In the year or so prior to the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan there were sporadic predictions here and there about the numbers of women who would be enslaved and trafficked to meet demand for prostitutes during the games. About a third mentioned the number 40,000.
In the months leading up to the 2006 World Cup in Germany rhetoric heated up and there were thousands of headlines about the predicted 40,000 women who would be trafficked, against their will, in to Germany to work in Germany’s legal brothels. Churches, NGO’s, and other groups spent enormous sums of money to find and help these women. The German government allocated a large number of police, social workers, and others to help out.
Reality? They found 5 (4 women, 1 man). And the extent to which any of them were forced became questionable. The brothels all said that they had plenty of women willing to work and had no need of enslaved women.
Some don’t learn their lessons. Prior to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa a few groups, politicians, and one David Bayever, deputy chairperson of South Africa’s Central Drug Authority, toted out the 40,000 number again. Some NGO’s, newspapers, websites, and ignorant Christians* picked up on it. A few NGO’s who work with children began their own twist saying that 40,000 African children would be enslaved into the sex industry to meet demand during the World Cup.
After being burned so bad in 2006 many groups and newspapers wisely shied away from 2010’s hyperbole so the number and placement of headlines was down significantly and many fewer groups spent money to do anything in South Africa.
But why is it always 40,000? Is there research to back this up in any way?
One Group, NotForSaleCampaign.org, founded by David Batstone took a better path with their ‘Red Card’ campaign. For 2010 they wisely steered clear of the 40,000 enslaved women hyperbole and focused on the global slave trade which unfortunately does have way too much basis in reality. They handed out their own version of red cards with quotes such as “The youngest pro footballer signed at 14, which is old if you’re a sex slave.”
Batstone has spent a number of years working with enslaved women and children around the world. Most of his hyperbole is, unlike that of someone like Melissa Farley, at least based in reality. While in his book ‘Not For Sale’ he ignores the numerous studies that indicate countries with legal prostitution, such as The Netherlands, appear to have significantly lower levels of enslavement or trafficking than countries such as the U.S., at least what he does include is generally factual.
While David and I may disagree about the impact of legalizing or criminalizing prostitution, we do agree on the harm of human slavery and I fully support everything he does.
And the final reality for the 2010 World Cup? Pretty much the same as 2006. Brothels reported more willing sex workers than they needed. Initial reports indicate no known enslavement or trafficking of adults or children.
CNN just reported similar findings in their interviews with brothel owners and prostitutes in South Africa. The prostitutes said that they were looking forward to the end of the world cup so that their regular customers, who’d stayed away from the crowds, would start coming back.
So, what is it about the number 40,000? Has someone somewhere done a study and determined that no matter what and where, the number of enslaved women for prostitution will really be 40,000? Is it some weird axiomatic number? Maybe some study determined that 40,000 was the number to garner the best emotional response in people? Big enough to get people worked up, but not so big as to seem unrealistic – at least without thinking about it? It’ll be interesting to see how often we see 40,000 with the 2014 World Cup.
One final note: Both Japan and Korea, hosts of the 2002 World Cup, have a Tier 1 rating by the U.S. State Department when it comes to human trafficking. This is the best rating any country can get. HOWEVER, my own research would seem to support a much higher rate of human trafficking in both countries than in most Tier 1 countries. I would find it believable that there was a significant increase in human trafficking for the 2002 World Cup. 40,000? Not even close. 1,000 or 2,000? Possibly.
* Amazing how a wild and unsubstantiated prediction one place became “The Facts Remain” that “40,000 HAVE poured in…”. And we wonder why Christians are held in such low esteem. As Christians we should be the purveyors of truth not the creators of lies. Note added 15 July: The author of the blog I linked to works with a respected organization. I’m hoping that he will be able to substantiate his claim.