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Link between sports events, sex trafficking unfounded - study

by Julie Mollins | @jmollins | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 1 February 2012 16:18 GMT

Anti-trafficking campaigns based on unproven claims can ultimately undermine anti-trafficking objectives, a report says

LONDON (TrustLaw) – A widespread belief that major sporting events fuel sex trafficking is unsubstantiated and has a negative impact on groups that campaigners purport to protect, undermining anti-trafficking objectives, a new study has said.

Activists opposed to sex work say large groups of men attending the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and U.S. Super Bowl competitions create a high demand for sex work causing large numbers of women to be trafficked, the report produced by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) said.

Yet there is no correlation between those beliefs and the actual number of trafficking cases found, the report titled “What’s the Cost of a Rumour?” said, citing such examples as the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the 2004 Olympics in Greece and several Super Bowl competitions.

“Despite increased scrutiny by the media, political figures and law enforcement, there is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution,” Julie Ham, the author of the study, said at a panel discussion at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

GAATW reviewed literature from United Nations (U.N.) agencies, government offices, academic researchers, anti-trafficking organisations, sex-workers rights organisations, non-governmental organisations and the media.

The claim sex work will increase is perpetuated in part because it is useful as a fundraising strategy, as a way to grab attention and be seen to "do something" about trafficking, and as a more socially acceptable guise for prostitution abolitionist agendas and anti-immigration agendas, the report said.

Anti-trafficking campaigns that are based on unproven claims can ultimately undermine anti-trafficking objectives, the report said.

Such claims can cause damage by resulting in increased criminal penalties and human rights violations against sex workers, by misrepresenting people and issues, through city "clean-up" efforts displacing sex workers and other marginalised groups, it said.

These anti-trafficking campaigns can also be damaging as controls on women’s movements, intended to stop trafficking, can actually lead to increased trafficking, the report added.

At least 12.3 million people around the world are trapped in forced labour, which can include debt bondage, modern slavery, trafficking and women and girls being forced into prostitution, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), a U.N. agency.


Before the 2010 World Cup, the South Africa Central Drug Authority (CDA) predicted that 40,000 extra trafficked sex-workers would be imported for the event, according to the study, but the South Africa Department of Justice and Constitutional Development said afterwards that there were no cases of sex trafficking during the event, according to GAATW.

A recent study undertaken by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Sex Work Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) to monitor supply and demand of female sex work around the time of the 2010 World Cup found that sex-worker demographics did not change significantly.

“Demand and supply of sex work remained constant across the World Cup period,” said the report titled “Maybe it will be better once this World Cup has passed.” 

“Our data also does not support fears about an increase of children or foreign migrant sex workers into the sex industry during the World Cup period,” it said.

Ahead of the Super Bowls in Dallas, Texas (2011), Tampa, Florida (2009) and Phoenix, Arizona (2008) claims were made in the U.S. media that up to 100,000 sex workers would be trafficked, but there was no evidence presented afterwards to substantiate those claims, according to the GAATW study.

However, some cases were reported. A task force led by the Texas Attorney General's office reported 133 prostitution-related arrests before the Super Bowl in Dallas, through which one trafficking victim led authorities to her trafficker, who was later arrested and charged, according to the attorney general's office.


The state of Indiana has passed new human trafficking legislation, signed by Governor Mitch Daniels into law on Monday, ahead of the 2012 Super Bowl game in Indianapolis on Sunday, due to concerns that large sporting events "tend to be magnets for criminal rings promoting prostitution".

The legislation updates and strengthens an existing law against human trafficking, Abigail Kuzma, Indiana’s deputy attorney general and director of consumer protection told TrustLaw, adding that there has been at least one Super Bowl-related prostitution arrest so far.

“Unfortunately, we know from prosecutors across the country that there is an uptick in demand for commercial sex during these kinds of events,” Kuzma added. “I think it has a lot to do with the fact that unfortunately it’s tolerated in our society. Unfortunately, for men who are looking for a party – certain men consider commercial sex to be a part of that.”

Kuzma praised the work of the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility for Indiana and Michigan (CCRIM), whose Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) members are running an awareness campaign about the risks of child sex trafficking ahead of the Super Bowl. 

The campaign is a continuation of one that began with the 2010 World Cup, according to ICCR, which has put together a working group to expand its operations against sex and labour trafficking to London ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

“We see this as a global problem that needs to be addressed collectively,” said David Schilling, ICCR director of Human Rights and Resources Programs. “Even if there were one or two victims during these events, that’s one or two too many.”

But Joanna Busza, an expert in sexual and reproductive health at LSHTM, said that as previous big sporting events had not seen a spike in sex work-related offenses, there was “no reason to think the UK will have a very different experience.”

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)

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