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TRAFFICKING, the OLYMPICS, and the BILL

by on July 29, 2009

NEWS broke last week that a Metropolitan Police squad has moved in on the five London Olympic boroughs with a campaign to get down and dirty with the sex industry in the run-up to 2012.Photo couresy of Ralph, Australia

The cost has been put at £600,000 by the Guardian, which informs us that: “As the games draw closer, police believe there will be a huge surge in the numbers of young women trafficked into the boroughs from eastern Europe and Asia by traffickers keen to make money out of the arrival of millions of visitors…”

The origin of this item was a report to the Communities, Equalities and People Committee of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) into the potential for violence against women at the London Olympics, written by the MPA’s Lynne Abrams.

The report uses two selective and, in one case, outdated sources to paint a picture of impending mass rape and carnage unless action is taken to prevent a tsunami wave of prostitution, human sex trafficking (HTfSE) and sexual violence by organised criminals and the male athletes themselves.

It follows calls for a clampdown on trafficking in the Olympic run-up from the Bishops of Newcastle and Winchester at the Church of England Synod last February.

Harking back to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the dioceses claimed:

“Sex huts” or “sex garages” for prostitution were set up, filled with 40,000 extra prostitutes, while special licences were issued allowing prostitutes to offer sex on the street.

Up to 10,000 men and women, sometimes including children as young as ten, are traded in the UK each year, with each girl worth up to £150,000 a year to those who “own” her.

But what actual evidence is there for this record and forecast of gross depravity and impending doom? Pretty thin on the ground, as readers of this blog will discover. The 10,000 figure itself was two and a half times as many as the total number of HTfSE victims estimated to be in the UK, which is a figure itself regarded as something of a joke in academic circles.

And the cost of the police action may well be a lot more than £600,000 to anyone who values the human rights of those affected by it. According to the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) – an international body of over 90 NGOs fighting trafficking – claims of links between HTfSE and international sporting events are “typically based on misinformation, poor data, and a tendency to sensationalise the issue.”

Or, in the case of the Met, could it be based on a desire to cover one’s tracks, and in that of the Guardian, to sell newspapers?

Addressing the situation in Canada, which has similar fears in the approach to next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver, GAATW says anti-trafficking campaigns before the events harm the women they are meant to protect, citing the German police drives before the 2006  World Cup in Germany:

…prostitution is legal in Germany – however, police in Berlin raided 71 brothels in the city during the 2006 World Cup: they found no evidence of trafficking – but did deport ten women. The objective was to protect migrant or ‘foreign’ women from exploitation, but in doing so, police targeted sex workers, aggressively raided brothels and intensified checks on brothels.

These types of ‘rescue raids’ are increasingly being used to stop trafficking in persons. However, reports from many countries around the world – such as Cambodia, the Philippines and the USA – reveal that these raids lead to extreme human rights violations of migrants, sex workers and trafficked people; harassment of sex workers; immediate detention and deportation of migrants without proper investigation; and sometimes re-victimisation of trafficked persons as police focus on ‘law and order’ rather than victim protection.

Not that British police would concentrate on law and order rather than victim protection, of course. The victim support page of the UK Police Blue Blindfold anti-trafficking site has been “coming shortly” now for two and a half years. But to return to GAATW:

Instead of taking a stand for improving the legal situation of the women affected, whether migrants or sex workers, the issue of trafficking is often being used to criminalise sex workers.

Media ‘hype‘ over the German World Cup was used by the USA to lobby Germany over its liberal prostitution laws and some states have profiled “women of a certain age or a certain appearance” to prevent them entering the country in the lead-up to some events, says GAATW.

Actions to prevent trafficking prior to and during sporting events have included national and local public awareness campaigns (targeting trafficked persons, clients, or the general public etc.), national and local hotlines to help trafficked persons, intensive raids on brothels, intensified checks or controls on brothels or sex clubs, media campaigns etc.

 These actions can be particularly damaging when they do not engage with…groups that may be affected by such campaigns such as sex workers, or groups where trafficked persons are likely to be found ….

In the US, human rights consequences of anti-trafficking raids were recently highlighted in a report by the Urban Justice Centre in New York.

GAATW suggests preoccupation with trafficking for sex may blind Governments to other possibilities, including that of construction workers themselves being trafficked: “Conditions formed by hosting the Olympics games – a sudden need for specific sports venues and housing for athletes within a limited time period which may lead to extended working hours and an increase in risk for workers” does, they say, “highlight highly exploitative labour conditions and sectors that frequently rely on migrant workers, which increases the risk for trafficking cases.”

