This week, athletes from countries around the world are converging upon Vancouver, Canada, in the hope of bringing home a gold medal and Olympic glory for their country. Also this week, human traffickers in the form of pimps are flooding to the city hoping to bring home a very different kind of gold — the cash they get from selling women and children in prostitution.
Anti-trafficking groups have been working for at least the past two years to prepare for this event, but it apparently hasn’t been enough. Just this week, the city earned an “F” for their preparations, and even the police themselves say they’ve barely scratched the surface of the sex trade looking for victims of trafficking.
In preparation for the games, police conducted a street prostitution sting which nabbed 50 men and women, and in a (hopefully) progressive move impounded 25 vehicles from men soliciting sex. Way to target demand! No word, however, on how many of those arrested were pimps and johns or if any of the women involved were in prostitution involuntarily. But Vancouver police have admitted that street prostitution comprises only about 10% of all prostitution in the city, and that most of it takes place indoors.
Indoor prostitution is advertised online through sites like Craigslist, and it’s the most likely place to hide minors and trafficking victims out of police sight. So if Vancouver police know that the streets are not the place to look to find women and kids in prostitution against their will, why are they spending the time and resources to look there? Why aren’t they targeting 90% of the industry online instead of 10% on the street?
Furthermore, Vancouver police aren’t planning any sort of crackdown on prostitution during the the actual games, according to Const. Lindsey Houghton. She said,
“Street-related prostitution existed before the Games, it will exist during the Games and it will exist after. Our enforcement around that will not be any different. We have a dedicated vice unit that works very closely with the girls and the guys . . . to ensure that they are safe.”
While evidence of increased human trafficking around major sporting events like the Olympics is spotty at best, Vancouver won’t find human trafficking if they’re not looking for it. Forced prostitution skyrocketed in Greece around the 2004 games in Athens, but the 2006 World Cup in Germany saw little more than a blip. No real data is available for the 2008 games in Beijing. Therefore, the Olympics in Vancouver and World Cup in South Africa this year are the best opportunities to learn just how big the bump in sex trafficking is around major sporting events. But if law enforcement refuses to look for it, then how will we ever know?
Photo credit: rondoch