Human trafficking thrives at large sporting events such as the Olympic Games, Super Bowl and the FIFA World Cup for many reasons. The crowds at large sporting events are usually predominantly composed of men and this year’s FIFA World Cup was no different. More than 3.16 million spectators attended the FIFA World Cup games in Brazil from June 12 to July 13, 2014. Of the millions of spectators at the FIFA World Cup, 75 percent were men and the vast majority of attendees were tourists flying in from their home countries for the games. The common adage applies: where there is tourism; there is also sex tourism. Traffickers follow the standard economic principal of supply and demand, which is the reason they target large crowds of mostly male tourists. When men want to pay to have sex with prostitutes, traffickers happily provide the trafficked women for a hefty profit.
It is common knowledge within the anti-trafficking community that large sporting events are the perfect venue for prostitution to flourish and Brazil is the current hub of sex trafficking since it is home to both the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. There are many organizations and NGOs that worked to combat sex trafficking at the FIFA World Cup, but few were successful. The Brazilian government ran a short-lived and poorly conceived campaign called Happy Being a Prostitute, which was supposed to encourage prostitutes to use condoms and get medical attention but instead seemed more like a pro sex workers public service announcement.
The Vatican even had a campaign against human trafficking at the FIFA World Cup that was run through the religious women’s organization Talitha Kum. The Nuns spent weeks handing out flyers, showing videos and reporting statistics from former FIFA World Cups that showed sexual exploitation rose 30 percent in connection with the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and 40 percent at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Yet the PSA from the Brazilian government and flyers handed out by Roman Catholic Nuns did little to stop the selling of women and girls for sex during the FIFA World Cup, mostly due to the fact the sex trafficking had already begun long before the games started.
In the year prior to the FIFA World Cup, girls from the impoverished areas of Brazil began to go missing—the numbers were so high that the Brazilian authorities claim to have lost count. Many of the young women were kidnapped from the slums of Brazil by sex traffickers and taken to the FIFA World Cup sites where they were used to service the construction workers building the soccer stadiums. The young women and girls would live nearby in the local shanty-towns or hourly hotels and once the FIFA World Cup began they would walk the streets around the soccer stadium offering themselves to customers for several times the amount they charged the construction workers. Sex trafficking at the world cup began long before the tournament even started and will unfortunately continue long after the FIFA World Cup has ended.