Written by: EVA VOCZ, Advocacy Officer of Act Up Paris!
In the run-up to the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, clichés and confusions about sex work and major sporting events are gaining ground in the media and political discourse. The myth of an increase in prostitution is being hammered home to serve an agenda of repression of sex workers, going against their most fundamental rights.
We would like to reiterate that sex work is not synonymous with trafficking in human beings for the purposes of exploitation in the sex trade, contrary to what is implied by political and media discourse in France. By making this statement, we are not questioning the existence of human trafficking networks for the purposes of forced labour and exploitation in the sex trade or the need to implement appropriate public policies to identify and protect the victims of exploitation. Confusing the two protects neither the victims of trafficking nor sex workers! Policies to crack down on sex work have a negative impact on the conditions in which sex work is carried out, on the fight against violence and also on the fight against the trafficking of human beings for the purposes of forced labour and exploitation in the sex trade. We need pragmatic public policies and a social justice approach rather than a security and anti-prostitution agenda.
In the run-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, most of the political interventions preparing measures to combat prostitution are based on a preconceived idea: that major sporting events will drastically increase prostitution. This idea first came to light when the Olympic and Paralympic Games were held in Athens in 2004. Since then, however, numerous cases and studies on the subject have shown that there is in fact no increase in prostitution and even less in trafficking in human beings for the purposes of exploitation in the sex trade in connection with major sporting events. The report "What's the cost of a rumour", published by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, shows that when major sporting events such as the Olympic Games or World Cups are held, there is a significant gap between the reported increase in prostitution and trafficking in human beings for the purposes of commercial sex and the reality of the situation. On the contrary, the public policies put in place to respond to the myth of an increase in the trafficking of human beings for the purposes of commercial sex during major events mainly result in an increase in the precariousness and criminalisation of sex workers. Far from protecting sex workers, the public policies put in place by the State generally put them at risk.
For example, under the 2024-2027 national plan to combat the exploitation and trafficking of human beings, the Secretary General of the Interministerial Mission for the Protection of Women against Violence and the Fight against Human Trafficking (MIPROF), Roxana Maracineanu, boasts in the press that a platform will be set up to report "risks of prostitution" in housing so that landlords can be warned and sex workers can be evicted. This is a disproportionate application of the laws on procuring, which risks coming into conflict with the unconditional right to housing. This example shows that the intention is not to mobilise resources to identify and protect victims of human trafficking but to combat sex work by encouraging their eviction.
Despite its implausibility, the myth of an "increase in prostitution" during the Olympic Games continues to be repeated just about everywhere. What is the point? Major sporting events allow governments to demonstrate their commitment to the fight against human trafficking without lifting a finger, even encouraging it, particularly in the construction industry, while leaving politically sensitive issues untouched. The recent immigration law bears witness to this hypocrisy on the part of the government in its fight against trafficking in human beings: making access to Europe more difficult and the right of residence more precarious will expose thousands of people to trafficking. The myth of the "rise in prostitution" is also useful for justifying surveillance measures and social control and pushing forward gentrification policies in certain neighbourhoods via anti-prostitution by-laws. This has already begun in Lyon and Paris.
If there is no "increase in prostitution" during the Olympic Games, it is likely that sex workers who are used to working in the cities where the Games are being held will move to other cities to escape the increased repression of their activity. They will then be more exposed to violence and isolated if they need emergency care, as they will be far from the health and community health associations that usually work with them. The government's refusal to involve the associations of the people concerned in the policy decisions that affect them will once again expose sex workers to violence, to the transmission of HIV-AIDS and STIs, and to increased insecurity.
In the run-up to the 2024 Olympic Games, what do we think is the best thing to do about sex work and the fight against human trafficking for the purposes of exploitation in the sex trade?
Involve sex workers in the political decisions that affect them, including in the fight against trafficking for the purposes of exploitation in the sex trade.
- Prevent sex workers from becoming homeless in order to escape the sex trade by strengthening the outreach activities of community health associations.
- Train care and support structures in the event of violence, particularly in towns where there are no community health associations.
- Decriminalise access to housing for sex workers.