The Olympics and Trafficking

// 21 January 2009

Olympics LogoNow before y’all jump on me, I want to clearly state something. Not all non-UK women in prostitution are trafficked but here I am talking specifically about two distinct things 1. trafficked women for purposes of prostituting them and 2. the expected rise in all activities related to prostitution including illegal activities. This isn’t going to be a discussion about decriminalisation/legalisation etc – this is a discussion about what will happen with our existing laws in place. Hopefully I’ve clarified the Terms of Reference for this post.

RachelH at Londonist flagged the issues around prostitution and the Olympics.

[Prostitution was] sanctioned in Athens 2004 and Germany for the World Cup, Beijing had a crackdown and Vancouver sex workers are pushing for safer working environments in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It seems that anywhere there’s a gathering of athletes and sports fans there’s an explosion in prostitution

Now my concerns are several fold and let me try to explain them:

1. There is trafficking across national borders into the UK for sexual purposes at the moment and it’s likely to rise for the Olympics. Current services to free, protect, treat (medically) and work with these women are currently over-stretched and inadequate. This will only get worse.

2. There is also internal trafficking of women coerced into prostitution for which there are also inadequate exit strategies and people available to free, protect, treat and work with these women. This will also only get worse.

3. New laws around the criminalisation of buying sex from a trafficked or coerced woman will mean more Police hours. The solution for this isn’t to ridicule the law, it’s to think about Policing levels and the training Police are given to adequately and appropriately handle this.

4. Currently there is not significant extra capacity in the services for women who are voluntarily in prostitution in terms of sexual health, legal protection, safety and so forth. Nor is there seemingly any plans to help third sector organisations help deliver extra capacity.

5. It seems likely that there will be a rise in the advertisement of prostitutes through, for example, telephone booth carding etc. I can’t be the only person to be concerned when I see streets in central Soho littered at all levels (pavement, in telephone boxes, tacked to walls etc) by explicit photographs. I’m not a prude and I love the female form but there is a time and a place.

6. There are issues around the siting of those offering sexual services which may include the few communities in the area not already blighted by compulsory purchase orders and the like. I have no doubt that’s one of the reasons for Germany’s “megabrothel” however here, where that isn’t legally an option there must be concerns about the safety of both on-street and off-street women in prostitution and women and children in the local communities.

So what does that amount to – a lack of services whether to aid safety and health of women staying in prostitution or exit strategies for any wanting to leave let alone a lack of work around findings and stopping both internal and across-borders trafficking. It amounts to a situation where, currently, this isn’t being discussed and where all women from all sides need to be involved in that discussion and need to have their safety ensured.

Whatever your views on prostitution I would hope we can get behind this – women need to be safe from sexual violence. Currently we don’t seem to be putting that anywhere on the agenda for the Olympics.

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 21 January 2009 at 7:08 pm

Enforcing existing legislation and ensuring adequate funding for voluntary and statutory services for adequate exit strategies costs money and the police and government cannot do everything especially since combatting ‘terrorism’ is far more important than challenging men’s right of committing sexual and physical violence against women.

I envisage a lot of ‘hot air’ from politicians and Lord Coe with nothing being done. Or, a few services will be given funding to support prostituted women but it will be a ‘band aid’ wherein the women will be given temporary assistance, but this will help and support the women only after they have already suffered the male sexual and physical violence. Patch up the women but do not dare to go to the root of the issue will be the answer.

MsChin // Posted 23 January 2009 at 10:48 pm

Well put.

2 points which may help. Firstly, the London 2012 Organising C’ttee for the Olympics states on its website that it is a registered company, which is “mainly” funded by the private sector. This body is also responsible for deciding which contractors will deliver the games. Which takes me to my second point. If this body receives any public funds, it may be held responsible for failing to consider women’s risk of sexual violence (an adverse impact on women usually identified as part of an equality impact assessment), which could be a breach of the public sector gender duty or indeed the race equality duty (eg: Southall Black Sisters v Ealing last year). Worth finding out if this may be the case, maybe from the Equality & Human Rights Commission or Minister for Women/Equality? As Met Police are a public body, do they also have some responsibility under equality or other legislation for impact assessing the risk of violence against women / increase in prostitution at the Olympics?

Catherine Redfern // Posted 24 January 2009 at 2:21 pm

Hm, it’s a shame no-one has commented here, but I’m sure it’s not through lack of agreement with your points.

Thanks for raising this. An important issue that I think we need to keep an eye on as the Olympics get closer.

Chris Green // Posted 11 February 2009 at 11:46 pm

White RIbbon Campaign wants to be involved in campaigning around this, as we work to target men to act pon male violence, and try to work in sport activity.

We will try and appoint a student intern to work halfl time around this from September.

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