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Olympics sex-trafficking fears reviewed

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traffickingPolice measures had a damaging affect on trafficked women’s safety, says London Assembly member.

Conservative London Assembly member Andrew Boff announced last week that government resources to combat sex-trafficking during the London Summer Olympics were wasted.

It appeared that only four cases of sex-trafficking were identified during the event period despite an extra £500,000 being spent on the police-driven campaign.

The hype around sex-trafficking was escalated in the run-up to the Olympics, proving a popular headline among numerous media centres.

However the ‘heavy-handed‘ approach used by the police to prevent any illegal trade from booming as a result of the Olympics did raise concerns.

Measures used included simply closing down brothels in East London and its surrounding boroughs and forcing sex-workers off the streets.

The sudden increase in police raids in these specific areas saw around 80 brothels closed down by April 2012,  twice as many as were closed in the whole of 2011.

In his report, Silence on Violence, Boff insisted that such measures had a far more damaging effect in preventing victims of sex-trafficking getting to safety.

He condemned both police officials and SCD9, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) dealing with sex-trafficking crimes, claiming that their raids had a less than 1 per cent success rate in finding victims.

In the 2012 report, Boff claimed that the Olympics led to heightened media interest in the idea that trafficking and prostitution in London would rise.

As a result, the Metropolitan Police Service was given additional funds to tackle sex trafficking.

However, he found “no strong evidence that trafficking for sexual exploitation does in fact increase during sporting events nor that such trafficking or prostitution had increased in London”.

“In fact my research found that a decrease in prostitution had been reported by police in London,” Boff insisted.

“Yet a huge amount of time, money and resources was poured into this search, which turned out to be nothing more than tilting at windmills,” Boff added.

Boff said that many women had refused to come forward because they were afraid that instead of receiving help, they would become the “focus of police attention” and be charged with crimes.

He said that despite the 2005 changes in the law to save victims of sex-trafficking, the introduction of harsher regulations in the sex-trade were proving harmful.

“The impact has been to force sex workers ever more into the shadows, and further and further away from the support mechanisms that might give them some kind of protection, and also a route out of sex work and prostitution, if that’s what they choose,” he said.

He said that new measures needed to be implemented where police co-operation with sex workers could be encouraged.

“Sex workers need to be included in the strategy for policing of sex-trafficking,” Boff said. “They are a good source of information of whether or not any trafficking takes place.

“By building a better relationship with the police, it means that those women who do feel themselves in peril, or are in many ways coerced or controlled, will have at least have a route through to report that complaint,” he added.

Georgina Perry, working for Open Doors, which offers NHS services for sex workers, agreed that concerns over the rise in sex-trafficking during the Olympics were unfounded.

In a survey carried out by 100 sex workers, it was found that at least 58 per cent had fewer clients during the Olympic period.

Perry, in conjunction with Boff’s report, claimed that not all sex-workers were associated with brothels and that clear distinctions needed to be made between ‘street women’ and ‘off-street women’.

“The women who sell sex off-street are usually here for a short amount of time,” Perry said in a recent interview with TrustLaw.

“They are building up a nest egg. Then they are going home to their home country because most women who are off-street are migrants.

“Our street women are very, very different. They’re usually involved in the sex industry because their life has broken down massively.

“[They have] serious mental health problems, they’re homeless, their benefits have dropped, they’ve got drug and alcohol problems.

“What they very often want is help to stabilise their lives, and then help to move from that point to making safer choices.

“It’s not safe standing on a street corner at four o’clock in the morning when you’re off your head on drugs and alcohol,” Perry pointed out.

“The biggest issue for us is around safety, and this takes me back to the London Olympics because such was the hysteria around the need to target prostitutes to get them away from London,” Perry added.

“Of course [the] sex workers didn’t just go away, they simply just went elsewhere, where there were no services.”

And that, she continued, meant that if they were robbed or raped or assaulted, they couldn’t call the police because they were afraid that the police would start to investigate them as criminals rather than investigate the actual crimes that have been perpetrated against them.

It is thought that more research into the reasons behind sex-trafficking are needed in order to offer better solutions and better support for those forced into the illegal trade.

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