Returning to the MPA’s report on London 2012, its statements on the likelihood of increased prostitution and trafficking rely on just two sources:

  • a resolution passed by the European Parliament on March 15, 2006, which asserted (but provided no evidence) that major sporting events result in a ”temporary and spectacular increase in the demand for sexual services,” and

  •  a Times article from March 17 in which the Terrence Higgins Trust expressed concern and a desire for better resourcing for itself for the Olympics.

The European Parliament resolution was passed at the peak of paranoia over the World Cup in Germany in 2006, which we will come to later, while among the errors in the Times article is the statement that the construction of the Olympic sites will involve 100,000 workers (the actual number is around 25,000 to 30,000).

Neither source, however, backs up assertions in the MPA report that we can expect an:

increase in sex trafficking (linked to an increase in prostitution) in response to demand from visitors and workers on site, and even prior to sporting events: At the Greek Olympics in 2004 researchers found a 95% increase in the number of human trafficking victims identified by the Greek Ministry of Public Safety. Greece made no effort to control or manage trafficking.

No effort? Really? But just before we scream at Prince Phillip, one would not need the brains of a Miss Marple or the little grey cells of a Hercule Poirot to wonder how it is that the Greeks managed to identify 95 percent more trafficking victims if they made “no effort to control or manage trafficking,” especially as the HTfSE victims are renowned for their silence, and unlikely to suddenly arrive banging on the doors of the Ministry of Public Safety.

In actual fact, the efforts made by the Greeks in 2004 over human trafficking far outweigh those made by the UK today in many respects, as a report issued by the Greek embassy in Washington before the 2004 Olympics confirms.

They do, for example, have 24-hour guards on their ‘safe’ houses (victim shelters) to protect them from intruders, so that when these multi-thousand pound trafficking victims are discovered they don’t disappear so easily, as they have a mysterious tendency to do in the UK, where the Home Office keeps losing them.

Not that this would impress the media and the scaremongers, of course. Back on June 25, 2004, Voice of America reported Criminology Professor Grigoris Lazos, from Athens Pantheon University, claiming that “more than 2,500” women would be trafficked into the country for sex for the Games. The report also quoted unidentified “activist groups” in Greece stating that “about 15,000 women” had thus far been “forced” to work as prostitutes in the country, some “kept locked up as sex slaves, and beaten or raped into submission.”

But if they had, none materialised during the Games. For the main point here is that the MPA statement that At the Greek Olympics in 2004 researchers found a 95% increase in the number of human trafficking victims” is simply plain wrong

There was a 95 percent increase (from 93 to 181) in all human trafficking victims – including for labour and begging – detected in the whole of Greece in the whole of 2004, but as for the Athens Olympics themselves, they are not associated by researchers with any increase in sex trafficking, but with an actual decrease in child trafficking for begging on the streets of the capital.

The International Organisation on Migration observed: “It can…be stated that neither the 2004 annual report on Organised Crime in Greece by the Greek Ministry of Public Order, nor the IOM Athens case data in the IOM CTM [Counter-Trafficking Module] database referred to instances of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation during the 2004 Olympic Games.”

Though the IOM was present and assisted seven human trafficking victims in Athens in 2004, “individual case analysis… revealed no reference to human trafficking for…exploitation during the Olympic Games.” 

So, with no evidence of human trafficking over the Athens Olympics, was there a rise in prostitution (which is legal in Greece)? Not according to the sex workers themselves. Said Dimitra Kannellopoulo, the Greek sex workers’ leader, during the Games: “We have not seen the slightest increase in demand.”

If Athens was overstated as an HTfSE example, however, it is to the World Cup in Germany in 2006 we must turn for the apotheosis of HTfSE paranoia.

WORLD CUP, GERMANY, 2006

In Germany, like Greece, prostitution is legal. As anywhere, its legality or otherwise is contentious. But FIFA could hardly have expected what it got when it decided to play its 2006 World Cup matches there.

In much of what happened, the European Parliament resolution, passed in March 2006, played an important  part.

Though it did not itself mention numbers, they are to be found several times in the Parliament’s debate (interestingly devoid of contributions by UK MEPs), where a general acceptance of a rise in prostitution and trafficking in connection with large sporting events is assumed without evidence. It is a revelation to read through the debate three years later, and realise that the terror being spoken of is a total myth.

At the height of the paranoia, media reports were seriously suggesting that no less than 40,000 prostitutes, including many human trafficking victims, were to be brought to Germany for the event. Ultimately, according to an April 2006 Amnesty International release, no less a body than the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) had “expressed its concern” that between 30,000 and 60,000 trafficking victims may materialise through the World Cup.

