Now that sounds familiar…40,000 sex workers on the move…again

11/03/2010 at 16:00 Leave a comment

Our media monitoring over the last week or so has picked up a steadily increasing number of news stories in which it is claimed that 40,000 sex workers will descend on South Africa in response to the increased demand for sexual services from football fans enjoying the World Cup. But where does this figure come from and what does it mean for sex work policy? 

Matt Greenall has picked up this issue on his blog  and, with his permission, I have posted it below. 

40,000 new sex workers for the South Africa world cup? Really? Anatomy of a number

David Bayever of South Africa’s Central Drug Authority’s announcement that the World Cup in South Africa would lead to 40,000 foreign sex workers being brought to South Africa (“many… from Eastern Europe”) has received blanket coverage in the press (http://tinyurl.com/ygpz8wp; http://tinyurl.com/ya35p3k; http://tinyurl.com/yfwfluh).  The only hint of a source for this very high figure is the “event organisers” (in the Telegraph article). 

But it looks like this particular figure wasn’t made up on the hoof by anyone in South Africa.  Try googling “40,000, world cup, prostitute, germany” and you’ll see that exactly the same figure was being given in the run up to the Germany World Cup in 2006 (http://bit.ly/clc6dN; http://bit.ly/c44hgv;  http://bit.ly/aLuhoM), amid accusations that the German government, having legalised prostitution in 2002, was facilitating trafficking and coercion.  While the organisers of the South Africa World Cup seem to have got their figure from the Germany World Cup – right down to the emphasis on sex workers coming “mostly from Eastern Europe” – it looks like there was no robust source for the original figure.  And the assumption that the situation in South Africa – another time, another country, another continent – will be analagous to the situation in Germany, seems sketchy at best. It’s also too bad that whoever proposed the 40,000 figure for South Africa wasn’t aware of or ignored the fact that the figure was serially debunked after the 2006 World Cup, in the Lancet (http://tinyurl.com/ydaq278), by the Council of Europe (http://tinyurl.com/ye8h9ms), and by the International Organisation for Migration (http://tinyurl.com/y9a48hz).  

According to the Council of Europe report:“…there was no confirmation of the reports sometimes made prior to the 2006 World Cup in which it was claimed that the expected additional demand for prostitutes would be covered by women forced into prostitution and perhaps brought to Germany for this purpose. There was no sign whatsoever of the alleged 40,000 prostitutes/forced prostitutes – a figure repeatedly reported, also in international media – who were to be brought to Germany for the 2006 World Cup.” 

UPDATE: 11 March 2010.  A quick scan of the press reveals that many, many more outlets have reported the 40,000 figure.  By now it is folklore.  To list a few: 

NY Daily news http://bit.ly/aXW7Pp 

Iafrica.com http://bit.ly/9W6MP9 

Times of India http://bit.ly/dtGXlt 

News24.com http://bit.ly/cuqXoW 

UK Guardian: http://bit.ly/91toJm 

We’ve little to add to Matt’s analysis except that if evidence for the figure of 40,000 women entering South Africa does exist – and this is looking more and more unlikely – it would be useful if the Central Drug Authority could make it public so it could be subject to scrutiny. Without an evidence base there is a danger of policy being formulated on the basis of empty numbers and of these projections gaining political currency as they are repeated internationally with little or no analysis of their veracity. This repetition could lead to the waste of scarce Government and development financing. More seriously it could prompt badly planned and implemented anti-trafficking policies which lead to the abuse of sex workers. To read more about the effects of anti-trafficking measures in Cambodia, for example, you can browse a number of resources on our website.

We would urge journalists, advocates and policy makers to approach predictions like this with caution and consider who gains from their reiteration.

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Entry filed under: migration and mobility, research. Tags: , , , , , , .

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