London Olympics and the spectre of trafficking: police already repressing sex work

A lot of people never wanted the Olympics to come to London and are unhappy about what all the ‘development’ means in easterm areas of the city – thus the negative graffiti on a countdown meter in the photo. The boroughs most directly affected by the games know by now that there is no need to panic about 40 000 prostitutes or victims of trafficking descending: there have been too many debunkings, on this website and numerous others. People do wonder if they ought to be Doing Something though. One of these boroughs, Waltham Forest, has invited me as an expert witness to a community meeting to be held next week, on the 27th – perhaps I will see some readers there?

A report called The 2012 Games and human trafficking: Identifying possible risks and relevant good practice from other cities came out not long ago, and seems to say that everything is possible but nothing is actually known about trafficking to events like the Olympics. Just to be on the safe side, though, a special unit of the police have begun raiding flats in the Olympics’s boroughs.

London 2012 Olympics: Crackdown on brothels ‘puts sex workers at risk’

Jamie Doward, 10 April 2011, The Observer

Scotland Yard has been accused of endangering sex workers after it emerged that officers were targeting brothels in London’s Olympic boroughs as part of a coordinated clean-up operation ahead of the 2012 games. The Yard’s human exploitation and organised crime command (SCD9) was launched in April last year, bringing together expertise in the fields of clubs and vice, human trafficking and immigration crime. The command incorporates a team dedicated to tackling vice-related crime in the five Olympic host boroughs: Waltham Forest, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Greenwich.

Figures recently released to parliament by the Home Office show SCD9 carried out 80 brothel raids between January to August 2010 in the five boroughs. There were a further 20 raids in Westminster and 13 in Camden – the two boroughs expected to play host to the majority of tourists who come to the capital for the games. In contrast, in the remaining 25 London boroughs, there were just 29 raids over the same period.

Similar vice crackdowns have taken place in other countries hosting major sporting events. The London initiative comes amid disputed claims that increased numbers of sex workers will try to work in the capital during the Olympics. But the probation union, Napo, claimed the crackdown would have unintended consequences. “Attempts to remove sex workers from the Olympic boroughs will be only a partial success,” said Harry Fletcher, Napo’s assistant general secretary. “The strategy will drive the trade underground and prohibition merely distorts the laws of supply and demand. As a consequence, the trade will be more dangerous for women. Policy initiatives should address real problems, such as housing, health and safety, and not be based on flawed ideology which distorts the market and endangers the women.” Figures from the Open Door agency, a health clinic based in East London, appear to partially confirm Napo’s claim. The agency reported that there has already been a significant displacement of sex workers throughout Newham, with a decline of 25% in referrals to health clinics since the previous year. Napo said it appeared the women had not stopped working, but were moving to other areas where they could be more at risk of rape, robbery and assault.

The decision by police to target brothels has been controversial. SCD9 specialises in helping people being held against their will or who have been trafficked to work in the sex industry. But critics say it is driven by a mistaken belief that this applies to many women in the brothels. Two high-profile Metropolitan police operations, Pentameter 1 and 2, resulted in 1,337 premises being raided. This led to 232 arrests under Pentameter 1 and 528 under Pentameter 2. More than 250 women were removed and 37 took up services from support projects.

“Research shows no increase in trafficking of women during international sports events,” said a spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes. “Figures on the numbers of women trafficked into the UK have been exposed as false, yet they are still used as an excuse to hound sex workers. Prohibition has never done anything but drive sex workers underground and into more danger. Is the government prepared for further tragedies like Ipswich and Bradford?”

The Met said so far it had not seen any evidence of an increase in trafficking of sex workers in the five Olympic boroughs, but pledged that its officers would continue to try to assist victims and seek the prosecution of those responsible. “We do not believe that tackling vice drives prostitution underground and have not seen evidence of this,” a spokesman said. “Brothels will always need to advertise, which assists us in developing our intelligence picture in this area.”

3 thoughts on “London Olympics and the spectre of trafficking: police already repressing sex work

  1. redpesto

    Isn’t the other story that does the rounds re. the Olympics about the massive number of condoms ordered for the athletes. The cliche being that either the athletes are all super-fit/good-looking/horny or putting sex off until after they’ve competed because ‘studies say’ it ‘affects performance’? In short, isn’t ‘the Olympics’ another great source of bad sex research/policy?

  2. laura agustin Post author

    if you mean in the sense that condoms=hiv/aids research then yes of course, that’s one of the hugest research industries of all. it’s not the olympics or sports per se, though, but researchers with a stake in research thinking up new potential dangers and risks and opportunities.

  3. Gregory A. Butler

    This campaign of harassing sex workers in the name of “rescuing” them is yet another reason I am so glad that my hometown, New York City, didn’t get the Olympics!

    If we had, I’m sure the NYPD would be out in force harassing, persecuting and forcibly “rescuing” sex workers against their will, just like the London Metropolitan Police are doing now.

    For some reason, big sporting events are always the occasion of these anti sex worker morality plays.

    Just look at the Superbowl in Dallas, Texas earlier this year.

    The local abolitionists made dire claims of 100,000 sex workers “invading” the city. City of Dallas, City of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Dallas County, State of Texas and federal authorities and civilian airline workers launched a campaign of harassment and persecution against women perceived to be sex workers as a result of that claim.

    The net result?

    Fifty four arrests, almost all of local Dallas/Ft Worth sex workers, only one of whom was underaged (she was the younger sister of a sex worker – the cops found out about her because her older sister, an adult sex worker, objected to her pimp putting her younger sister out on the track and contacted authorities to stop him from putting the younger girl to work).

    Interesting, the only actual trafficked person was rescued because of the intervention of her older sister, a sex worker who was consensually involved in the life

    That should make us wonder – if sex work was decriminalized, how many trafficked kids would be rescued with the help of adult sex workers?

    Of course, the zealots don’t care about trafficked girls or adults consensually employed in sex work – they have a broader anti sex agenda, which comes out in stark relief whenever there’s a large athletic event in progress.


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