As the world tunes into the World Cup Games in South Africa, a controversial debate is raging in the media. There are claims that between 40,000 and 100,000 victims are being trafficked into South Africa to meet the increased demand for paid sex. Here is an awareness ad from the 2010 Human Traffic website:
Many are arguing about the validity of these numbers, and if there is even a link between sporting events and sex trafficking at all. Carl Bialik from Wall Street Journal wrote a great article last week called The Elusive Link Between Sex Trafficking and Sporting Events. He outlines the following arguments made by researchers in the field:
- 40,000 victims were predicted to be trafficked into Germany for the 2006 World Cup, and these did not materialize.
- Activists pull these human trafficking numbers out of thin air (the 40,000 estimate for Germany’s World Cup is said to have been started by a women’s organization and popularized by British media).
- The Germany World Cup was attended mostly by families, instead of men travelling alone who would seek paid sex.
- 40,000 is a dangerous number to use if it is not accurate, because the alarm might cause an over-abundance of resources to be allocated towards fighting it. These resources could be used to deal with other issues that desperately need funding.
- If the 40,000 figure is not met, it has the effect of ‘crying wolf,’ which discourages people from seeing human trafficking as a real issue.
Even if the 40,000 estimate is unfounded however, here are a few things to take into consideration:
- Because so many human trafficking victims were expected in Germany for the 2006 World Cup, the federal ministries, federal state police forces, and special counselling services/NGOs joined together and came up with a preventative strategy to combat an influx of trafficking. The strategy included press conferences, interviews, telephone hotlines, info posters and leaflets, and educational campaigns on TV and radio. There was greater police presence in high risk areas, tightened border controls, specialized work groups, and increased awareness in hotels.
- They found that there was an increased presence of ‘prostitutes’ at the game venues and surrounding areas. 5 cases had direct links to the 2006 World Cup, the victims being from Bulgaria, Hungary, Czeck Republic, and Germany. However, the greater police presence had a deterring effect on areas of crime and the predicted increase in forced prostitution did not materialize.
- This was the conclusion of the EU Council: the prevention strategy proved to be successful, and should be taken into consideration for future major events.
- In contrast, the 2004 Olympics in Greece, which did not have such a unified effort to prevent trafficking, saw a 95% increase in the number of human trafficking victims identified by authorities around the Olympics. Therefore, the number of known trafficking victims almost doubled during the sporting event.
Clearly, both sides of the fence have arguments and numbers showing that sex trafficking does/does not increase during big sporting events. Some use Germany as an example, saying that because the predicted numbers of trafficked women did not materialize, there is no link between big sporting events and trafficking. Others, however, look at Germany and say that trafficking would have increased if the joint efforts of the police forces, government, and NGOs had not happened – maintaining that yes, there is indeed a link. Law Professor Benjamin Perrin throws another twist into the mix when he points out that in 2005 the German criminal code was changed so that each investigation would be labeled as one case, regardless of how many victims are involved. Therefore, because once ‘case’ can represent any number of victims, it is impossible to know whether human trafficking increased during Germany’s World Cup.
Another tricky part of investigating human trafficking cases during sporting events is this: when trafficking cases increase, is it because trafficking is actually increasing, or because police are putting more effort into investigating them?
All these factors, combined with a limited timeline in which this information can be measured, can be summed up by Perrin’s statement: “At the best of times, human trafficking for sexual exploitation involves a significant ‘dark figure.’ “
So what can we conclude about the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?
- South Africa is already a hub of human trafficking with established networks, which would make it easy to traffic in girls and women. Due to the economic disparities in the country, many South African girls and women themselves are vulnerable to being trafficked.
- Germany, Greece, and South Africa are culturally unique from each other, which must be taken into consideration when trying to understand trafficking. Is paid sex acceptable or social taboo? Are the opportunities for women to get work, or are they easily duped by traffickers who deceive them by offering them jobs? Are family ties strong? Are police corrupt or trustworthy?
- Germany did confirm 5 cases of human trafficking that were directly connected to the World Cup in 2006. Girls in were being sold on Craigslist in Vancouver during the 2010 winter Olympics. Clearly some trafficking occurs in connection with sporting events, even if it does not meet the 40,000-100,000 mark. Just as Michelle Miller from REED says, “one is too many.” In any case, it is in the best interest of everyone to make the games as traffic-proof as possible.
I will leave it up to you to make a decision. In my opinion, however, we must err on the safe side so that those who are exploited do not get forgotten in the midst of this academic debate. Your thoughts?
Here are some sources for more information:
The Elusive Link Between Sex Trafficking and Sporting Events by Carl Bialik
Faster Higher Stronger: Preventing Human Trafficking at the 2010 Olympics by Benjamin Perrin
A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour: Global Report 2005 by the International Labour Office, Geneva
The World Cup’s Ugly Side by Jaime McIntosh
South Africa’s Vice Squad: Women and Children are Not for Sale by Hazel Thompson