The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is to study human trafficking and prostitution during next month’s soccer World Cup to debunk myths surrounding these phenomena at major sporting events.
In March Independent Group newspapers reported South Africa’s Central Drug Authority deputy chairman David Bayever as saying “40 000 new prostitutes” would be trafficked into the country for the soccer event. “As if we do not have enough people of our own, we have to import them to ensure our visitors are entertained,” he was reported saying. The reports did not say where Bayever got his figure, although it is the same as that touted before the German soccer World Cup in 2006.
ISS Crime and Justice senior researcher Chandré Gould and University of the Witwatersrand Forced Migrations Studies Programme research fellow Marlise Richter told a seminar in Cape Town Monday night there is no evidence to support fears that human trafficking will increase during the SA World Cup in June and July.
The ISS, in a statement, says an assessment conducted by the UN International Organisation for Migration after the 2006 event concluded however that “there is no credible data to link trafficking [for sexual exploitation] and major events”. The Associated Press reported on May 8 2007 that just five people were confirmed as having been trafficked into Germany for forced prostitution over the World Cup period. “The estimate of 40 000 women expected to be trafficked was unfounded and unrealistic,” the 48-page IOM report said.
Richter adds research currently underway to assess whether there will be a change in the sex industry in three of the cities in South Africa that will be host to World Cup soccer games. The research will continue throughout the month long event and is intended to provide a basis on which to assess concerns about a boom in prostitution linked to the event
Gareth Newham, head of the ISS Crime and Justice Programme, noted that evidence produced on the basis of rigorous research should be the foundation for any policy on controversial, emotive and divisive issues, such as human trafficking and adult prostitution. Gould argued that despite a number of research initiatives over the past ten years, little is known about the real scale of human trafficking in South Africa, despite a number of organisations claiming otherwise.
An ISS study on the extent of human trafficking in the sex work industry in Cape Town (2006 -2008) is the only research in South Africa that has sought to quantify the problem, the statement added. The sex work industry was selected for this study since it had been identified as a “hot-spot” of human trafficking by the IOM. The report, “Selling Sex in Cape Town: Sex work and human trafficking in a South African city” is available on the ISS website at http://www.issafrica.org/pgcontent.php?UID=3282
The study found that eight out of 164 respondents in a survey of sex workers had trafficking-like experiences or had been trafficked in the past. The study concluded that trafficking was not a significant feature of the sex work industry in Cape Town and recommended that decriminalisation of the industry would allow legal protection to sex workers, who are often subject to exploitative working conditions. Sex workers should also be assisted and encouraged to report abuses and cases of trafficking.
The ISS study revealed that while trafficking (and trafficking-like exploitation) takes place in South Africa, the prevalence, at least in the sex work industry in Cape Town was not as high as had been expected. While the study was restricted to Cape Town and the findings are not nationally generalisable, the study does raise the question of whether assessments of the scale of trafficking in South Africa are accurate, or exaggerated, the ISS said.
Between January 2004 and January 2010 the IOM assisted 315 victims of trafficking in southern Africa, the ISS added. “That is an average of 51 victims in southern Africa annually. This also raises questions about the accuracy of estimates of the number s of victims that run into thousands,” the ISS said.
“Numbers are important in a resource-strapped environment. Resources allocated to assist victims of trafficking or to investigate and prosecute cases of trafficking are resources that could be used for other purposes. Thus, accurately assessing the state’s resource allocation to address the problem of trafficking is essential. Such research should inform assistance programmes for victims and awareness raising programmes to ensure that they reflect the needs and human rights of victims and vulnerable groups.
“Richter argued that trafficking is often conflated with prostitution. This confuses numbers and issues. It implies that all sex workers are victims of exploitation and deception. This is contrary to the findings of the ISS research in Cape Town that most sex workers entered the industry to meet financial needs. Their choice was shown to be rational on the basis of the fact that they were able to earn more doing sex work than other work commensurate with their skill,” the ISS said.
In its 2007 report the IOM added “more accountability was needed among rights groups and media when citing figures, so that no one could be accused of organising a scare campaign while highlighting the serious dangers in human trafficking.”