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The Federation of German Newspaper Publishers awards MISSION FREEDOM
On February 20, the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers awarded MISSION FREEDOM their Citizen’s Prize. In the preceding weeks the Christian organization combating sex trafficking drew widespread criticism in the press.
Frank Heinrich, a member of the Bundestag (CDU), lauded Gaby Wentland’s work at the prize ceremony, held in Berlin. Heinrich compared the Hamburg-based organization’s safe house for the prostitutes to a “safe haven”. According to Heinrich, the staff of the organization stands by the side of the victims of sex trafficking “with loving care” and Ms Wentland’s battle against the “scandal on our doorstep” was described as “impressive and admirable”. Heinrich regarded the award as an indication that society no longer is willing, nor allowed, to ignore this topic.
Having been announced as the receiver of the Citizen’s Prize and of the monetary award of 20,000 euros, MISSION FREEDOM faced widespread criticism in the press in the succeeding weeks. The Daily Newspaper (taz), Spiegel Online and the North German Broadcasting (NDR) criticized Gaby Wentland’s personal, missionary dedication, as well as the methods of the organization. They claimed that MISSION FREEDOM had invented a story of a former victim of sex slavery and used this for promotional purposes. The Left Party (die Linke) in Hamburg accused the organization of jeopardizing the victims’ safety by publishing their stories. Moreover, it was claimed that curfews were imposed on the residents of the MISSION FREEDOM Home and that the women were not allowed to listen to non-Christian music. Gaby Wentland has publicly refuted these claims.
The criticism was “defamation”
At the prize ceremony, Heinrich described the criticism by the press as “defamation”. According to Heinrich, many stories “had crossed the line of solid journalism”. He also expressed his gratitute to the jury, who had remained unimpressed by the accusations. At this point Heinrich also appealed to the editors-in-chief of the German newspapers to “spread the word on this topic in writing and in illustrations”. Concerning his responsibilities in the German Bundestag, Heinrich said that “the prostitution law calls for urgent revision.” Heinrich fights as a politician against sex slavery and has, as a case in point, initiated the network “Gemeinsam gegen Menschenhandel” (“Together Against Human Trafficking”, in which he works in cooperation with MISSION FREEDOM.
Helmut Heinen, the president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers, also mentioned that the choice of this year’s awardee has not been without controversy. Nevertheless, they had decided to award MISSION FREEDOM, despite the critical voices. Heinen said to Ms Wentland: “Trouble and opposition are an inevitable part of your work”. Ms Wentland admitted at the award ceremony that the criticism had not left her unaffected. Yet the interest of the media had also given the organization a great momentum. The MISSION FREEDOM homepage had had more clicks than ever, the organization had received support from the citizens of Hamburg and several invitations to events related to human trafficking.