Those who wish evidence were the basis for social policy have been endlessly frustrated and annoyed by the survival of the myth saying sex trafficking – forced prostitution – increases enormously on the occasion of major sporting events. Despite enough evidence to convince most people that there is no such surge (see SIDA’s report on the 2006 World Cup and SWEAT’s on the 2010), it’s obvious that evidence doesn’t matter where the fear of hidden crime is constantly threatened. In other words, if the police haven’t found many women in chains, the victims must be too well hidden, which justifies further money for more intense policing.
Some NGOs against human trafficking do now acknowledge that there’s no proof that trafficking increases around big sporting events. But they like to argue that their own efforts to prevent trafficking are the reason – Ta Da! There must be a name for this kind of logical fallacy.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has set up its own anti-trafficking programme called UN.GIFT, which now gives funds to a lot of the people sustaining this kind of scare-mongering. Stop the Traffik (sic – why have they spelled it like this?) is one, here maintaining that
campaigns countering human trafficking and increased law enforcement, before and during the events, are necessary to prevent the trade. International sporting events can increase human trafficking due to the short-term increased demand for prostitution, construction work, and all other sorts of labour.
So the funding gravytrain tootles along. But now they have a new justification for their activities:
prestigious sporting events can play a central role in attracting attention to the issue of human trafficking, and can function as an opportunity to increase engagement across communities. Most importantly, as there is evidence of continuous human trafficking in London and across the entire UK, we should use this opportunity that the London Olympics presents us with.
So now, whether there was ever going to be any increased trafficking or not, campaigns that worry people that their might be are doing a good job of raising awareness. In NGO-speak this is called prevention. If there is more self-serving silliness I don’t know about it.
With great solemnity, based on this absence of evidence, we find troops of volunteers ready to worry everyone in London about the hidden scourge. Here’s one (with funding from Stop the Traffik) in Tower Hamlets, one of London’s Olympic boroughs (meaning some Olympics activity actually occurs there). Do you wonder what these people will do?
This will involve running outreach sessions with local schools, hotels and faith groups using data gathered from borough-specific research, which volunteers would also be conducting. There will also be the opportunity to organise a local fundraising event to generate additional income and attract more volunteers from the local area.
I’d like to know how that research is being done. Meanwhile, the photo at the top shows a UN.GIFT box that’s going to be unwrapped during the games. (Warning if you click on that link that you are subjected to the soundtrack of a promotional video portraying cruelty.) The purpose is described as
to inspire visitors, both from the UK and abroad, to take action to stop the trade. . . a giant public art installation, which will demonstrate to people how victims of human trafficking can be deceived; beyond the promises of exciting opportunities that will entice people to the box, once inside, the stark reality of human trafficking will be revealed. . . family-friendly and will inspire people to advocate and end trafficking in their own communities.
This is all what happens when a fear (panic, myth) takes on a life of its own. Evidence that there is cause for such fear is simply irrelevant. Unfortunately, there are unsought side-effects, as police make raids and arrests of sex workers to show they are looking for traffickers and their victims. Thus x:talk’s call for a moratorium on arrests in London.
–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist