2012 Olympics could increase human trafficking
Human trafficking may increase during the 2012 Olympic Games in London because of a heightened demand for sexual services and cheap labour, warn anti-trafficking campaigners.
Bex Keer of Stop the Traffik said: “There is always talk around any big sporting event of how it increases the demand for trafficking victims, whether that’s for sexual exploitation, forced labour or street begging and crime.”
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper led the charge in calling on the Government to opt in to the EU directive on human trafficking. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats committed to tackling human trafficking in the May 2010 Coalition agreement. They then decided against opting in and Prime Minister David Cameron insisted: “We have put everything that is in the directive in place.”
Anti-trafficking groups did not agree. Rachel Davies of CARE, a charity heavily involved in anti-trafficking work, said: “There are many areas in the directive that go further than current UK policy and practice.”
According to Davies, CARE works to “encourage the Government to raise the bar on what they’re doing on trafficking, because the criminal gangs are really clever. They’re really strategic and the Government has got to have it together if they want to beat them at their own game”.
The work of Cooper and groups like CARE paid off in March when the Home Office gave a strong indication that the Government would indeed opt in. A statement given by immigration minister Damian Green said: “Applying to opt in to the directive would continue to send a powerful message to traffickers that the UK is not a soft touch and we are supportive of international efforts to tackle this crime.”
According to Keer, groups like Stop the Traffik are training people to “raise awareness of what trafficking is to people who might have first-hand contact with it and then give them a way to respond”.
Such awareness is what led staff at the Jumeirah Carlton hotel in Knightsbridge to hand a suspicious note to Scotland Yard in September 2010. This resulted in the imprisonment of a gang who tried to sell young, female virgins and was jailed for sex trafficking and prostitution.
Is trafficking inevitable?
According to Simon Chorley of Stop the Traffik, human trafficking takes place regardless of major sporting events, but there is concern that the 2012 Olympics may lead to an increase in the number of individuals trafficked into the UK.
Davies said: “Gangs only operate on profit, so that’s why we’ve seen them moving from trafficking drugs to trafficking people. We’ve already heard of examples of gangs who have plans to move women to the East End of London because they’re hoping to capitalise on the increased demand for their services.”
Chorley’s article revealed evidence for human trafficking in the five Olympic boroughs – Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest and Greenwich.
“We do not want to wait to start talking about this until the Olympics hits, because that’s too late,” said Keer. “Our whole aim is to create communities where it is harder for traffickers to hide themselves and their victims, and to create communities that are hostile to trafficking.”
Paul Donohoe, of Anti-Slavery International, said: “When there is the opportunity to make more money because of a perceived boom to an area due to an increase in tourists, unscrupulous agencies and criminal networks will try and take advantage of that.”
While evidence of trafficking, some based on previous sporting events, is mixed and often disputed, Tessa Jowell, former minister for the Olympics, said: “Even one woman trafficked because of the 2012 Olympics is one too many.”