Vancouver (Women’s Feature Service) – There are widespread concerns about possible increases in human trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation during large-scale sporting events. And with the upcoming FIFA World Cup in South Africa in June and the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October this year, besides the 2012 London Olympics, these concerns have sparked urgent calls for action. Such calls for action echo similar calls at other large-scale sporting events in recent years, including those held in Australia, Athens and Germany.
Trafficking in human beings – especially women and girls – is an ongoing, worldwide problem. This fact is no longer debatable. However, the question of whether human trafficking for sexual purposes – or other forms of sexual exploitation – increases during large-scale international sporting events is a question that continues to spark intense debate.
Clinicians assessing impacts of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney found a significant increase in the need for sexual health services and a parallel increase in sexually related diseases, primarily among casual workers. Reports also indicated an increase in sexual assaults in the athletes’ village. Research has also indicated that the number of victims of human trafficking nearly doubled at the Athens Olympics in 2004. In Germany, on the other hand, while there is some evidence that prostitution increased during the 2006 Football World Cup, there was no evidence of a rise in human trafficking. But then the reason most often suggested for this lack of increase in human trafficking in Germany is the extensive awareness, prevention, and enforcement effort that was undertaken in the lead-up to the event.
Now in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup in June and also for the 2012 London Olympics, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) officials, police, health officials, and women’s organisations are warning event organisers, funders, enforcement authorities and local service providers to take steps to prevent increases in trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation and, at the same time, prepare for the impacts of such increases.
According to Lynne Abrams of the London Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), “There is considerable international evidence to suggest that…an increase in population in the context of the Games may have an impact on women’s safety.” The MPA is preparing in a number of ways for the possible increases in sexual trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation, including local and international educational efforts, creation of a specialist team, and efforts to examine the extent of trafficking in east London. But despite these warnings and steps being taken by the MPA, those responsible for Olympic security apparently have made no specific plans to address prostitution or trafficking.
Fortunately, in preparation for the London Games, Lisa Power, policy director for the Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity dealing with HIV and sexual health, is calling for an urgent meeting with the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games. She says, “There will be increased sexual activity at the Olympics and in the run-up. There will be migrant workers, mostly men, separated from their families. Many of them will have unprotected sex. They will go out for casual sex or with sex workers. There is a big potential for increase in poor sexual health…” Health organisations are calling for an increase in sexual health clinic staff to address both the predicted rise in infections and the need for prevention, including distribution of condoms and sex leaflets in various languages.
A number of church-based organisations internationally and in Canada have spoken out strongly on the issue of human trafficking during large-scale sporting events, including the Salvation Army, organisations of Catholic sisters and Catholic and Anglican bishops. Currently, 252 Catholic orders are working to combat human trafficking in 36 countries. These orders had recently formed an international network called ‘Talita Kum’ – Aramaic for ‘Get Up’ – pledging support for members already trying to ensure that women and children are not removed from their homes and sent overseas to provide sexual services during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver in February 2010 and also during the FIFA World Cup.
“The traffickers are organised on a trans-national level and we must do the same in order to fight them,” said Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, a leader of religious women in Italy working against trafficking. At a press conference in Vancouver last year the Right Reverend Michael Ingham, Bishop of New Westminster, British Columbia (BC) and a co-chair of the 34th annual Anglican- Roman Catholic Bishops Dialogue of Canada, read a statement on the churches’ concerns about human trafficking and the Olympics: “We, the bishops of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Bishops’ Dialogue, stand together to call attention to the profound social ill of human trafficking…The buying and selling of human beings subverts the very essence of the Olympic spirit.”
The NGO sector worldwide is also lobbying for more prevention and public awareness efforts prior to large-scale sporting events. In South Africa, child protection organisations are calling for additional resources for the protection of children during the Soccer World Cup, including the use of community volunteers in the areas around stadiums and community awareness initiatives about the nature of trafficking and about risks faced by unsupervised children in close proximity to hotels, public gathering places, and stadiums.
In Vancouver, the Sex Industry Worker Safety Action Group, despite questioning the predictions of dramatic increases in sex trafficking during large sporting events, had called for a public awareness and education campaign and a collaborative enforcement effort that balances enforcement with safety for sex workers and enhanced detection and prevention for victims of trafficking.
In Angola, in response to its concern that human trafficking may increase in the run-up to the African Cup of Nations football tournament that was held in January this year, the IOA had held a two-day meeting in Luanda to explore ways of preventing the escalation. The conference included experts from government ministries from Brazil, Portugal and South Africa as well as IOM officials from its German mission to share their experiences on preventing human trafficking during big sporting events.
The IOM collaborated with NGOs, the government and Cup organisers to raise public awareness in an attempt to assist prevention efforts. “Obviously, this information campaign would be one of the ways we would reach out to the general public,” Chauzy had said. “But, we would also rely very heavily on the network of NGOs that already are working on those trafficking issues in Angola, in South Africa and within the southern African region.”
Katharina Schnoring, IOM Chief of Mission in Angola, summed up not only the dangers but the opportunities: “Although [an increase in human trafficking and sexual exploitation] is a potential worry, we need to turn it into an opportunity by raising awareness of human trafficking on a scale that has not been seen before… With a lot of international attention… we have to grab some of it to ensure traffickers don’t win. It is…an opportunity for both the government and civil society to engage more actively in countering human trafficking.”