Question: Sex Workers and Mega Events

Last Sunday I took part in a discussion in Glasgow with those who are looking at the 2014 CommonWealth Games and London 2012 Olympic Games and the conflicts over urban space, regeneration and privatisation. The topic of sex workers and mega events emerged both here and at the recent Countering the Olympic meeting in London on the 28th Jen – and continues to be a major, under-discussed topic relating to the impact of mega events. Especially those mega events who claim to have a health-based focus and a health based legacy to maintain.

Here are some links to some studies and some campaigns relating to Vancouver 2010, London 2012 and Glasgow 2014.

The Olympics and Mega Events:

Insight into the current state of prostitution  and the potential impact of the Olympics in the host five boroughs (Kristen Neumann, 2009) [pdf]

“Many of us are excited about the biggest show in town coming to Britain, but for women the Games are more likely to be a threat to their safety than terrorism. Evidence shows the Olympics may bring an increase not only in demand for paid sex and trafficking, but also levels of sexual harassment, domestic and sexual violence – see ‘Violence Against Women and Sport,’ a new report from the End Violence Against Women Coalition.”

When Event Spaces and Commercialised Sex Spaces Overlap: Gendered discourses of sex work and the Olympic Games

Available here:


In the past decade, debates regarding the sex industry, especially street-level sex work, have become exacerbated by the hosting of global sporting events. Such issues as displacement, safety concerns and financial cuts to social services have contributed to the problematisation of the overlap between mega event spaces and commercial sex spaces. The different approaches that destination cities have implemented to address these aspects of the urban environment reflect the political and economic geographies of sex work and the post-colonial perspective of sex worker as criminal or victim (Agustin, 2008; Hubbard, 1998). This research focuses on a case study of Vancouver as host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and examines the situation when commercial sex spaces become event spaces. Qualitative research methods have been conducted in the form of in-depth, semi-structured interviews with city officials, police, former sex workers, academics, NGO’s and women’s charities. The landscape of the sex industry in Vancouver is analysed in an effort to illustrate the impacts that the preparations for the Olympic Games has on the urban environment. Gendered discourses concerning sex workers’ rights to the city and how debates regarding criminalisation of demand/legalisation of sex work are linked to constructions of public space are also analysed (Doezema, 2001; Farley, 2003; Hubbard, 2001; Kempadoo, 2003). There is scope from the findings of this research to inform the dynamics of inclusion/exclusion in diverse European contexts, as more and more cities and countries bid for and host large-scale events. References Agustin, L. (2008) Sex and the limits of enlightenment: The irrationality of legal regimes to control prostitution. Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC, 5 (4), 73-86. Doezema, J. (2001) Ouch! Western feminists ‘wounded attachment’ to the Third World prostitute. Feminist Review, 67, 16-38. Farley, M. (2003) Prostitution and the invisibility of harm. Women and Therapy, 26 (3-4), 247–280. Hubbard, P. (1998) Sexuality, immorality and the city: Red-light districts and the marginalisation of female street prostitutes. Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, 5 (1), 55-76. Hubbard, P. (2001) Sex zones: Intimacy, citizenship and public space. Sexualities, 4 (1), 51-71. Kempadoo, K. (2003) Globalizing sex workers’ rights. Canadian Woman Studies, 22 (3, 4), 143-150.

Women and the Olympics: Research, Activism, and an Alternative View
Helen Jefferson Lenskyj

Available here:

“Based on the mega-event literature and on my own research, I presented a summary of negative Olympic impacts in my 2008 book, Olympic Industry Resistance: Challenging Olympic Power and Propaganda:

• evictions of tenants from low-rent housing, particularly in Olympic precincts and downtown areas, to make way for Olympic tourists
• evictions resulting from gentrification and beautification of low-income areas
• significant decrease in boarding house stock
• artificially inflated real estate prices
• unchanged or weakened tenant protection legislation, resulting in rent increases and evictions without cause, a problem for low-income tenants in particular
• the criminalization of poverty and homelessness through legislation increasing police powers over homeless and under-housed people in public spaces
• temporary or permanent privatization of public space
• temporary or permanent suppression of human rights, particularly freedom of assembly.

