Sochi and Sex Trafficking

When I first started writing this blog post, I wanted to focus on the role of sex trafficking in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In my mind, it seemed like an easy topic. Surely there must be a direct correlation between a major sporting event and increased rates in the sex trade. After hours of research, I had more questions than answers on this particular subject. I struggled to form a coherent post that would adequately express my frustrations and feelings about the fate of trafficked women in Russia. For the sake of my own sanity, I decided to abandon the idea of a lengthy analysis of the issue and instead, share my questions and reflections.

1) How does Russia, a country rich with human rights abuses, allowed to host the Olympic Games? I could spend hours detailing the numerous human rights violations that have occurred within the country; however, for the sake of this post, I will only discuss human trafficking. Since the inception of the State Department Trafficking in Persons Report in 2000, Russia has always failed to take the measures necessary to eliminate human trafficking within their country. In 2012, Russia was downgraded from their usual Tier 2 Watch List position to Tier 3 after it became apparent that there were little to no prosecutions for traffickers.[i]

There were already numerous allegations of human trafficking for labor purposes before the Olympic Games started. Human Rights Watch wrote a detailed report giving accounts of workers being lured to Sochi for construction work under false pretenses. Many of them did not receive fair pay for their work because employers illegally deducted from wages for basic necessities such as food and housing. The Russian government has done nothing to prevent these atrocities from continuing to happen.[ii]

2) It is widely known that sex within and around the Olympic Village is a common, if not expected, occurrence. It has been reported that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave 100,000 condoms to athletes living in the Olympic Village this year as a part of their HIV and AIDS prevention efforts. With 2,800 athletes competing from over 88 countries, that is approximately 36 condoms per athlete.[iii] Stop and ponder that for a moment.

I agree with their method of promoting safe sex, but I also think that the IOC should have addressed Russia’s history of prostitution and the sex trade. I think athletes could have benefitted from a small pamphlet that discussed the issue and noted some potential signs of a trafficking victim. This information is especially needed considering that Sochi is a part of the Krasnodar region, which has served as a major source of trafficked women in Eastern Europe for years.[iv] It could have even provided areas, locations, or buildings that are known sex tourism spots.  Providing athletes with condoms but not giving them this necessary knowledge is irresponsible and immoral.

3) With the Russian government and military on constant high alert in an effort to prevent a terrorist attack during the Games, how high do you think sex trafficking is on their list of priorities? I imagine that it is not even a blip on their radar. As they try to ensure the physical security of the Olympics by protecting everything with the ‘Ring of Steel’, I wonder if they are scanning the area for potential victims. Since the Black Widows, an all-female terrorist group known for its use of suicide bombers, have threatened to attack during the Games, women are being highly scrutinized by the military and law enforcement officials.[v] This is the perfect opportunity to rescue young women and children who are being forced to cater to the large amount of tourists in town for the Games. However, I feel that authorities will not do the right thing.

So where does that leave the victims? We already know that the Russian government is not going to do anything. In fact, President Vladimir Putin has been known to punish nonprofit organizations that help trafficking victims. Normally, the presence of NGOs or other non-profits could help with this problem, but the security situation in Sochi has made this an unviable option. The Salvation Army – Eastern Europe Division has some workers there passing out disposable cups with anti-trafficking information printed on it, but it is simply not enough.[vi]

4) We need data! It is very difficult to gather data to prove a correlation between sex trafficking and major sporting events, but I feel that it is must be done. I will admit that I do not know where to even begin, but I am willing to try. Research on this subject would provide lawmakers with the information needed to approve legislation that can help protect vulnerable people across the globe. We also need to better inform the public so that they can know and watch for signs of potential trafficking victims. We cannot continue to cite a lack of statistical evidence as a reason why these atrocities are permitted to continue.

by LAE

[i] The Washington Post, “Russia, China continue to allow human trafficking.” Last modified June 23, 2013. Accessed February 9, 2014.

[ii] Human Rights Watch, “Race to the Bottom: Exploitation of Migrant Workers Ahead of Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.” Last modified February 06, 2014. Accessed February 9, 2014.

[iii] CBS New York News, “Report: Olympic Officials Dole Out 100,000 Condoms to Athletes.” Last modified February 06, 2014. Accessed February 9, 2014.

[iv] Eduard Aslanov, . Institute for War and Peace Reporting, “Krasnodar Sex Trade Booming.” Last modified April 04, 2002. Accessed February 9, 2014.

[v] Hentz, Jim. Yahoo News Moscow, “‘Black widows’ tied to decade of terror in Russia.” Last modified January 21, 2014. Accessed February 9, 2014.–spt.html.

[vi] Salvation Army , “Russian Salvationists Ready For Outreach At 2014 Winter Olympics.” Last modified February 06, 2014. Accessed February 9, 2014.

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