The potential for major sporting events to allow human trafficking to flourish can be turned into an opportunity to combat this form of modern enslavement
The UK is the destination for men, women and children primarily from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe who are subjected to sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, forced street crime, cannabis cultivation, benefit fraud, and forced marriage.
In the first two years since the setup of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in April 2009, 1,481 referrals were made to the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC). In reality the numbers are greater, confirmed in the Project Acumen report (2010) by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). According to this report, of the 17,000 identified migrant women involved in prostitution in England and Wales, 2,600 were trafficked. It is important to acknowledge that this report only explored trafficking for sexual exploitation, excluding other forms of human trafficking, and only looked into migrant women, so did not analyse internal trafficking within the UK. Of 61 known nationalities of individuals identified as likely trafficking victims in the UK, British nationals are the fourth largest group after Nigerian, Chinese, and Vietnamese nationals.
With the London Olympics only a few months away, there is concern that the upcoming Games may lead to an increase in the number of individuals trafficked into the UK, although there is no substantial evidence for an increase in human trafficking during major sporting events.
In general, there are two opposing opinions with regard to human trafficking during major sporting events. It has been postulated that there is no positive correlation between human trafficking and major sporting events; visitors often come in family groups, with restricted budgets. The cost-benefit analysis for the traffickers would be unfavourable due to the short duration of the events. On the other hand, those who believe that the two are intertwined argue 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. Furthermore, trafficked individuals are occluded by the ‘easy entry’ of international citizens as ‘visitors’ into the host country.
The 2004 Olympics in Athens was the first major international sporting event which was linked to human trafficking. Furthermore, especially around the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany there was fear, both at national and international level, of a sharp increase in human trafficking. The focus of the media and the organisations was mostly on trafficking for sexual exploitation, with reports of up to 40,000 women being trafficked into Germany for forced prostitution during the World Cup in Europe, although estimates had no solid basis.
NGOs in Germany took extra measures by creating awareness campaigns and launching hotlines for victims and the public. The government took human trafficking, primarily sexual exploitation, into account while creating a comprehensive action plan for the World Cup. Its efforts to prevent sex trafficking during the World Cup were mainly based on fostering cooperation between law enforcement agencies, the police, and other specialised institutions at national and international levels. This included state-federal law enforcement information sharing, increased police presence in red light districts, additional police inspections and raids, efforts to raise awareness amongst hotels, and enhanced cooperation with social institutions and counselling centres. It is widely agreed that such measures helped to significantly limit the trafficking of individuals, and consequently there was no increase in the numbers of trafficked people into the host country in 2006.
In South Africa, the government, NGOs and the media paid a vast amount of attention to human trafficking, prior to, and during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Victims of human trafficking in South Africa are exploited for sex labour, domestic servitude, street vending, food service, begging, crime, sweatshops (often in Chinese urban enclaves), agriculture, and the smuggling of weapons and drugs. The forms of trafficking that were expected to increase during the World Cup included trafficking for sex, street crime, and begging. Although there are no statistics on human trafficking in relation to the 2010 World Cup, the campaigns raised awareness about human trafficking, at local, national and international levels.
It is clear that 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.
STOP THE TRAFFIK has experienced positive responses to requests for cooperation in anti-human trafficking in London. In London, there is evidence of human trafficking in the five Olympic boroughs – Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, and Greenwich. In 2008-09 the Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Team conducted 14 operations in these five Olympic boroughs, and provided advice in 21 other operations there. A shelter for female sex trafficking victims received 105 referrals between 2003 and 2009 from these boroughs.
The United Nations (UN.GIFT) and STOP THE TRAFFIK have created a new joint project called ‘GIFT box’ which will take place during the 2012 Olympics to inspire visitors, both from the UK and abroad, to take action to stop the trade.
The GIFT box is 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.
There are four different types of boxes, each dealing with the forms of human trafficking prevalent on the streets of London: domestic servitude, forced street crime, sexual exploitation, and forced labour. Whilst the GIFT box will be evocative, it will also be family-friendly and will inspire people to advocate and end trafficking in their own communities.
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