Headlines ’round the world are warning us that 40,000 prostitutes are headed for South Africa and soccer’s premier event, the World Cup. (Just google “South Africa 40,000 prostitutes”.) The story is a total fabrication. It’s a repeat of an alarmist story that was told before the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The figure was put at 10,000 trafficked sex slaves before the Sydney Olympics in 2000. It was doubled to 20,000 before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, then doubled again for the World Cup in 2006.
Brendan O’Neill at Spiked has the scoop on the hooker unscoop. He says the ongoing international urban legend springs from the fertile imaginations of folks seriously concerned about sex slavery, as well as deeply biased assumptions about working class men, sports, etc.
The sport-sex-slavery scare springs from officials’ and campaigners’ warped minds rather than from anything remotely resembling evidence. As an in-depth study by a Canadian research group discovered recently, ‘the commonly held notion of a link between mega sports events [and] tafficking in persons is an unsubstantiated assumption’. Profoundly this scare speaks to an elite fear of unpredictable movements across borders, of working-class male behaviour, and of Third World women being easily tricked into a life of sexual bondage. Already, for the London 2012 Olympics, the UK government is scaremongering about ‘international criminal gangs… tricking and abducting women from abroad and selling them for sex in London’, to use Harriet Harman’s hysterical words. How many forced hookers will they claim are arriving in London for 2012? Forty-thousand again? Or maybe they’ll double it to 80,000? Any advances on 80,000? Who’d like to take a bet on this perverted new sport?
I think the tragic, brutal truth of international sex trafficking deserves even more coverage in the press and attention from all of us. But urban legends like the World Cup of Prostitution have the opposite effect. Because the story is untrue, it tends to drive down legitimate concern and make true stories seem untrue.
Want a parallel? The Right warned us there would be communists in our cupboards after health care reform was passed. Now that it’s passed and our cupboards remain bare of totalitarian teacups, the Right’s entire argument is shattered. Another problem is that serious dangers — the climate crisis come to mind — are downplayed because the public grows weary of alarmist stories of all kinds. So, urban exaggerators and news traffickers, cut the horse manure. Whether your cause is bad (denying health care to your neighbors) or good (ending sex slavery), lies, exaggerations and alarmist rhetoric will ultimately stink up your boots.