When the relevant PACE resolution is discovered, however, it refers to “the announcement made by certain NGOs who predict that between 30 000 and 60,000 women and young girls may fall victim to trafficking“ – not a PACE estimate.

In actual fact, a total of five cases – four women and a man – of HTfSE were eventually discovered to be possibly linked to the German hosting of the World Cup in 2006.

So serious had all the nonsense become that the International Organisation on Migration, financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), produced a detailed report in September that year on the phenomenon and how the paranoia had developed.

Its brief account of the history runs as follows:

In autumn 2005, most NGOs as well as law enforcement had long started their work on concepts for World Cup activities and campaigns. A figure of 40,000 foreign prostitutes or even 40,000 forced prostitutes who were expected to come to Germany for the World Cup quickly resounded throughout Germany and beyond.

Law enforcement and many NGOs were quickly disassociating themselves from this figure as there was apparently no basis for this estimate. However, the media were timely to pick up on the figure and it persistently re-appeared. In the end, few seemed to know where it had originated from. One of the experts interviewed for this study, together with co-authors, attributed the first public mention of an estimate to the German Women’s Council (Deutscher Frauenrat), who used the figure of more than 30,000 prostituted that were to be smuggled into Germany for the World Cup with reference to the women’s representative of the German Association of Cities and Towns (Deutscher Städtetag).

The German newspaper “taz” then quoted the British Guardian’s “up to 40,000”. And subsequently, in the German women’s magazine “Emma”, the quote became 40,000 forced prostitutes. By this time the German Association of Cities and Towns had already disclaimed the figure.

Others, however, point to the US-based anti-trafficking pressure group the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) as the originators.

Among those spurring on the myth were UK journalists Joan Smith and Deborah Orr of the Independent and Julie Bindel of the Guardian. Their contributions were later made the subject of a column in the journalists’ trade paper, the UK Press Gazette, entitled “What happens if the figures don’t add up?” after the eventual publication of the IOM and other EU reports refuting the myth.

Bindel stuck by her story, claiming future EU documents revealing the myth were “flawed,” but then it’s difficult to enter a state of denial if you’ve never left it.

The UKPG story had been written by the editor of Spiked, for whom an excellent and well sourced piece on the moral crusade, linking the saga to CATW, was penned by Daily Telegraph writer Bruno Waterfield.

So, given negligible increase in human trafficking in Hamburg, was there a rise in prostitution during the World Cup? Overall, it seems not. Indeed, in common with other major events I’ve researched, the evidence actually points the other way – that prostitution actually declines.

Says the IOM report: “Media reporting during the World Cup suggested an increase in business for sexual services in a few internationally known clubs, but a strong decrease of business in most others. This was soon complemented by police statements that there were no indications of an increase in trafficking.”

And even though the big brothels may get an increase in admission fees, the allure of the ladies within them does not necessarily mean an increase in actual prostitution, if this punter’s account of a visit to Artemis, “possibly Europe’s most luxurious brothel,” is anything to go by. Instead, its male inhabitants are far too interested in the football, appearing on a screen normally devoted to German hardcore porn.

“After two weeks in eight German cities…I’ve seen no sign of the wooden ‘sex garages’ that were supposed to have been built to service the horny, nor have I spotted any streetwalkers or violent pimps,” wrote Luke O‘Brien, whose account adds credibility to stories of voluntary prostitutes, perhaps attracted by all the hype, cutting their losses and returning to their home countries before the end of the tournament.

 PLANNED FUTURE PARANOIA

You will be pleased to hear that the Metropolitan Police are not alone in their efforts to induce global paranoia around future major sporting events. Next February‘s Canadian Winter Olympics is to be followed by South Africa’s hosting of another World Cup in June-July. Queues of politicians and journalists have formed in both, aiming to keep the myth alive, aided by, among others, the Catholic Church. Meanwhile the Scottish TUC, not to be outdone, is distilling more than a wee dram of highland paranoia ready for the Commonwealth Games of 2014.

The Catholics, it seems, are upset that major sporting events are even upstaging Papal visits when it comes to pulling in the punters. There is real evidence that business at the Xclusive Gentlemen’s Club in Sydney, Australia, rocketed during the papal visit there a year ago, but sadly, big Papal visits have failed to attract the trafficking mythologists in quite the same way as big sporting events.

The Catholics have just this month mobilised 252 religious orders of nuns in 36 countries to fight the non-pandemic in both Canada and South Africa, financed, of course, by the US State Department, presumably in a bid to somehow dispose of the US Treasury’s mammoth cash surplus.

