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Sex trafficking for 2012 Olympics ‘a myth’ say campaigners

PUBLISHED: 19:13 26 January 2012

Police raids on 80 brothels in east London over the past 18 months have put hundreds of women at risk, according to an NHS sexual health manager.

The raids—almost one a week—have been blamed on “ill-informed fears of a rise in human trafficking and sex exploitation” ahead of the summer Olympics.

The idea that major international events like the Olympics attracts trafficking has been slammed as a ‘myth’ at a seminar aimed at protecting sex workers.

No evidence was found showing increased trafficking or exploitation, last night’s conference at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine heard.

“The police asserted in April that we’re not seeing an increase,” Georgina Perry told the seminar. “They don’t expect to—but we’ve seen an increase in police raids.”

Ms Perry, who runs an NHS health programme in Tower Hamlets and neighbouring Hackney and Newham, fears the relationships they’ve built up with the women over years have broken down with increased police raids.

“They don’t want to speak to us or let us through the door,” she revealed.

“They don’t call police if they experience rape or violence—that’s the collateral damage of myth and rumour about trafficking.”

The fear of trafficking surfaced at Tower Hamlets Council last night when it voted to work with Lord Coe’s Olympics organising committee and the police.

The council noted that 80,000 women are trafficked each year, with thousands forced into modern-day ‘slavery’ in Britain.

But these were figures that Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, a social policy expert at Birkbeck College who attended the seminar, claims were not backed up by evidence.

She said afterwards: “It’s inaccurate to state that thousands of women are involved, when no expert knows the true number.”

Organisers say fear of trafficking during the Olympics could put vulnerable women in east London at risk.

London School of Hygiene lecturer Joanna Busza told the seminar: “Police crackdowns and brothel closures displace these women from flats and saunas to less safe venues like the street. They also make them wary of authorities, so they’re less likely to report violence or crime.”

Clampdowns are already under way, the seminar heard. Experts warned this could “push women onto the streets” or away from support networks and NHS outreach schemes.


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