by Amanda Kloer
In the months leading up to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, a number of organizations were giving Canadians a strong warning: human trafficking, and especially child sex trafficking, increases around major sporting events like the Olympics. Organizations working with trafficked women swear up and down that when a big athletic event comes to town, they do more business. Other organizations, often those working with prostitution but not human trafficking issues, have claimed these predictions are baseless fear-mongering. Well, information from the latest Olympics is starting to roll in, and of course, the results are different in the eyes of different groups.
Having only been over for a couple weeks, Vancouver is still recovering from what was a very busy Winter. However, a couple reports regarding prostitution and human trafficking in the area have come out. Local organization Prostitution Alternatives Counseling and Education (P.A.C.E) has said that street level prostitution in the most common areas, whether voluntary or involuntary, was slow throughout the games. They’ve categorically stated that the Olympics caused no bump in human trafficking, which was what they predicted. Another organization, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, claims that trafficking was a reality during the Olympics. They said they served at least five internationally trafficked women and saw at least 100 domestically trafficked women. They also postulated that a lot of the commercial sex was taking place indoors, where no one was looking for it.
I for one am really, really hoping that someone actually tried to count what increase there may have been in both sex trafficking and voluntary prostitution during the Olympics. The debate on the effect major sporting events has on the exploitation of women has gathered significant anecdotal evidence, but very little hard data. And in some cases, like the information out of Vancouver so far, even the anecdotal evidence is not agreed upon.
To give you an idea of the history of human trafficking around major sporting events, here’s a quick breakdown of what we (think we) know:
- 2004 Olympics, Athens, Greece: The number of trafficking victims in Athens doubled that year.
- 2006 World Cup, Germany: Despite predictions of 40,000 + victims, only about 50 cases were found, 5 of which were a direct result of the World Cup.
- 2008 Olympics, Beijing, China: Chinese government has refused to release any data.
- 2010 Super Bowl, Miami, Florida: At least 23 victims were found in street outreach.
- 2010 Olympics, Vancouver, Canada: Data still forthcoming; possibly no bump, possibly 105 victims.
If a pattern can be found in this very loose data, it’s probably that major sporting events do cause a modest increase in human trafficking, but it’s nowhere near the thousands of victims predicted to be imported to Vancouver and Germany. Then again, it’s also a possibility that the manor awareness campaigns in those cities before the events in question encouraged traffickers to stay away. Since prevention efforts like that are almost impossible to measure, we may never know — not only how many victims there were in Vancouver for the Olympics, but how many there would have been.
Photo credit: Robert Sanzalone