The Olympics and Trafficking: Myths and Evidence
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT
Wednesday 25 January 2012 5:45pm
Julie Ham, GAATW
Marlise Richter, International Centre for Reproductive Health, Ghent University
Joanna Busza, LSHTM
In the lead up to the 2012 Olympic Games, concerns have been raised about the possibility of an increase in trafficking for sexual exploitation linked to the event. Similar rumours were circulated prior to other international sporting events,
including the World Cup in Germany and South Africa, the Olympics in Athens and Vancouver, and the US Super Bowl. Yet once the fans go home, the media loses interest, and little is heard about the consistent lack of evidence for any rise in sex
Recent research demonstrates that anti-trafficking measures put into place in a range of countries have proved irrelevant, or harmful in cases where sex workers become increasingly criminalised and unable to access health and social programmes.
As the 2012 Olympics come to London, this seminar will review the international evidence on trafficking, sex work and sports events, consider public health implications, and ask to what extent police and local authorities here in the UK are basing
their policies on evidence.
Admission: Free and open to all with no ticket required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis.
The Super Bowl is one of America's largest sporting events, and it is a time when nutters enjoy making ludicrous claims about thousands
of girls, many under-aged that will somehow be trafficked to the event.
The award for this year's most inane nutter campaigner must surely go to Theresa Flores, founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.). She told The Christian Post that major sporting events like the Super Bowl generally have more
men in attendance who are visiting from a different city, and often do things they wouldn't normally do at home. This creates a demand that traffickers and pimps are there willing and waiting to supply, she said.
Because of this, about 150 volunteers for S.O.A.P. are heading to Indiana before the event to pass out soap at Indianapolis motels.
Each bar of soap will have a label on it with phrases like Are you being threatened? or Are you witnessing young girls being prostituted? The soap provides the number for a human trafficking hotline so that those at the hotel, or
young girls who are being trafficked, will see it and can call for help.
S.O.A.P. volunteers will distribute the bars Feb. 1-2, in conjunction with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship students who will hand out fliers to raise awareness for the trafficking issue with football fans.
Offsite Comment: Superbowl Sex Trafficking Increase? Super Nonsense
An increasing number of groups are intent on persuading Americans that we have a terrible and growing problem with sex trafficking. Their data is virtually non-existent, elided with words like experts agree, a shameful epidemic, and
enormous human suffering. The media reports their conferences and feral estimates, politicians grimly respond with vows of stricter laws, and the occasional wildly unusual victim is trotted out as proof of some enormous underground industry.
The favorite ploy of anti-trafficking groups is to grimly remind us that major sporting events are a central focus of this evil. Every year, the NFL has to deny that they're the center of an odious international sex slavery ring. NFL spokesperson
Brian McCarthy says the super bowl sex slave story is a simply an urban legend.
But that doesn't stop those who are feeding---and feeding off of---America's latest Sex Panic.
The forthcoming London Olympics have sent the media into a feeding frenzy of scare mongering. Warning us that tens of thousands of sex slaves are under starter's orders in outlying foreign counties, ready to sprint headlong, handcuffed in readiness, to
England for the start of the games.
As a global anti-trafficking organisation, GAATW is concerned that international sporting events are being linked with increases in trafficking for prostitution, without supporting evidence.
How likely is this?
Trafficked sex workers are as hard to get your hands on in London as face value stadium tickets.
The police have spent years and 5 million quid with their specialist task force Operation Pentameter hunting for sex slaves and found hardly any. How do they expect a non-English speaking tourist with a dog-eared A to Z or an IPhone app to find
So who's telling fibs and why?
This unsporting bout of statistical fakery has been created by the media and the abolitionists, including the Poppy Project and the Salvation Army. These groups would like to see an end to the commercial sex industry. By saying sex workers are all
victims of abuse or trafficking they get an outraged public onto their side of the argument to criminalise prostitutes and punters. If a story, or myth is repeated often enough and loud enough it seeps into the public psyche. People accept it as fact and
x:talk is a sex worker led co-operative based in London. The group and its supporters are calling for a moratorium on arrests of sex workers in London with immediate effect until the end of the Olympic Games.
Governments, charity organisations and campaign groups have argued that large sporting events lead to an increase in trafficking for prostitution. These claims, often repeated by the media, are usually based on misinformation, poor data and a tendency to
sensationalise. There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution.