…Of course this does not happen. Rather, most liberal feminists who research, write and teach about sport in the university, or hold sport leadership positions, or belong to women’s sport advocacy organizations, give their unqualified support to the Olympics. When critical voices are raised, they usually focus on the sporting events rather than the social impacts, and reflect a rather simplistic notion of gender equality, as evident in calls for equal treatment. If there are ten events for men in this sport, they argue, there should be ten events for women; sports journalists don’t hypersexualize male athletes, so they shouldn’t hypersexualize female athletes. Disturbingly, the popular malestream injunction to keep politics out of sport and out of the Olympics appears to have influenced the thinking of many liberal feminists, who avoid looking at the global geopolitical picture in order to keep intact a decontextualized view of pure Olympic sport and the pure Olympic athlete. But no human activity, including sport, operates in a social or political vacuum, and international sporting mega-events are by definition political. …”

Migration and Irregular Work in Europe Literature Review

Available here:

This report aims to give a brief overview of the Europe-wide literature covering issues related to undocumented workers and the informal economy, gender and migration and is one of the reports prepared during the first phase of the Undocumented Worker Transitions (UWT) project.

Commonwealth Games:

‘Health’ it seems is being treated as a positive ‘legacy’ issue – so there would appear to be a conflict of interest in how Sex Work is to be publicly addressed.

 “It is argued that the origins of the preventative measures have an important part to play in the human trafficking strategies. Further, it is suggested that such campaigns bring to the fore issues regarding city imaging and event impacts, moral agendas, and collaboration between stakeholders.”


Available here:

Drug Use, Sex Work and Risk Environment in Dublin, National Advisory Committee on Drugs.

Available here:

“In addition, the regeneration and gentrification of parts of the city have disrupted some long-established street sex market locations, for example: […] The main implication of these changes in working practices is that it has become increasingly difficult for specialist services, in particular outreach services, to identify and locate sex workers, learn about their practices, assess their needs and provide appropriate interventions to reduce their risk of harm.

2014 Commonwealth Games Health Impact Assessment Report

Available here:

“20. Ensure that adequate plans for 2014 are made, learning from previous events, as part of Glasgow’s existing partnership approach to tackling the causes and impact of prostitution and trafficking.[34]”

Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games: PLANNING DELIVERY LEGACY Using Health Impact Assessment to Create a Sustainable Legacy for Glasgow

Available here:

Freeing Scotland’s Slaves:

Available here:

“…An Inquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland, headed by leading QC Baroness Helena Kennedy and carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was published in Edinburgh this week. Kennedy makes 10 recommendations for Scotland to pioneer a new approach to the problem, and to introduce these measures prior to the 2014 Commonwealth Games.”

EHRC: Inquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland

Available here:


Previous Mega Events:

Human Trafficking, Sex Work Safety and the 2010 Games:

Available here:

Facts About Trafficking in Persons And Consequences for Vancouver’s Sex Workers

Available here:

Sporting events still remain as magnets for sex industry

Available here:

“Advocates for Sex Work in South Africa were furious when one research reported that there was no evidence of increased sex trafficking during the Olympics. According to the report, an anti-human trafficking campaign announced that 100,000 people would come  into South Africa for prostitution before the World Cup. They pointed out that whereas the anti-trafficking advocates argued that 40,000 women and children would be trafficked before 2006 World Cup in Germany, only 5 cases of sex trafficking were reported after the game. The sex worker advocate in Canada so far went to say that the link between sporting events and increase in sex trafficking is a fiction.

However, Julie Shematz, a sex industry survivor and a founder of BeatyfromAshes, an organization working for sex industry survivors, shows that the link between the mega sporting event and an increase in prostitution or sex trafficking seems to be more than a myth or a fiction.”

Special Collection: UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP)

Available here:


If you have any links, data or research relating to sex workers and mega-events or can help with an investigation, please leave a comment or get in touch privately

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About Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones is the coordinator for #media2012, web editor and staff editor for Culture @ the Olympics and completing her PhD on Social Media, Activism and the Olympic Games at the University of the West of Scotland. She documents her research activities at and is @jennifermjones on twitter.

One thought on “Question: Sex Workers and Mega Events

  1. Dear Jennifer,

    We were going to facilitate a workshop during the Countering the Olympics conference on the impact of the 2012 Olympic Games on women involved in prostitution but unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of interest in it. We ended up joining the workshop with a more generic workshop on policing in the run up to and during the Games.

    We are already witnessing an increase in arrests, changes in bail conditions and threats of ASBOs. If you would be interested in finding out more information, please contact us on

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