As the London Olympics now move into the final week, headlines are dominated by medal tables, record-breaking feats, and outstanding athletic achievement. However, the run up to the Summer Games saw headlines of a darker ill.
Concerns about an increase in human trafficking during the Olympics was first brought to light by Britain’s Olympics Minister, Tessa Jowell in 2010. She warned then that, “Major sporting events can be a magnet for the global sex and trafficking industry; this is wholly unacceptable.” This follows the generally accepted view that an impending influx of spectators from around the world increases the demand for prostitution and cheap labor. Coupled with lax visa restrictions for international visitors, major sporting events make the process of human trafficking more accessible for criminal gangs.
However, in previous sporting events, numbers of those trafficked do not demonstrate a sharp increase as expected. Athens 2004 and the 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany both saw familiar figures of human trafficking. What increased in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics were police raids, specifically in the 5 boroughs of London where the Olympics is taking place. However, the threat of trafficking has not materialized as much as expected in London. Jowell herself is unsure if this is because of the measures put in place, or because the threat simply did not materialize.
What is clear is that with increasing raids, more and more are arrested under criminal prostitution offenses. The fear is, those who should be classified as trafficked persons are being detained as criminals. Furthermore, whether because of sensationalized media coverage or simply a grand rhetoric by politicians, the awareness of human trafficking around the time of major sporting events is unparalleled. This perhaps is a double-edged sword. Awareness campaigns on trafficking are rife during sporting events, but dissipate afterwards.
At Not For Sale, we work to recognize the reality of every situation of trafficking. In 2010 after piloting the Red Card Campaign during the World Cup in South Africa, we recognized the need for better communication between survivors of trafficking and law enforcement. Much like what has occurred in the UK, police raids did little to effectively stop the vicious cycle of trafficking. Over the past 2 years we have assisted law enforcement with expertise in victim identification, translation, and shelter services in nearly 80 cases of trafficking.
We also recognize the importance in effective rehabilitation of survivors. In May we reported how Romanians are being trafficked into London in the run up to the 2012 Summer Olympics. At that time, Not For Sale Romania was able to repatriate two girls who had been trafficked to to the U.K. In Romania. They are now able to gain valuable life skills working on an organic farm and are thus able to make a sustainable income.
Whatever consequences the Olympics have on human trafficking, Not For Sale’s priority at this time is to be prepared for every possible situation.
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