The Trade: Is Sex Trafficking at the 2014 Olympics?

The Trade: Is Sex Trafficking at the 2014 Olympics?

Olympic Rings by lewishamdreamerImage from lewishamdreamer at Flickr Commons

THE CLAIM: Major sporting events, such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl, prompt an increase in sex traffic in the host city.

THE OTHER CLAIM: No they don’t.


These days there’s a lot of fuss before major sporting events about preventing the mega-crazy sex traffic that will come with the hordes of sports fans and tourists.

Before the 2014 Super Bowl, House Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey* issued a statement:

“We know from the past, any sports venue—especially the Super Bowl—acts as a sex trafficking magnet. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that more than 10,000 exploited women and girls were trafficked to Miami for the Super Bowl in 2010. This must not happen again!”

He was very concerned about the Olympics in Sochi too, stating that trafficking went up 95% (!) at the 2004 Olympics, when Greece acted as host.

He’s got a point. The State Department lists Russia as a Tier 3 country with regards to human trafficking. That means Russia gets a big old red “F” on the human trafficking report card. The government doesn’t have any laws or “formal national procedures” in place to prevent trafficking, doesn’t educate law enforcement in recognizing trafficking or putting a stop to it, and doesn’t fund trafficking victim care.

Taking into consideration the stories of corruption in the Russian government and law enforcement agencies, things don’t look too good for sex trafficking at the Olympics.


But what about the Other Claim?

The one that says we have no hard data that sex trafficking actually increases around major sporting events?

We don’t, really.

Even some advocacy groups admit that there isn’t a lot of data that supports an increase in sex traffic during major sporting events.

It’s true that in a lot of cases, law enforcement beefs up their efforts to stop sex traffic at these events. It’s also true that they often make more arrests, so they pat themselves on the back and everyone says they did a good job stopping traffic.

But it’s ALSO also true that a lot of the people they arrest are not trafficking perpetrators or victims. Instead, they’re willing sex workers, or they’ve been around a lot longer than the sports event.

The New York State attorney general’s office announced another prostitution-ring bust at a Manhattan apartment building on Thursday morning. Although that investigation had been going on for 11 months, officials waited until this week to make the arrests and announcement. This was ostensibly to raise awareness of sex trafficking before the Super Bowl—even though there were no actual allegations of trafficking reported in the case.

These arrests are not indications of an increase in prostitution activity, but rather of an increase in policing.

article by Kate Mogulescu, founder and supervising attorney of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society


Okay, we’ve heard a little from both sides of the argument.

So does sex trafficking actually increase around major sporting events, like the Olympics and the Super Bowl?

I have to come down on the side of yes. I was once employed by a sex worker. I was her personal assistant, and spent nearly every day with her for seven months.

If something like the Olympics came to town, you can damn well bet she would have vamped up her advertising and taken on a few new girls to send clients to. She was an opportunist like that.

Sex traffickers are opportunists, too.

The problem is, if the police beefed up their enforcement of prostitution laws, my boss the voluntary sex worker would be walking a thin line between cashing in on the event, and getting arrested so they could say their efforts at cracking down on trafficking were successful.

I think it’s definitely happening. But I think there’s no easy solution with our current understanding of sex work and trafficking.


To say it’s not happening because we don’t have statistics and numbers is stupid.

Trafficking statistics are very unreliable. We can only really gather data on confirmed cases. And guess how often cases are confirmed?

Here’s a an excerpt from a recent article by Sarah Parvini, which explores this debate further (and which you should totally read). Here Sarah quotes Melissa Brennan, an attorney for the nonprofit Sanctuary for Families, which helps survivors of human trafficking:

“Events like the Super Bowl and possibly the Olympics do attract and lead to an increase in trafficking,” Brennan says. “To say this hasn’t been proven with numbers disregards the claims of victims who have had this experience.”

The victims she works with laugh at claims that large sporting events don’t draw more trafficking, she says. “Many times, sex slaves are given a quota of men they need to sleep with each night. Those numbers are thrown out the window during gatherings like the Super Bowl,” Brennan says.

“It’s double or triple the quota on no sleep,” she says.

For me, the bottom line is that wherever you have an influx of tourists, you’re going to see local businesses stepping up their games. They’ll stay open longer, stock more merchandise, hire extra help—that kind of stuff. You’re also going to get an influx of men who might pay for sex. Data and numbers or no, it’s common sense that sex trafficking is an issue around big sporting events. But we need a better system and more awareness to deal with it, so officials aren’t arresting willing sex workers and claiming they’ve stopped traffic.

That’s not fair to the sex workers, or the actual victims of trafficking.

L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her upcoming book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.

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