Sports & Human Trafficking: Part III

Summary & References

The media have sensationalized claims of dramatic spikes in human trafficking activity during major athletic events (such as the Olympics), perhaps to the point of “urban legend.” Research suggests that labor trafficking may experience dramatic increments in some parts of the world, but studies have not yet corroborated similar claims for spikes in the sex trade. These blogs posit a middle path between dramatic upswings in the sex trade versus no increases at all. Research suggests that rates of general crime do indeed experience modest to moderate increments on “game day,” including both violent and financially motivated forms of criminal behavior.

Since the sex trade is both violent and financially motivated, it seems reasonable to presume that this particular form of crime also experiences modest to moderate increments during major sporting events. However, victims of general crime are much more likely to report criminal acts than the victims of human trafficking, leading to the chronic problem of underreporting in the sex trade, which all researchers seem to universally lament. Regardless, the problem of human trafficking (for both labor and sex) is—at its baseline—already ubiquitous, already epidemic, and already year-round. Therefore, sensationalizing inaccurate claims of dramatic spikes in only certain locations at certain times may deflect attention away from the true magnitude of this problem the rest of the year.


Amnesty International. (2013). The dark side of migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup. Retrieved from

Amnesty International. (2016). The ugly side of the beautiful game. Retrieved from:

Busch-Armendariz, N.B., Nale, N.L., Kammer-Kerwick, M., Kellison, B., Torres, M.I.M., Cook Heffron, L., Nehme, J. (2016). Human trafficking by the numbers: The initial benchmark of prevalence and economic impact for Texas. Austin, TX: Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved from:

Campaniello, N. (2011). Mega events in sports and crime: Evidence from the 1990 Football World Cup. Journal of Sports Economics. Retrieved from:

Deering, K.; Chettiar, J.; Chan, K.; Taylor, M.; Montaner, J.; & Shannon, K. (2011). The impact of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games on sex work patterns, safety and sex worker vulnerability to HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 87. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2011-050108.70.

Delva, W., Richter, M., DeKoker, P., Chersich, M., & Temmerman, M. (2011). Sex Work during the 2010 FIFA World Cup: Results from a three-wave cross-sectional survey. PLoS ONE, 6. DOI:

Farrell, A. & Reichert, J. (2017). Using U.S. law-enforcement data: Promise and limits in measuring human trafficking. Journal of Human Trafficking, 3(1), 39-60. DOI:

Hazeu, M, & van Kronen, F. (2014). Sexual exploitation of children in Brazil: Putting a spot on the problem. Retrieved from:

Hepburn, S. (2017). It’s not just about sex: Human trafficking and mega sporting events. Retrieved from:

Kalist, DE; & Lee, DY (2014). The national football league: Does crime increase on game day? Journal of Sports Economics. Retrieved from:

Rocco, P. (2014). Forced labor at the Sochi games. Retrieved from:

Skoch, I. (2010). World Cup welcome: A billion condoms and 40,000 sex workers. GlobalPost. Retrieved from:,0.

German Delegation of the Council of the European Union. (2007). Experience report on human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation and forced prostitution in connection with the 2006 Football World Cup in Germany. Retrieved from:

Milivojevi , S. & Pickering, S. (2008). Football and sex: The 2006 FIFA World Cup and sex trafficking. TEMIDA, 21-47. Available online at:

Mollins, J. (2012). Q+A- The London Olympics: The sex-trafficking event that wasn’t. Retrieved from:

O’Neill, N. (2018). The horrifying life of sex slavery North Korea’s cheerleaders face. Retrieved from:

Ridley, L. (2016). Rio child sex trafficking ‘epidemic’ could rocket during the 2016 Olympics- Here’s why. Retrieved from:

Co-authored with Sheresa Wilson-DeVries

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Sports & Human Trafficking: Part II

This article is a continuation of our last blog: Sports and Human Trafficking: Part I

Let’s be clear: The problem of human trafficking is already epidemic. However, there seems to be a disconnect between anecdotal speculations of massive spikes in human trafficking during major athletic events—versus the actual empirical evidence. There are several possible interpretations for this incongruence. One possibility is that the anecdotal fears are correct, but the researchers are not. In other words, there really are dramatic spikes in trafficking, but the underground nature of this activity continues to elude empirical scrutiny. Another possibility is that the researchers are right, while the anecdotal fears are completely unjustified. In other words, there is absolutely no rise in human trafficking during these events.

