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Olympic Sex-Trafficking! (Is Barely Even Happening)

The Daily Mail might say so, but my prostitute friend says otherwise.
Simon Childs
London, GB
July 3, 2012, 4:00pm

Olympics-based escort agencies like this one have opened up online – but how legit are they?

The Olympics is drawing nearer, and soon the finest physical specimens humanity has to offer will be prancing all over London in tightly fitting Lycra, grunting, moaning, and turning us on. The athletes won't be the only people inspiring ogling—if the screams of thetabloids are to be believed, one unfortunate side-effect of the Olympic circus will be an increase in the number of women trafficked into London to satiate the desires of millions of slavering, rutting sport fans.

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London's police have been given a £500,000 budget to crack down on sex-trafficking, and so far their approach has been to raid brothels and throw their weight around, arresting people and scaring the crap out of anyone they find working there.

Believe it or not, many sex workers are not the biggest fans of this solution to a sex-trafficking problem that, they say, doesn’t even exist. The Stop the Arrests campaign was founded to call bullshit on the media hype about Olympics sex-trafficking, and the police response to it. I convinced French sex worker Luca, who is supporting the campaign, to take some time out from his busy schedule of erotic massaging, escorting, and domination, to have a chat with me.

Luca with a red umbrella – the symbol for sex workers’ rights, apparently.

VICE: Hi Luca, how are you?
Luca: I’m very hungover.

Oh, sorry to hear that. So as a sex worker you must be pretty excited about the Olympic Games, huh?
I’m not really into big sporting events.

Sure, but even if you don’t want to watch the curling, or whatever, aren’t you looking forward to cashing in on all the sweaty-palmed sports fans who've worked up a semi over the beach volleyball?
I’m probably going away during the Olympics. I don’t think there will be more business. We’re in a crisis, a recession. There are more sex workers around and fewer clients. And people are coming with their families, spending a lot of money on tickets to go and see sports. If you have a bit of money left, I doubt you’re going to spend it on paying someone for sex.

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So why is the trafficking of sex workers going to increase for the Olympics?
There’s no evidence that big sporting events increase trafficking. It’s just not going to happen.

If you look at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, they said 40,000 sex workers were going to be trafficked. Where do the numbers come from?
They get pushed by lobbying groups. There’s always a link to Christians somewhere, who want to abolish prostitution. Germany legalized sex work in 2002 and there was a political agenda to question that. In the end, the police found five cases of trafficking at the whole World Cup. 40,000 is an incredible number. Think about it—40,000 extra women in Germany for the World Cup. Because these women are “sexual slaves” they’re going to have to have sex ten to 15 times a day. That’s like [eyes widen] 400,000 men fucking daily! Every man in Berlin would have had to be obsessed with fucking.

It sure is hard to imagine the Germans being obsessed with kinky sex. How have the police been getting in the Olympic spirit?
There’s already an increase in brothel raids. Usually it means arrests of sex workers and fines. It makes a vicious circle where you get arrested and get fined, so then you have to do more sex work to pay for the fine.

Luca’s badge. What kind of things do people get arrested and fined for?
Sex work isn’t illegal but they criminalize everything around it. For soliciting, you usually get an ASBO, meaning you aren’t allowed to go on that street again. For brothel keeping, women have been taken to court and you can be fined or get jail time. But “keeping a brothel” can just mean two women working in one house together. It’s kind of insane, because it makes it difficult for women to stay safe. If you’re working on your own and somebody decides to rape you, there’s not much you can do if you're alone.

Niki Adams, Spokesperson for the English Collective of Prostitutes Shit, I guess not. But is there a danger that your campaign trivializes the issue of trafficking? Like, maybe there’s not as much trafficking as some people suggest, but if any trafficking is going on, surely it’s something to be concerned about?
People are trafficked. But it’s more complicated than people think. It’s rarely a case of somebody kidnapping someone. When people talk about trafficking, what do they mean? If I help someone from Mexico come to work in London for the Olympics, then I’m a “trafficker” because I’m helping somebody to come here and work illegally, even if the person is willing. There’s a huge post-colonial assumption that people in the global South can’t decide to come and work in London. So do you reject the idea that sex work is something people only do when they’re desperate?
There are people who do it for survival. But how much do people enjoy working at Primark? That’s a pretty survivalist thing, too. I would rather have sex than work in a factory. I think a lot of people can make the decision as well. There’s this assumption that every sex worker is a victim. But a lot of sex workers have done lots of other jobs before and then decided to turn to sex work.

I’ve read newspaper reports of brothel raids which have saved people who had been trafficked and forced into sex work against their will—what do you say to that?
But who are those people and what happened to them? There’s no real protection of victims. Also, when you scrutinize the numbers, the amount of trafficked people they found was very low. And brothel raids damage the relationship between the police and sex workers. If you’re afraid that the police are gonna raid your house or the place that you work, or arrest you and your friends, then you’re not gonna go to the police if you get attacked.

Will they stop the crackdown after the Olympics?
I hope so. Even some high-ranking police officers are saying it’s time to think about the de-criminalization of sex work. There’s this new idea to criminalize clients, but anything that pushes the sex industry underground damages sex workers and potential victims of trafficking. It would be much safer to de-criminalize sex work.

Thanks Luca! I conducted this interview with Luca before the Mail published its article reporting that sex-work was likely to increase (because I’m so ahead of the journalistic curve). I emailed Luca to see if the article had changed his mind at all—wasn’t this evidence that his campaign was wrong? He replied: “lol daily mail really?” He reckoned the screengrabbed Olympic escort agencies aren’t evidence of an increase in sex work as “escort agencies open and close every week.” Want to help Luca and his fellow sex workers in their campaign against police harassment? Sign the petition at www.moratorium2012.org

Follow Simon on Twitter: @simonchilds13

For more Olympics myth-exploding, read: Hunting for the Olympics River Monster