These claims can lead to anti-trafficking policies and policing practices that target sex workers. In London, anti-trafficking practices have resulted in raids on brothels, closures and arbitrary arrests of people working in the sex industry. This
creates a climate of fear among workers, leaving them less likely to report crimes against them and more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. This is an inadequate response to sex work and to trafficking.
x:talk is aware of clean up efforts already underway in London, particularly east London, in the run up to the Olympics. These include multiple raids and closure of premises. We anticipate that until the end of the Olympic games there will be a
continued rise in the numbers of raids, arrests and level of harassment of sex workers.
A series of violent robberies on brothels by a gang in December in Barking & Dagenham demonstrates the effect that this climate of fear can have on the safety of sex workers. The effect of raids on brothels and closures in the area had eroded
relations between sex workers and the Police with the result that the sex workers targeted by the gang were unwilling to report the attacks for fear of arrest. The gang were able to attack at least three venues in December 2011.
In light of this, x:talk and its supporters are calling on the Mayor of London and London Metropolitan Police to suspend arrests and convictions of sex workers.
Prostitutes at risk during the Olympics, Vancouver-based study says
British authorities should develop a public-health plan to protect London's prostitutes during the Olympics, Canadian researchers are urging after finding that stepped-up police action and other disruptions during the Vancouver Games kept sex workers
away from their regular haunts, potentially exposing them to more violence and disease.
The survey of about 100 prostitutes before and after the Winter Games also suggested the influx of new sex workers and spike in human trafficking that many observers had predicted never actually materialized.
In fact, the women surveyed by University of British Columbia researchers said there were fewer clients than usual, and they had a harder time connecting with them, perhaps because of the police action and other disruptions.
That meant many of the prostitutes could have been forced to less-visible pick-up spots away from colleagues and health services, said the paper just published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections. Not only would that make them more vulnerable
to violence, but could increase the risk of HIV and other sexually-transmitted infection, since previous research suggests isolated sex workers are three times as likely to be coerced into unsafe sex, said Dr. Kate Shannon, lead author of the study. She
They don't have support of other workers around, support of someone to call for help, so they have less protection to be able to safely negotiate condom use. Rather than this artificial focus on a massive sex-worker boom and trafficking, evidence
suggests what actually happens is adverse effects for sex workers.
Researchers with Dr. Shannon's group surveyed 107 prostitutes during the Games, and about 100 after the event was over, not necessarily the same women and transgendered people, but statistically similar. They reported no particular increase in the pool
of sex workers, the number of underage prostitutes or evidence of human trafficking, the study said.
The women did, however, tell the researchers they had been subject to increased harassment by police, which Dr. Shannon said included being detained without charge, fined or told to move along.
Offsite Article: Mean minded nutters oppose police action against women but want them to harass men instead
Meanwhile the international press sort of recognise that the mass trafficking concept is nonsense, but this minor setback doesn't stop them using a sporting event as an excuse for gathering an assortment of oddments about sex workers.
It looks like Markian Lubkivsky, Ukraine's Euro 2012 director, was right when he said that visiting fans will have no time for sex.
Kyiv prostitutes and experts of nongovernmental organizations say they haven't seen any increase in demand for sex services since Euro 2012 kicked off.
After the championship started I spoke to girls in Kyiv and other host cities, and none of them said about crowds of clients, said Olena Zuckerman, head of Legalife, a sex workers protection group.
Some had predicted that prostitution would boom during Euro 2012, as Ukraine has been flooded by tens of thousands of foreign fans. But Zuckerman said the same thing happened in other countries that hosted football events, for example in South Africa at
the World Cup in 2010.
Despite all the expectations there was no growth in either demand or supply of sex services, said Yevhenia Kuvshynova, coordinator of the Convictus-Ukraine charity project, which supports people affected by HIV/AIDS. Men have no interest in anything
apart from beer and football during Euro 2012, she added.
In spite of the inflow of football fans in Ukraine for the time of the European Football Championship, the number of clients for Ukrainian prostitutes has not increased. Anti prostitution campaigners and public figures were claiming before the start of
Euro 2012 that Ukraine would turn into a big brothel. However, it turns out that it is the fighters against prostitution, who create such a negative image for the country.
