World Cup Did Not Fuel Sex Work; Misguided Furor Led to Ineffective HIV Prevention Efforts

This summer, the world’s attention was captivated by the World Cup match in South Africa, and here on Akimbo, things were no different. In fact, we covered the events in some detail.

During our Goals for Women’s Health series, we provided facts about women’s health and rights for each of the countries in the playoffs. And Audacia Ray wrote a piece questioning the media coverage of the World Cup’s potential effects on the amounts of trafficking AND sex work taking place in South Africa during the tournament:

“Mainstream media outlets have been reporting that 40,000 women have been trafficked into South African brothels for the World Cup. That’s a pretty horrifying statistic – except that there simply aren’t any good citations that confirm it.”

It turns out that Audacia’s skepticism of these overblown figures was completely justified. South Africa’s Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) has just released a new report in conjunction with UNFPA that shows the country’s recent soccer World Cup did not fuel a rise in sex work, as so many media outlets initially predicted it would- and that “thousands of dollars may have been wasted on ill-tailored HIV prevention campaigns.”

The main facts, as contained in the SWEAT press release:

  • During the 2010 World Cup period, there was a small increase in the number of female sex workers who adverted online and in newspapers
  • Less non-South African sex workers advertised in newspapers and online than expected
  • There were not significantly more clients seen per sex worker during the World Cup period
  • A proportion of the local clients of sex workers who advertise in newspapers may have been temporarily replaced by foreign clients during the Soccer World Cup
  • Reported condom use was high at 99%

IRIN/PLUS News further reports that SWEAT “found no evidence of human trafficking, supporting similar claims by the South African Department of Justice, and that the proportion of non-South African sex workers advertising actually dropped.”

This provides a powerful reminder that women and communities need the full package of comprehensive health services, not media furor and hyperbole, to achieve sexual and reproductive rights and health and to prevent the spread of HIV.

To learn more about grassroots efforts towards HIV prevention in South Africa, check out IWHC partner Sonke Gender Justice Network.



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