The South African sex work industry has released a new report that has shown the country's recent soccer World Cup did not fuel a rise in sex work - and that thousands of dollars may have been wasted on ill-tailored HIV prevention campaigns.
New research by the South Africa’s Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and partners such as the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has shown that sex work was unlikely to have fuelled any rise in HIV infections during South Africa’s recent month-long World Cup, contrary to expectations.
The first study to examine the affects of a soccer World Cup on the sex trade in a host country, the research surveyed female sex workers who advertised their services in print or online and found that while slightly more sex workers were advertising, these women reported no significant increase in clients. Reported condom use among respondents was about 99 percent, according to the research.
SWEAT also announced that it 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.
In the months leading up to the World Cup, what SWEAT called “media sensationalism” predicted as many as 100,000 sex workers would flood South Africa to cater to visiting tourists, and that unsafe sex among sex workers and clients could fuel a rise in HIV infections. In particular, predictions were made that women and children would be trafficked into the host cities as part of the sex trade, and that the country - with an HIV prevalence rate of about 19 percent - would experience condom shortages.
For its part, SWEAT increased its own safe-sex campaigns almost threefold during the World Cup through a massive distribution of male and female condoms, and safer sex workshops and the establishment of a telephone help-line for sex workers.
Lots of money, wrong direction
But according to a statement released by SWEAT and UNFPA, the research findings may mean public fears, not evidence, drove many of the HIV-prevention programmes aimed at sex workers and potential clients during the month-long international event.
“In response to this media frenzy and public fears, a number of national and international health, gender and development agencies invested substantial funds in the distribution of free male condoms, generalized HIV/AIDS information campaigns for South Africans and visitors, and rolling out anti-trafficking campaigns,” said the statement. “Yet, none of these investments were based on rigorous research or inquiry and could have been better employed if done in a targeted manner.”
Head researcher Marlise Richter told IRIN/PlusNews the money spent on this kind of programming could have been better allocated towards protecting sex workers from increased human rights abuses during the Cup, such as harassment, violence and sexual bribery at the hands of law enforcement officers.
The organizations, who also critiqued the lack of female condom distribution as part of World Cup HIV prevention measures, said they hoped the research would help inform future HIV programming around international events like the 2010 World Cup.
“Future campaigns and programmes that focus on sex work, trafficking and international sporting events should be based on systematic research - not sensationalism that leads to further stigmatization and discrimination against sex workers while increasing their vulnerability to violence,” said the organizations in a written statement.
SWEAT is due to release a follow-up report in Johannesburg at the end of November that examines the World Cup’s effects on street-based sex work.