The local representatives of the most ancient profession in the world said that they did not notice an abrupt increase in the number of clients during the days of the football championship. Many predict an increase of the number of sex tourists prior to
major sports tournaments. However, such prognoses do not materialize in most cases. That's what happened in Germany in 2006, when several brothels went bankrupt.
The report Harm Was Done: prostitution, politics and power in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics , was produced by the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) to mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The IUSW write:
Despite all the hype about trafficking and prostitution in the run up to the Olympics, no service interviewed saw more people selling sex or more potential victims of trafficking -- just as well, since none received substantial
increased funds and two had substantial cuts to the service they could offer. One interviewee for our report (see Notes) commented "All this panic and hype, but no money for services!"
Sex Worker Support services say:
"The Games were used as an opportunity to perpetuate the myths around prostitution and major sporting events by organisations and individuals who take an ideological view of prostitution, rather than one informed by the
"[Many of the attendees at the GLA meetings] didn't seem to know anything about the ordinary reality of the sex industry in London, and when you talked about that it was like being the kid pointing out the emperor's new
clothes, nobody wanted to know."
"Policy was based on the ideology -- the belief that prostitution is a form of exploitation -- of a few projects who were driving the agenda and using trafficking to get support for their work, both financial and
And the harm continues -- one service provider said "It's not just the Olympics -- they're still shutting places down and they don't think of the consequences for the women, it's driving it underground and we don't get any
access to deliver services at all. Women still have families living in poverty, they still have to make a living, and they're less safe doing it."
An IUSW report for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (17 December) reveals that concerns raised by frontline services for people in the sex industry were ignored by the GLA's "Sexual Exploitation"
group. Services say:
"[Sex workers are] less likely to report crimes because they don't trust the police as much as they used to"
"It was just horrendous. Women being thrown out [of brothels] with no regard for their safety" "Places you'd been going to for ages would close, and you'd lose touch with all the people you'd been supporting
"If [policy makers] listened to us, they wouldn't have done what they did."
Prostitutes in one of Brazil's biggest cities are signing up for free English classes ahead of this year's Confederations Cup
and the 2014 World Cup.
Cida Vieira, president of the Association of Prostitutes in the city of Belo Horizonte, has said 20 women have already signed up for the courses. Classes are expected to begin in March and last up to eight months. Vieira explained:
It will be important for the girls who will be able to use English to let their clients know what they are charging and learn about what turns them on.
And for the same reasons we are also thinking of offering free French and Italian classes
The eternal fairy story of thousands of itinerate sex workers travelling the globe from sports competition to sports
competition has got its first mention for the 2016 Tokyo Olympics.
The source of the first rumour is a totally unauthoritative figure used by a tabloid sports editor, but no doubt there will be a few gender extremists who will use the quoted figure and the rumour will commence.
In fact the Tokyo Sports tabloid spoke to Akira Ikoma, the editor of a guide to men's entertainment called Ore no Tabi (My Journey). He says that Korean prostitutes from around the world will arrive in Tokyo, especially the Uguisudani area, which
is known for its delivery health out-call establishments.
It could be more than 100,000 women. They will be eyeing the economic possibilities that go with the event. There is no doubt about it.
The basis of the claims is that in 2004, the Korean government passed an anti-prostitution law and shuttered a number of sex shops. As a result, the editor says, Korea has exported 100,000 prostitutes to worldwide, primarily to the United States,
Japan and Australia. It is this band of travelling sex workers that will supposedly converge on Tokyo for the Olympics.
Thanks to Alan
by Kate Mogulescu is the founder and supervising attorney of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project
Tens of thousands of people have descended upon the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area this week for tomorrow's Super Bowl, accompanied by the usual media frenzy. A now familiar feature of this coverage, wherever the Super Bowl is held, is
an abundance of stories, from Reuters to CNN, reporting that the event will cause a surge in sex trafficking to capitalize on the influx of fans and tourists.
The problem is that there is no substantiation of these claims. The rhetoric turns out to be just that.
No data actually support the notion that increased sex trafficking accompanies the Super Bowl. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a network of nongovernmental organizations, published a report in 2011 examining the record on sex
trafficking related to World Cup soccer games, the Olympics and the Super Bowl. It found that, despite massive media attention, law enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups, there is no empirical evidence that
trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.
