For many of us, major international sporting events like the Olympics or soccer’s European Cup are much-anticipated events. I know that for two weeks every other year, my sister and I are undoubtedly glued to the TV watching any Olympic event we possibly can — even the most obscure. Archery? Why not? Speed walking? Yes please! There’s something about seeing the world’s elite athletes compete for one of the highest honors in sports that never gets old. It’s exhilarating.
It seems, however, that behind the excitement of these large athletic events lurks a darker side of sports with pretty dramatic consequences: increased prostitution. It makes sense. Many men are sports fans — especially when it comes to soccer in Europe. And if there’s a large sports competition with international draw, obviously large numbers of men will be among the spectators.
The result is increased business for local prostitutes. Now, I know many people will think, “So what’s wrong with that? Women should be able to do what they want with their bodies, especially in places where prostitution is legal.” I get that, I really do, but I think that issues surrounding prostitution could only ever be that simple in an ideal world. In reality, I have two major concerns:
1. Human trafficking
Some prostitutes have entered into their profession by choice. Others clearly have not. According to Yuri Fedotov, the top official of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, “2.4 million people across the globe are victims of human trafficking at any one time, and 80 percent of them are being exploited as sexual slaves.” That’s 1.9 million individuals being forced into sexual servitude, which translates into roughly $32 billion in annual profits for the thugs running forced prostitution rings.
There is definitely mixed opinion as to whether or not large sporting events really do lead to a surge in human trafficking. According to the BBC News Magazine, Athens’ reported sex trafficking cases rose from 93 to 181 — nearly doubling — when it hosted the Olympic Games in 2004. Germany and South Africa, however, who each hosted Soccer World Cups in 2006 and 2010, respectively, saw little to no increase in human trafficking cases. London, set to host the upcoming Olympic Games in July, likewise reports little evidence of increased human trafficking despite raids and other crackdowns on prostitution.
So am I satisfied? Nope. Just suspicious. According to Fedotov, only 1% of human trafficking victims are ever rescued, let alone discovered. Human trafficking is an underground business by nature, and I’m quite sure that if I were running an illegal enterprise with billion dollar profits, I’d keep my “merchandise” pretty well hidden as well.
2. Increased Risk of AIDS
HIV is a reality for many prostitutes. Unfortunately, an increase in business may also mean an increased risk of contracting it. NPR recently did a piece on how prostitutes and health workers in Ukraine (one of the hosts of soccer’s Euro Cup 2012) are coping. The country has the highest number of citizens infected with AIDS/HIV in Europe (360,000), and the infection rate for its roughly 70,000 prostitutes floats around 9% — triple the rate of infection for sex workers in other countries. Oksana Matiyash of Ukraine’s International HIV/AIDS Alliance says,
“The highest HIV prevalence is in Donetsk, which is going to be one of the city sites for Euro 2012…HIV prevalence among sex workers there is more than 30%.”
30 percent! There are organizations working in Ukraine to provide prostitutes with HIV tests and promote the use of condoms.
Unfortunately, police efforts to crack down on prostitution in anticipation of the Euro Cup have driven many women to take their trade underground. This makes them not only harder for health workers to find, but also harder to help. Before the Euro Cup even hit Ukraine, ENEY, an anti-AIDS organization in Kiev, diagnosed three prostitutes with HIV each month. Who knows what the rate of infection for prostitutes will rise to by the end of June, especially with increased customers and decreased visibility.
What do you think? Please leave your comments below.
Photo Credit: Dionetian via Flickr