacophonous halt on the issue of legalized prostitution.
Women’s-rights activists believe the German government’s sanctioning of sex services for World Cup visitors will drive the illicit international trade in sex trafficking. This, in turn, could force thousands of unwilling women into prostitution.
Whether women enter the sex trade willingly or not, no government should sanction prostitution. By its very nature, prostitution is demeaning to women and encourages anti-social, some would say depraved, behavior by men.
The German government says it will not tolerate forced prostitution or the trafficking of sex workers into the country for the World Cup. Under German law, prostitutes must be 18 or older and either be German citizens or hold valid residency and work permits. German officials promise they will enforce those laws. But some published reports note that an estimated 250,000 of Germany’s 400,000 prostitutes are probably foreigners. And that many were brought into the country by human traffickers from Ukraine, Bulgaria and Russia.
Women’s-rights advocates in the United States and elsewhere say Germany must do more than just promise to uphold current law. They call on Germany to limit visas, bar commercial sex operators from expanding their businesses during the tournament, and to increase “hot lines” for trafficking victims seeking help.
All that is a good start. While German officials are at it, they should ban prostitution altogether. With a female chancellor (Angela Merkel), now is the perfect time. They’ll be doing their women AND their men a major-league favor.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)