However, there might be yet another explanation which has not yet been considered in the literature. Based on our own clinical experience and intuition, we would like to posit a third possibility: Perhaps there are indeed modest to moderate increments in illicit sexual activity during large-scale athletic events, but perhaps these increases still fly under the radar—as does most of the industry, for that matter. Here’s our logic: Whenever there are more humans congregated in a single metropolitan locale, it only follows that there will be more crime in general.

Not surprisingly, research suggests that general crime does indeed increase modestly / moderately during major athletic events. For example, Campaniello (2011) found that “hosting the Football World Cup leads to a significant increase” in both personal and violent crime. It is fascinating to note that the same researcher, after documenting a “significant increase” in crime in general, proceeds to state: “The crimes of drugs and prostitution are extremely difficult to measure in official statistics,” suggesting that certain forms of crime may be harder to detect than others. More recently, Kalist and Lee (2014) studied daily crime rates in eight large cities with NFL teams by comparing criminal activities on game day versus nongame days. These researchers reported a 2.6% increase in total crimes on game days, with increments in financially motivated crimes ranging from 4.1 and 6.7 percent.

It should not come as a surprise that an increased concentration of people in conjunction with heightened arousal would result in higher rates of criminal behavioral. Therefore, if crime in general increases during congregations of hyper-aroused masses, it should only follow logically that illicit sexuality would also increase as one aspect of the overall crime. The previous two studies indicate modest / moderate increments in both violent and financially motivated crimes during major athletic events. Human trafficking is both violent and financially motivated. Therefore, it seems reasonable to presume that human trafficking would also experience modest to moderate increases on “game day.” However, whereas other crime victims tend to involve free citizens who are likely to report the crimes, this luxury does not seem to extend to the victims of human trafficking! Hence the problem of under-reporting.

Even if this hypothesis is correct, the current research still seems to indicate that the magnitude of dramatic spikes in human trafficking on “game day” have been sensationalized beyond accuracy. In the end, sensationalizing the magnitude of these spikes during certain events may actually hurt (rather than help) the battle to combat this problem. Human trafficking is clearly a worldwide epidemic that occurs year round. As previously noted, the University of Texas estimates that 79,000 minors are being sexually trafficked in the state of Texas alone. In America as elsewhere, human trafficking disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations: foster kids, runaways, homeless, and the abused (Busch-Armendariz, et al., 2016). To only focus on this problem at certain times of the year may serve to deflect attention away from the same problem throughout the rest of the year. For example, Christian pastors frequently begrudge the spike in Christian fervor during Christmas and Easter. Of course, they are not actually lamenting the increased focus on those two days; rather, they are lamenting the lack of focus on all the other days. Giving undue attention to the problem of human trafficking only at the Super Bowl or World Cup may have the same effect.

Vulnerable populations are ubiquitous, and current estimates are universally limited by laws and policies, reporting rates and methods, reliance on self-reporting surveys, and difficulty in identifying victims of an often misunderstood and underreported crime (Farrell & Reichert, 2017). While it may be good news that no robust causal relationship has yet emerged between increased sex trafficking and major athletic events, the risk for trafficking amongst the most vulnerable populations is far too high, even on a “normal” day. Perhaps American foster youth and the “cheerleaders” of North Korea may have something to teach in this regard. After all, North Korean cheerleaders still need to return to “work,” long after the Olympics have ended.

Co-authored with Sheresa Wilson-DeVries




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Sports & Human Trafficking: Part I

We all know that motor vehicle traffic is a massive problem whenever a big game comes to town. But what about human trafficking?

