Getting money to prevent sex trafficking even if there isn’t any: London Olympics

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

14 thoughts on “Getting money to prevent sex trafficking even if there isn’t any: London Olympics

    1. laura agustin Post author

      Your link leads also to the general problem here: Correlation not Causation

      The correlation not causation fallacy is committed when one reasons that just because two things are found together (i.e. are correlated) there must be a direct causal connection between them. Often arguments of this kind seem compelling, but it’s important to consider other possible explanations before concluding that one thing must have caused the other.

      “Since you started seeing that girl your grades have gone down. She’s obviously been distracting you from your work, so you mustn’t see her anymore.”

    1. laura agustin Post author

      Post hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for “after this, therefore because of this,” is a logical fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states, “Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one.” It is often shortened to simply post hoc and is also sometimes referred to as false cause, coincidental correlation, or correlation not causation. It is subtly different from the fallacy cum hoc ergo propter hoc, in which two things or events occur simultaneously or the chronological ordering is insignificant or unknown. Post hoc is a particularly tempting error because temporal sequence appears to be integral to causality. The fallacy lies in coming to a conclusion based solely on the order of events, rather than taking into account other factors that might rule out the connection.

      I wonder about the time element. In the anti-trafficking example, nothing has happened, but the expectation that something should have happened or must be happening drives people to react.

  1. Maggie McNeill

    “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.”

    I once compared it to that old vaudeville gag:

    Straight Man: Why do you keep snapping your fingers?
    Comedian: To keep the elephants away.
    Straight Man: But there aren’t any elephants within a thousand miles!
    Comedian: See how well it works?

  2. Rachel Morton

    I shall be amused by the reaction of the denizens of Tower Hamlets to these wowser volunteers.

  3. Cliente X

    Key is not the traffick but the money. In Spain we have documented dozens of false reports about sexual explotation that are used to justify more fundings to fight it, to give an image of policial efficency and even to cover the real mafias that extort the girls.

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  5. Patrick Brown

    What it reminds me of is the spate of spurious child sex abuse witch-hunts in the 80s and 90s (some involving allegations of satanism). Both were driven by an unholy alliance of fundamentalist Christians and extremist feminists (in the UK the sex trafficking moral panic was promoted by the Poppy Project when Labour were in government and the Salvation Army now the Conservatibes are in). The child abuse panic has had the effect of making us suspicious of any involvement of men with children, and authoritarian laws, like New Labour’s notorious vetting and barring scheme, followed. Aside from the ongoing harassment of sex workers, the persistent lying about sex trafficking at major sporting events implies that any large-scale gathering of men will necessarily be about the abuse of women. If it isn’t squashed, it will lead to similar changes in social attitudes towards men, and more authoritarian legislation.

    1. laura agustin Post author

      Yes, one can trace the lineage of uproars both locally and internationally. I wrote about the child abuse/satanic ritual panic amongst a small group in Sweden that currently are leaders of a certain extremist vision of men:

      I did a review of Roger Lancaster’s book about Sex Panic asking why prostitution and trafficking were absent:

      A certain quotient of fear about sex-and-men would seem to be always required for some psychic reason.

  6. Xavier

    “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.”

    I believe it’s an “ad hoc” fallacy:

    “X happens then Y happens, therefore X must have caused Y.”

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