News / 21 February, 2011

Olympics sex trafficking debate highlights media misinformation

There is little consensus about the impact the London 2012 Games will have on this illegal trade, say experts

Concerns have been raised about a possible increase in sex trafficking in the run-up to the Olympic Games, but the debate at a recent conference on the issue suggests that the picture is not as straightforward as is sometimes portrayed.

Fears about the trafficking of prostitutes to the Olympic boroughs are based on reports from large-scale sporting events in other countries, such as the World Cups in Germany and South Africa. At the conference on ‘(How) Will the 2012 Olympics Impact Trafficking in London’, hosted by Young Professionals in Human Rights on Tuesday 15 February, experts disagreed on whether this will happen in London, and on how important this issue is compared to others such as the trafficking of workers.

Speaking at the conference, Gemma Wolfes of Anti-Slavery International said there is little reliable research available that examines possible links between sex trafficking and Olympics. The claim that 40,000 people were trafficked into Germany for the World Cup has been widely reported in the media, yet it seems no-one knows where this figure comes from. Meanwhile, the issue of forced labour receives much less media attention, although with the increase in demand for workers in construction and hospitality, areas in which exploitation is known to be a problem, this is seen as a real risk.

“We should listen to the people involved,” argued Dr Nick Mai, a migration expert from London Metropolitan University. His research found that approximately 13% of female interviewees felt that they had been subject to different perceptions and experiences of exploitation, ranging from extreme cases of trafficking to relatively more consensual arrangements.

Only a minority, amounting approximately to 6 per cent of female interviewees, felt that they had been deceived and forced into selling sex in circumstances within which they had no share of control or consent. Heartbreaking stories of young girls tricked and forced into prostitution are true, “but they are not the only truth,” he said. He suggested that there is a tendency to oversimplify the situation, both on the part of the media, which prefers a simple story, and charities, who wish to avoid cuts to their funding.

Sex worker rights activist and representative of the Sex Worker Open University, Luca Raven, was similarly critical of the way the issue has been represented in the media, arguing that many of the reported figures are simply recycled from ‘research’ that has been debunked by academics. He also took the view that “most sex workers are there by choice”, and said that he wanted sex workers to be included in the debate around human trafficking.

Earlier this month (9 February) the government was criticised by health experts and MPs at a conference focusing on trafficking issues. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper condemned the government’s decision not to sign up to the EU Directive on Human Trafficking to combat the trade in sex slaves.

Note: this article was amended at 5.20pm Friday 25 February 2011 to correct the figure quoted regarding Dr Nick Mai’s research (from 15% to 13%).

/ 21 February, 2011
  • Hmm, this is a tricky topic. It is indeed difficult to measure trends like this, that involve organized crime. I personally think that the 40,000 figure was someone’s wild guess, however instead of leading us to assume that trafficking does not increase at all at sporting events, we should resolve to do better research. Exploitation is clearly present. I wrote about this interesting debate a while back, during the World Cup.

    Thanks for writing on this, we need more discussion around this topic!

  • Its good to have articles like this and to challenge the often unsubstantiated statistics thrown around. Michelle Brocks comment and link is really good and worth reading to explore the issue further.

    My personal question is ‘why’ sensationalise this issue when just small numbers still demand a strategic response and an action. I would add that to the same extend numbers are exaggerated, they can also be minimalised.

    The UK govt would like to create and perpetuate a narrative that there is no trafficking problem in the UK. If it is not a problem, we do not have to fund solutions. In part they can support this from official statistics from national referral agencies. What it fails to take into consideration is a top down system which is failing survivors to the point that many ngo’s and support groups do not follow official channels, as those in place are increasingly focused on the immigration status of the victim, not the need for care.
    I just came back from meetings in Greece where there is a vast increase in Romanian girls in brothels and on the streets (1 in every 2 new girls are Romanian, most through bogus job adverts, the same can be found in Vienne).
    The national official statistics for Romanian trafficking victims from the Romanian govt, are actually lower than the victims identified in just Athens alone.
    It is important that the Trafficking in People does not become a game of numbers, where if the victims are many, or younger, we then and only then respond. It is vital that we do not re exploit the exploited by valuing them only when their story is sensationalised. The real, the few, even if it is a few (and it isnt) is worthy of response, is worthy of action.

  • Meny Parasol

    An excellent article placing a light on the possible unpleasant consequences of the Olympics hidden from the public; hopefully these issues will be enforced by the authorities.


    Sex Trafficking in Sports Events:
    Super Bowl 2011:

    According to the media hype There was supposed to be hundreds of thousands of under age child sex slaves kidnapped and forced to have sex with super bowl fans. At the Dallas Super Bowl 2011.



    Politicians, women’s groups, police and child advocates were predicting that up to 100,000 hookers would be shipped into Dallas for the Super Bowl.

    It was all a big lie told by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, government officials, and various anti-prostitution groups: Traffick911, Not for Sale, Change-org, Polaris Project, and the Dallas Women’s Foundation, which are anti-prostitution groups that tell lies in order to get grant money from the government and charities to pay their high salaries, and get huge amounts of money into their organizations. As proved in the links below:

    Top FBI agent in Dallas (Robert Casey Jr.) sees no evidence of expected spike in child sex trafficking:

    “Among those preparations was an initiative to prevent an expected rise in sex trafficking and child prostitution surrounding the Super Bowl. But Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, said he saw no evidence that the increase would happen, nor that it did.
    “In my opinion, the Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes,” he said. “The discussion gets very vague and general. People mixed up child prostitution with the term human trafficking, which are different things, and then there is just plain old prostitution.”

    This myth of thousands or millions of underage sex slaves tries to make every sports fan a sex criminal. No matter what the sport is, or in what country it is in.

    Brian McCarthy isn’t happy. He’s a spokesman for the NFL. Every year he’s forced to hear why his customers are adulterers and child molesters. Brian McCarthy says the sport/super bowl sex slave story is a urban legend, with no truth at all.

    These anti-prostitution groups lobby the government in a big way, getting Politicians to truly believe their lies.

    == World Cup 2006 ==
    Politicians, religious and aid groups, still repeat the media story that 40,000 prostitutes were trafficked into Germany for the 2006 world cup – long after leaked police documents revealed there was no truth at all in the tale. A baseless claim of 25,000 trafficking victims is still being quoted, recently, for example, by the Salvation Army in written evidence to the home affairs select committee, in which they added: “Other studies done by media have suggested much higher numbers.” Which has been proven by the German police to be completely false. Yet people still talk about these false numbers as if it were fact.
    ==World Cup 2010 ==
    Again using the made up number of 40,000 prostitutes trafficked:
    The behavior of fans in South Africa has run contrary to what was predicted prior to the start of the tournament after David Bayever told World Cup organizers in March it was feared that up to 40,000 extra prostitutes could converge in the host nation to meet the expected demand. Bayever, deputy chairperson of South Africa’s Central Drug Authority (CDA) that advises on drug abuse but also works with prostitutes, warned: “Forty-thousand new prostitutes. As if we do not have enough people of our own, we have to import them to ensure our visitors are entertained.”

    But the tournament in 2010, if anything, has seen the modern-day soccer fan attracted to art galleries and museums over brothels. A trend that has seen a drop in revenue across the board for the prostitution industry, which is illegal in South Africa. “Zobwa,” the chairperson of Sisonke — an action group representing around 70 street prostitutes in Johannesburg — said business had been down over the last month. “The World Cup has been devastating. We thought it was going to be a cash cow but it’s chased a lot of the business away. It’s been the worst month in my company’s history,” the owner and founder of one of Johannesburg’s most exclusive escort companies told CNN.

