The Euro 2012 Championships has provided Poland and Ukraine with the opportunity to showcase their respective countries and their ability to organise a high profile event. So far the football has been enthralling, the atmosphere has been relatively good spirited and, aside from some isolated incidents, fans have behaved themselves; however, another dark issue has come to the surface that puts a spotlight on the vulnerability of women at such large events.
FEMEN, a Ukrainian protest group based in Kiev, whose members are well known for their naked protests, have been protesting against sex tourists, international marriage agencies, sexism and other social, national and international ills since their inception in 2008. Inna Shevchenko from FEMEN has begun a series of what she describes as ‘sex sabotage’ events in order to raise the issue of increased prostitution during Euro 2012. She blames Uefa for not doing enough to deal with the up rise in prostitution during the tournament.
In an interview with BBC Radio Shevchenko explained that due to the football tournament coming to Ukraine there are currently more brothels than pharmacies in Kiev. Hotels advertise escort and adult service in their brochures and poor and uneducated women have found themselves enticed by the money on offer or have been forced into selling sex. Taking aside the differing views that exist regarding prostitution, the fact is that it is illegal in the Ukraine yet this has been permitted to go on.
Prostitution has been an issue at several major sporting events. At the 2006 Football World Cup in Germany the trafficking of Eastern European women into Germany was a significant issue. Prostitution is regulated in Germany and since 2002 prostitutes have been guaranteed the same rights as those in other industries. They must register with the authorities, pay taxes and receive health insurance. The concern at the 2006 World Cup was that approximately 40,000 women would be trafficked into Germany due to the increased demand for prostitutes. Official reports suggest that this never occurred.
There were similar concerns at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Once again, approximately 40,000 women were trafficked into the country to work as prostitutes. More significant were the concerns regarding the increase in child prostitution during the tournament with children being lured into the trade by drug dealers and other criminals seeking to take advantage of the situation.
As the start of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is looming in London similar fears of a large influx of trafficked women have been raised. There has been criticism of the approach to dealing with prostitution in the build up to the London games. Newham and Tower Hamlets, two boroughs near the Olympic Park, have seen arrests of prostitutes and the closure of brothels rise dramatically in 2012. More arrests have been made so far in 2012 than during the whole of 2011. The charity Toynbee Hall is concerned that strict bail conditions and the closure of these brothels will drive prostitution deeper underground and make women more vulnerable to abuse and violence as they take bigger risks in order to find customers.
Clearly, the management of prostitution during such large sporting events is very hard and complicated. Where prostitution is regulated it can be controlled to a certain degree; however, the spectre of trafficking women from other countries is always there. What Inna Shevchenko and other members of FEMEN are trying to achieve through their naked protests is not only to raise awareness of the abuse of poor and uneducated women, but also to change the perception of women’s bodies and nudity. By protesting naked, Shevchenko is controlling her nudity, not allowing it to be dictated by men. When asked if her naked protests really achieve anything, Shevchenko replied, ‘Yes, you have been asking questions about my ideas, not my breasts.’ Hopefully her ideas and conviction to change attitudes towards the treatment of vulnerable women will reach those being taken advantage of and empower them to make a choice as to whether they wish to continue to sell sex.