Sex Trafficking and the 2012 Olympics

Many debate whether major sporting events such as the Superbowl, World Cup, and Olympics increase the rate of sex trafficking in the cities they are hosted in. It is logical to assume that the increase in visitors and workers that come with large events such as these would increase the demand for prostitution. However, does this mean that sex trafficking increases as well?

Photograph: London 2012/PNS

Preparations for the 2012 Olympics in London are well underway and police have been ramping up their efforts to stop sex trafficking.

In the months leading up to the Olympics, the London police have already predicated an increase in sex trafficking.

In response to this police have been using what many would call a ‘heavy-handed’ approach to reducing sex trafficking as they continually raid brothels and massage parlors. However, this has not yielded a large return as sex traffickers and their victims are not voluntarily coming forward to reveal themselves. Not surprising considering victims are too scared to go to the police for fear of being publically humiliated and the traffickers, well I am sure it is easy to guess why they wouldn’t be voluntarily coming forward anytime soon.

The new efforts of the London police and publicity the alleged increase in sex trafficking is receiving has begun to create a climate of fear in London. Many fear that London will be flooded with sex workers during the Olympic games and are demanding action to prevent this from happening. The question is, do large sporting events such as the 2012 Olympics truly increase sex trafficking?

Since statistics are so difficult to gather for sex trafficking, here we enter a heated debate…

Those who would claim the increase in sex trafficking surrounding sporting events is true would cite previous games as evidence. Many claim there is a definite increase in the demand for sex and prostitution when large sporting events occur. This can be evidenced by increased sex attacks in Sydney during the 2000 Olympic Games (Guardian, 7/19/2009) and sporting events such as the Superbowl where pimps hiring cab drivers as moving brothels specifically during the event timeframe occurred frequently (Red Light Campaign, 2/29/2012). In addition, during the Olympic Games in Athens, no preventative measures were taken to decrease sex trafficking and the number of sex trafficking victims doubled in the months leading up to and during the event (Future Group 2007).

Those who claim the connection between major sporting events and an increase in sex trafficking is a myth would remind us that there is no statistical link. Though the aforementioned claims may be true, there is no way to know how many sex workers were in fact trafficked. It can also be argued that short term events like these would not be as profitable for traffickers as there is generally an increased police presence. Of course, refuting this connection does not mean to downplay sex trafficking itself as it is still a major issue; one that should be tackled year round and not simply when a major sporting event comes up. Unfortunately, though demand does increase surrounding these events, it is difficult to determine which sex workers are coerced and which are prostitutes.

The other day I listened to a debate during the last part of Women’s Hour (hosted by BBC, recorded on 1/19/2012) regarding the topic of sex trafficking and its potential increase during the London 2012 Olympic Games. The two guests Julie Bindel, feminist journalist and campaigner, and Georgina Perry, an NHS manager for sex workers, ended up in a bit of a debate as each was on a different side of the fence regarding the issue. The major conflict in their discussion was the lack of statistical evidence which reflects the number of trafficked individuals that are sexually exploited and proof that these numbers inflate around major sporting events. It is no argument that demand is increased around these events as the population increases in these cities, yet there is no conclusive evidence from police forces and government organizations about the increase in sex trafficking in direct relation to these types of events. However Julie Bindel did make a point to state that in the past there is evidence from the Public Protection Ministry in Athens which shows that the number of women entering Athens and being sexually exploited did increase around the Olympics in Athens. Yet Georgina Perry came right back stating that these numbers were never proven to be 100% accurate. With these conflicting claims, I suppose it is up to us to decide which side we are on.

Regardless of which side is correct, the main issue is the fact that the increased awareness and preparation for sex trafficking as seen in London before the  2012 Olympics, and even in Indiana prior to the 2012 Superbowl, needs to be consistent.

Sporting events such as these publicize the possibility for increased sex trafficking, but once the event is over, the issue is no longer at the top of the news. The rise in publicity and effort to tackle sex trafficking issues needs to be consistent throughout every year worldwide. By continuing to educate the public and keeping the issue at the forefront of the news, awareness would increase and we could have a better chance as a global community to reduce the risk of sex trafficking.


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