It has become widely-held belief that major sporting events provide irresistible temptations for money-hungry gangs and traffickers who transport large numbers of vulnerable persons to the region for the purposes of sexual exploitation, often with estimates well into the tens of thousands of trafficked individuals. The recent Winter Olympics once again brought stories of North Korean cheerleaders moonlighting as sex slaves, known colloquially as the “Pleasure Squad” (O’Neill, 2018). In further support of these allegations, some sources claim that during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the sex trade exploded, exceeding the normal rates by 95% (Ridley, 2016). Similar sources had predicted that the 2010 World Cup in South Africa would garner an extra 40,000 trafficked sex slaves (Skoch, 2010).

In spite of widespread media attention and sensational projections, the empirical data thus far have not corroborated these claims. In the case of Athens, the numbers seem to be misrepresented. Greece reported 93 instances of trafficking in 2003 compared with 181 in 2004, but these were annual statistics, and none of the cases were linked specifically to the Olympic Games themselves. This apparent spike could also be attributed to improved awareness / attention to the issue, improved methods of identifying victims, and/or improved reporting on the part of the Grecian authorities (GAATW, 2011). A few years later in Germany, estimates in the range of 30,000-60,000 trafficked individuals were anticipated to arrive in time for the 2006 World Cup (Milivojevi & Pickering, 2008). However, a record review of this period indicates that only 33 cases of trafficking were investigated. Of these instances, only five cases of trafficked individuals were identified as directly linked to the World Cup itself (German Delegation, 2007).

Another study tracked rates of trafficking in Vancouver following the 2010 Olympics, but once again the researchers failed to document evidence of new or trafficked sex workers in the period of the Olympic Games. However, this study did note significant changes in patterns of safety as well as the risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. The researchers attributed these shifts to increased police surveillance during this time period, which drove the sex workers into “off-street” venues, thus increasing the likelihood of violence and vulnerability (Deering, et al., 2011). South Africa also braced itself for the projected forecast of tens of thousands of human trafficking victims in anticipation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup (Skoch, 2010). Researchers noted slight (but not statistically significant) increments in overall online sexual advertisements, as well as a small yet statistically significant increase in the number of foreign sex workers throughout this time period. Regardless, researchers once again failed to document evidence for the magnitude of the original projections (Delva, et al., 2011).

However, sex trafficking is clearly not the only concern when it comes to mega sporting events. Reports indicate the influx of thousands of migrant workers who arrived in Sochi from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics. According to Hepburn (2017), these workers were forced to work inhumane hours for no more than $2.60 US dollars per hour. To make matters worse, these wages were often significantly delayed or sometimes never dispersed at all. Russian authorities admitted upwards of 8 million US dollars of unpaid labor associated with the 2014 Sochi games, and requested that companies pay out their dividends. Tragically, however, these measures arrived too late: By then, many of the workers had been detained or deported, making it unlikely that they would ever receive their pay (Hepburn, 2017; Rocco, 2014). Three thousand kilometers to the south, Qatar is already producing reports of labor trafficking, as preparations are underway for the 2022 World Cup in Doha. Critics are calling for FIFA to regulate this work more stringently, but thus far no significant changes have been implemented (Amnesty International, 2016).

Admittedly, trafficking numbers are difficult to estimate. Following the 2012 London Olympics, a Met Police spokesperson stated that she did not believe that there was an increase in trafficking during the event, but admitted that this problem was “difficult to measure” due to the covert manner in which victims are exploited. In addition, coercion tactics often leave the victims confused about whether they are being trafficked or if their experiences are even out of the ordinary (Mollins, 2012). Notably, this same spokesperson proceeded to posit that trafficking as a whole is quite rare (Mollins, 2012.) Tragically, this is where the data are no longer in her favor. As one example to the contrary, a recent University of Texas study estimates that there are nearly 79,000 minors involved in sex trafficking in Texas alone, and another 234,000 involved in labor trafficking in the same state (Busch-Armendariz, et al., 2016).

Co-authored with Sheresa Wilson-DeVries

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