Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2012 Olympics: The Aftermath?

In the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics in London, anti-human trafficking groups in the UK continued to press the government to take steps to combat a predicted uptick in human trafficking. Greece had reported a significant increase in victims in conjunction with the 2004 Olympics in Athens. As an intern at a human rights organization based on London last summer, I myself witnessed NGOs (or "charitable organizations" as they are called in the UK) consistently pressing MPs and leaders of the UKHTC and other government entities to take steps to address the predicted problem.

Now the games are in full swing. Michael Phelps has become the most decorated Olympic athlete in the recorded history of the games. The American women's gymnastic team clinched gold. And the internet has fallen in with a hurdler from Australia. But the question still on my mind is:
was there an upswing in human trafficking victims because of the games?

Anti-Slavery International posted a story at the end of June about its awareness raising campaign aimed at stamping out forced labor associated with the games. BBC Newa published a story that same month contesting the link between major sporting events and an increase in human trafficking. Several resources report that London police cracked down on brothels in the first half of 2012 in attempts to stamp out the sex trade ahead of the games. But the Daily Mail, a dubious source for sure, reported an explosion of Olympic themed escort advertisements and promotions with increased staffing to meet the expected demand.

Will the UK government conduct an assessment after the closing ceremonies to see how effective it was at preventing human trafficking around the 2012 Olympic Games? While sex trafficking and prostitution may grab the headlines because they are salacious, will the government study the possibility of forced labor in the construction of the Olympic facilities and the increased staffing of hotels, restaurants, and other service industries blessed with an Olympic boom in business? How will they study the suggested increase of child victims of trafficking pressed into service by gangs of criminals to pick pockets during the games?

A story has been circulating over the last week among Christian websites about the London Olympics and human trafficking. The story centers on a Stop the Traffik campaign around London using large gift-box styled installations to raise awareness of human trafficking. Stop the Traffik is partnered with Compassion United Kingdom. The story, unfortunately, does not highlight enough the active work that many Christian faith organizations have put in both with lobbying efforts to combat human trafficking and in the role as victim support providers in the UK.

Controversy always arises where religion and government services meet. The selection and funding of the Salvation Army as a first responder in the UK while the POPPY Project was defunded last year was no exception. However, as a broader coalition to combat human trafficking across the globe and support victims coalesces, all hands should be welcomed, including the faith-based ones.