The Super Bowl sex-trafficking hype isn't just unfounded, though --- it is actively harmful because it creates bad policy. In the days leading up to Sunday's game, local law enforcement dedicated tremendous resources to targeting everyone
engaged in prostitution.
This week's Super Bowl-related operation has required officers to be pulled from their regular details to serve on prostitution arrest squads. The New York Police Department said it had made 298 prostitution-related arrests through Jan. 26. In
Manhattan --- a borough that has approximately 300 arrests for prostitution a year --- there have been more than 100 arrests in the past several days. When Midtown Community Court opened on Wednesday morning, 25 women arrested on Tuesday night
were sitting in holding cells waiting to be arraigned after a sting operation at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Midtown.
Remove the guise of preventing human trafficking, and we are left with a cautionary tale of how efforts to clean up the town for a media event rely on criminalizing people, with long-lasting implications for those who are then trapped
in the criminal justice system. If we continue to perpetuate fallacies like the Super Bowl sex-trafficking phenomenon, we will continue to perpetuate the harm caused by prostitution arrests in the name of helping victims.
An international association of Catholic nuns has launched a public awareness campaign to combat the mythical human trafficking associated with world sports events, this time the World Cup in Brazil.
The nuns will use social media, billboards and rallies in host cities to draw attention to the heightened risk of exploitation of sex workers and job-seekers in general. Sister Gabriella Bottani said at a press conference in the Vatican:
The World Cup is a unique occasion to invite everyone to reflect on the value of life.
Bottani said her association, Talitha Kum, a Biblical phrase meaning Little girl, get up! was also conducting training courses to spot signs of supposed trafficking.
The clergywoman claimed that for previous World Cups in Germany and South Africa, the level of exploitation had gone up by 30 percent and 40% respectively. But at least she didn't repeat the usual claims that there would be a 40,000 band itinerant
band of trafficked sex workers turn up for the event.
How many times have we been told that there is going to be an increase in the number of sex workers operating (and a related increase in human trafficking) whenever a major sporting event is organised? Panic over an increase in sex work and trafficking
surrounded all three of the recent World Cups in Germany, South Africa and now Brazil as well as the London 2012 Olympics. Next month Glasgow, Scotland plays host to the 20th Commonwealth Games and the same stories are surfacing as can be seen from this
recent newspaper article in the Glasgow Herald:
With just under three months to go until the Glasgow 2014 Games, a strategy designed to tackle sex trafficking and prostitution is being put in place, together with a campaign aimed at changing attitudes around violence against women. High-profile
sporting events, such as the World Cup and the Olympics, have historically resulted in a spike in sex crimes because countries experience a large increase in population as athletes, officials and spectators visit host cities involved. MSPs raised fears
last year that the Games, which are expected to attract one million visitors to Glasgow, would lead to an influx of victims of human trafficking in Scotland.
These scare stories are finally going to be subjected to some scrutiny in an academic study run by Dr Kate Hardy of the University of Leeds called Sex in the stadium: labour and coercion in the sex industry and the Commonwealth Games . As well as
exploring whether there is any truth in the allegation that high-profile sporting events result in an increase in sex work this study is also focussed on exploring the impact that these scare campaigns have on sex workers. Dr Hardy explains:
This research examines the relationship between the Commonwealth Games and working conditions in the sex industry in Glasgow. The focus is on changes to the safety and well-being of sex workers during the games and any changes to the industry as a result
of it. It is being undertaken in response to arguments that coercion and trafficking increase during events of this type and to evidence from sex workers in London that they were displaced from long term working premises during the Olympic Games in 2012.
The ultimate aim is to influence policy in relation to 'mega-events' in order to protect sex workers' working conditions in the short and long term.
The research is being undertaken in full partnership with sex worker rights organisations in Scotland, the Sex Worker Open University and SCOT-PEP (Scottish Prostitutes Education Project). Sex workers will be trained as peer researchers and will identify
and interview other sex workers about their experiences of working in the lead up to, during and after the Commonwealth Games. Despite the many newspaper articles and blog posts written about the issue of sex work and sporting events this study will be
the first that examines it from an evidence-based perspective and is very much welcomed.