Monday, 4 April 2011

Sex + Sport = Trafficking Hype

There's a lot to be said on the subject of trafficking in general, and in the UK in particular. First off I'd like to link two excellent articles on the topic by investigative journalist Nick Davies as a primer on how the trafficking numbers get blown out of all proportion, and the result: Anatomy of a moral panic, and Inquiry fails to find single trafficker.
For some, the word trafficking evokes scenes of beaten and smuggled women a la The Wire. For others, the image most strongly associated with trafficking is that of the drowned Chinese immigrants of the Morecambe Bay disaster. And for a special few, trafficking invokes the opportunity to attach their agenda to international events... particularly sporting events.

So what's the connection between high-profile sporting events and trafficking - is there even evidence for a connection at all?

One hardly ever sees mention of prostitution anymore where human sex trafficking is not also invoked. It's bizarre, this assumption that the vast majority of men are not only paying for sex, but willing to pay for sex with unwilling partners. Says a lot about what the people making these assumptions think of men, I guess.

“Aids and HIV warning to South Africa World Cup fans” featured prominently on the BBC website in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup. The warnings were widespread, not only in the UK, but all over the world. They implied that with the upcoming football tournament, not only were prostitutes preying on innocent fans of footy, but pimps and smugglers were ramping up the trade in sex slavery as well.

According to reports seeded by social work groups and charities, some 40,000 prostitutes were set to arrive in South Africa, many of them trafficked – coincidentally, the identical number that had been predicted (but never materialised) for Germany’s World Cup in 2006. Expect to see similar, if not identical, numbers "projected" in advance of the 2012 London Olympics.

With the expected number of fans going to the World Cup in South Africa estimated at 450,000, that just doesn’t pass the sniff test. One working girl for every 11 people at the World Cup? Wow. That’s hospitality provision on a level Premier League teams’ Christmas parties would envy! And tying these numbers together with anti-trafficking efforts, well, that's powerful stuff. It's basically saying that out of any coachload of supporters turning up to watch the matches, several would have been paying to have sex with unwilling partners  smuggled in to South Africa.

Now, I've never been a big football fan myself, but implying that a large percentage of them are active endorsers of sex slavery? Stretches the bounds of credibility juuuuust a little bit too far for me.

As it happens, the claim about widespread sex tourism was refuted several months later when a UN Population Fund report showed sex workers’ activity didn’t go up at all. Prostitution was not affected. Neither was trafficking

But the propaganda machine continues apace.

Early 2011 saw reports of the tens of thousands of women who were “expected” to be trafficked into Dallas for the Super Bowl. The projected numbers were identical to those supposed to have been trafficked for the World Cup in South Africa, the Ryder Cup in Wales, the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In every one of these examples, the projections have neither been supported by evidence beforehand nor proven to have happened afterwards. And yet the usual suspects keep trotting them out the same stories and the same numbers anyway. With the London Olympics on their way, conferences and fundraising events are already popping up to ‘raise awareness’ of trafficking issues.

Where does this come from? The consistency points to a well-organised and well-funded campaign to keep bringing the same arguments around again, hogging column inches while the reality goes largely unreported.

Several agendas are involved, without doubt. But one in particular is a strategy devised by Hunt Alternatives Fund to make sure sex for money is presented as badly as possible. And they use celebrities and writers of headlines to do so.

But who exactly are Hunt Alternatives Fund, and what's their agenda? As ever, that's a topic for another time.