They’ve also devised a pack for schools in Canada to help pass the myth on to future generations, distributed by the Canadian Religious Conference.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however, spoil things somewhat by displaying sanity, unlike their London counterparts: “We haven’t, to this point in time, had any reports to suggest that there will be any increase in human trafficking during these Games. We have nothing to suggest we will,” said Corporal Norm Massie, who is also a former head of the RCMP’S human trafficking section in British Columbia.

The whole Canadian situation is dominated by a 25-page 2007 report by the prohibitionist CATW lobby, represented by the Calgary-based Future Group, and a recent, comprehensive 150-page report by those trying to restore sanity in the form of the Sex Industry Worker Safety Action Group, which consists of Vancouver‘s police together with various organisations that work with the city’s sex workers.

The closing remarks of the SIWSAG executive summary include: “In relation to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, public statements have been made which project an alarming increase in this human trafficking. These claims are inconsistent with the evidence in this research document, that trafficking and mega-events are not linked.”

 THE REAL OLYMPIC TRAFFICKING STORIES

ATHENS 2004

There was a real Olympic human trafficking story in Athens – the one about up to 2,000 Romani people who lost their homes when they were trafficked out to make way for the stadiums and other infrastructure.

Search this 2004 OMCT Europe PDF for the word “Olympics” ( or “Greece”) and you will come across the sorry plight of some 50 Romani families, comprising 137 people, once of the Athens suburb of Maroussi, some of whom had occupied their homes for more than 30 years.

On August 1, 2002, they secured an agreement allowing them heavily subsidised monthly rent for alternative accommodation pending relocation to new heavy-duty prefabs promised on an alternative site (also to be provided), but little materialised after they left their homes to the demolition squads. Such supposedly monthly payments as there were were erratic. The families faced discrimination and said they lost offers of properties through the rent being unavailable.

All was suddenly paid up two years later on the eve of the Olympics themselves, presumably to counter the possibility of adverse publicity, but by the time the PDF was created (October 2004) another two months was outstanding and Amnesty International had taken up their plight. Whatever became of them is unclear. Said the PMCT:

The town of Maroussi is only the most symbolic case of Roma eviction on the fringe of the Olympic Games. About 2,000 Romas might have been evicted and lost track of in the midst of the Olympic Games.

But of course, some 2,000 people rendered homeless to make way for the planet’s latest playground is small beer compared to the plight of thousands of trafficked women forced into sex slavery, even if the former are real while the latter are largely dreamt up.

SALT LAKE CITY 2002, ATHENS 2004 AND BEIJING 2008

According to the FBI, the real trafficking story at Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics was nothing to do with selling people. It was more to do with protecting the Olympic brand by threatening sellers of ‘counterfeit’ goods with $2 million fines and ten years in the clink.

The value of the Olympic brand was put under a different kind of pressure two years later in Athens, however, with the launch of the PlayFair campaign, which both there and in Beijing has been pressing the International Olympic Committee to source its products ethically, instead of relying on migrant workers with poverty wages, excessive overtime and child labour, many quite possibly trafficked.

So that’s what the Feds were protecting.

BEIJING 2008

We know from GAATW that at least six workers were killed in the making of the Beijing infrastructure, but did you know that workers also got murdered for trying to unionise? That working conditions were appalling and dangerous, that money was deducted for inedible food, that some workers were never paid, that…well, you name it. It’s all here on this Human Rights Watch report.

Well, that’s the reality. Not very sexy. And fighting for real human rights causes – including those of sex workers – can be hard graft. But at least the people are real, and their numbers are genuine.

See also: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/2850/

© Stephen Paterson and An Anthology of English Pros, 2008-2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephen Paterson and An Anthology of English Pros with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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6 Comments
  1. peter schevt permalink

    the catholic church, instead of attacking the sex industry should be trying to clean up its own industry that has covered up child abuse by paedophile priests
    paedophilia in the religious industry is a bigger problem than so called “sex trafficking”

  2. Punter John permalink

    If there are sex slaves behind these telephone numbers why doesn’t Boris get the MET Police who are under his control to rescue them ? It is because he know most prostitute do from choice these huge numbers of sex slaves do not exist. Pressuring the phone companies is a win-win. If the phone companies cave in he can claim credit. If the resist he can paint them as unsympathetic and claim credit.

  3. rafszul permalink

    excellent piece. but i must say that scanning through articles and reports like this one, and being provided yet again with such strong insights about the volume of ignorance and idiocy around the world, i cannot help but feel deeply demoralised, disheartened and almost ready to give up.
    i honestly don’t get it, what drives these people? how can they have their brains so tightly boxed up? what gives them this incredible will and ability to repeat all the same bullshit over and over again? and what makes others willing to believe in this bullshit each time it is produced?

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