Academic Study on Sex Work and Large Sporting Events

How many times have we been told that there is going to be an increase in the number of sex workers operating (and a related increase in human trafficking) whenever a major sporting event is organised? Panic over an increase in sex work and trafficking surrounded all three of the recent World Cups in Germany, South Africa and now Brazil as well as the London 2012 Olympics. 

Next month Glasgow, Scotland plays host to the 20th Commonwealth Games and the same stories are surfacing as can be seen from this recent newspaper article in the Glasgow Herald:

“With just under three months to go until the Glasgow 2014 Games, a strategy designed to tackle sex trafficking and prostitution is being put in place, together with a campaign aimed at changing attitudes around violence against women. High-profile sporting events, such as the World Cup and the Olympics, have historically resulted in a spike in sex crimes because countries experience a large increase in population as athletes, officials and spectators visit host cities involved. MSPs raised fears last year that the Games, which are expected to attract one million visitors to Glasgow, would lead to an influx of victims of human trafficking in Scotland.”

These scare stories are finally going to be subjected to some scrutiny in an academic study run by Dr Kate Hardy of the University of Leeds called Sex in the stadium: labour and coercion in the sex industry and the Commonwealth Games. As well as exploring whether there is any truth in the allegation that high-profile sporting events result in an increase in sex work this study is also focussed on exploring the impact that these scare campaigns have on sex workers. Dr Hardy explains:

“This research examines the relationship between the Commonwealth Games and working conditions in the sex industry in Glasgow. The focus is on changes to the safety and well-being of sex workers during the games and any changes to the industry as a result of it. It is being undertaken in response to arguments that coercion and trafficking increase during events of this type and to evidence from sex workers in London that they were displaced from long term working premises during the Olympic Games in 2012. The ultimate aim is to influence policy in relation to ‘mega-events’ in order to protect sex workers’ working conditions in the short and long term.”

The research is being undertaken in full partnership with sex worker rights organisations in Scotland, the Sex Worker Open University and SCOT-PEP (Scottish Prostitutes Education Project). Sex workers will be trained as peer researchers and will identify and interview other sex workers about their experiences of working in the lead up to, during and after the Commonwealth Games. Despite the many newspaper articles and blog posts written about the issue of sex work and sporting events this study will be the first that examines it from an evidence-based perspective and is very much welcomed.