    ===The Vancouver Olympics 2010=======
    Again anti-prostitution groups lied and used the same figure of 40,000 or more sex slaves for the Vancouver Olympics. Again they were proved wrong. There were no sex slaves at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

    In recent years, every time there has been a major international sporting event, a group of government officials, campaigning feminists, pliant journalists and NGOs have claimed that the movement of thousands of men to strange foreign countries where there will be lots of alcohol and horniness will result in the enslavement of women for the purposes of sexual pleasure. Obviously. And every time they have simply doubled the made-up scare figures from the last international sporting event, to make it look like this problem of sport/sex/slavery gets worse year on year. Yet each year it is proved false.

    This myth tries to make every sports fan a sex criminal. No matter what the sport is, or in what country it is in. These anti-prostitution groups need to in invent a victim that does not exist in order to get press attention.

    I do not like the idea of people getting the wrong information and believing lies, no matter what the topic is. The Sex trafficking, slavery issue is one of the biggest lies being told today. It is amazing to me how people will believe such lies so easily. The media is to blame for this. I wonder why they feel such a need to report wrong stats, numbers and information about this topic without doing proper research.

    While this may happen in very rare limited situations, the media will say that millions of people are sex slaves without doing any real research on the topic. Only taking the word of special interest anti-prostitution groups which need to generate money in the form of huge government grants from taxpayers, and charities. These “non profit” group’s employees make huge salaries, therefore they need to lobby the government, and inflate and invent victims in order to get more money into their organizations. If you look into how many real kidnapped forced against their will sex slaves there are, and not just take the anti-prostitution groups word for it. You will be very surprised.

    Where are all the forced sex slaves? I would like to meet the millions of sex slaves and see for myself if they were in fact kidnapped, and forced against their will.

    These anti-prostitution groups lobby the government in a big way, getting Politicians to truly believe their lies.

    This is an attempt to over inflate an issue in order to get more government money to these organizations. As a tax payer, voter, and resident I don’t want the government to mislead me.

    I would like to see a news organization do a full report on the lies, myths and exaggerated numbers being told about sex trafficking slaves. But they won’t do it because they are all sacred of the anti-prostitution groups, so the media continues to tell lies and only report what the anti-prostitution groups and politicians tell them to. The articles about the super bowl and sport sex slaves, has been proved wrong many times, but news organizations still report about it, as if it were fact.

    Below are the few brave souls that told the truth in the media:
    Sex Trafficking in Sports Events links:

    Dallas TV News show about super bowl sex slave myth:–114983179.html

    Dallas Newspaper article:

    Official Lies About Sex-Trafficking Exposed: It’s now clear that anti-prostitution groups used fake data to deceive the media and lie to Congress. And it was all done to score free publicity and a wealth of public funding

    The Sex Trafficking/Slavery idea is used to outlaw all adult consensual prostitution, and label all men as sex offenders and wipe out all consensual prostitution.

  • RastaVari

    Dear Mr Jeff Lewis
    Whilst I appreciate your frustration at the inadequacies of mass media reporting of salacious issues I wonder whether you have questioned and critiqued your position as vehemently…
    First of all – your references are predominantly from a local Texan rag! Hardly a reputable journal with clear methodology!

    Secondly why are you so keen to meet, and I’d imagine from the tone of this comment and your ‘website’, interrogate trafficked women?

    Thirdly why do your sound annoyed at the low levels of child and enforced sex slaves at the sporting events you mention?

    NGOs do have a position, an ethos that they work from and legally they have to lay out clearly what the remit of their organisation is.

    People also have positions that they work from – I think its pretty clear what yours is, and I’d ask you to think about two questions you seem determined it skim over.

    1. Where are the distinctions between enslaved, forced, giving consent in a non-consensual setting?
    2. What was a ‘consensual woman prostitute’ before she was a ‘consensual woman prostitute’ – i.e. where and when did she learn her ‘trade’ and how consensual was that?


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