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Press Release: Human Trafficking and sex work during the 2010 World Cup: Reason for concern?
25 May 2010


Cape Town, 24 May 2010.

On Monday evening the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) hosted a seminar in Cape Town entitled, Human Trafficking and sex work during the 2010 World Cup: Reason for concern?

The two presenters, Chandré Gould, a senior researcher in the Crime and Justice Programme at the ISS, and Marlise Richter, a research fellow at the Forced Migrations Studies Programme at Wits University, argued that there is no evidence on which to base fears that human trafficking will increase during the World Cup in June and July in South Africa.

Drawing on the experience of Germany in 2006, Gould said that there were fears of increased trafficking and a boom in commercial sex before the World Cup in that country. An assessment conducted by the 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`.

Richter spoke about 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 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 sex work industry was selected for this study since it had been identified as a ‘hot-spot` of human trafficking by the International Organisation on Migration.  The report, “Selling Sex in Cape Town: Sex work and human trafficking in a South African city” is available on the ISS website.

The study found that 8/164 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 is 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 International Organisation on Migration`s SACTAP programme in Southern Africa is aimed at assisting victims of trafficking, raising awareness about trafficking and building the capacity of law enforcement officials and civil society to identify and deal with cases of human trafficking. Between January 2004 and January 2010 the IOM assisted 315 victims of trafficking in southern Africa. 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. 

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 skills.

Direct enquires to:

Chandré Gould

Marlise Richter