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Turn On the Red Light: Prostitutes Return To London's East End Following Olympic Eviction

London's prostitutes are flooding back to the city following the Olympics. London's prostitutes are flooding back to the city following the Olympics.


The 2012 Summer Olympics have officially come to a close, and while the world's elite athletes head home, hopefully with medals in hand, host-city London returns to its own business as usual -- high tea, period dramas on television, pork pies, and -- prostitution?

You see, while stipulations do exist, the act of selling sex for money is completely legal in "The Big Smoke" (London's nickname, I kid you not.) But Olympic visitors wouldn't know about the thriving sex-trade in London because in the time leading up to the games, the government launched an organized campaign to "clean up" the streets for their international visitors, focusing on decreasing crime, picking up trash and, most importantly, relocating London's "Roxannes" to as far from the Olympic Village and other tourist meccas as possible. Presumably, the International Olympic Organizing Commitee (IOOC) and the international community as a whole also do not want her to turn on that red light.

It has been widely reported that large sporting events, like the Olympics, bring with them an increase in prostitution. A bunch of pent-up sexual frustration and raging testosterone all together in one place need an outlet, and the organizers of the London Games did not want this tradition to continue in their city.
In 2006, German and international media reported an alleged 40 thousand sex workers plying their trade during the international orgy of soccer.

The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens is often cited as an example of the effects that the Olympics have on the sex industries of their host cities. Widely-reported estimates quoted double the cases of sex trafficking during the games, and figures regarding the amount of sex-for-cash transactions that occurred during those two weeks will never be known due to the clandestine nature of the act.

A report by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) stated that the total reported cases of sex trafficking increased from 93 in 2003 to 181 in 2004, the year of the games. Greek authorities, however, dispute that ANY of the 181 cases that year were related to the games. That's quite a statement.

Similar increases in sex trafficking have been reported during events like the World Cup. In 2006, German and international media reported an alleged 40 thousand sex workers plying their trade during the international orgy of soccer.

Examples like these were used by the British Government to justify their massive sweep of sex workers prior to the games this year. The police spent £600,000 to "clean up"  the Olympics' Five Boroughs -- Waltham Forest, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, and Tower Hamlets, the latter three being some of London's poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods.  

Hardest hit were London's brothels, which are not, unlike prostitution itself, legal. Most of London's brothels are located in legal businesses like massage parlors or spas, so they tend to be harder to spot. Prior to the games, raids were far less common, and typically only happened to establishments who were known to use underage girls or women who are being coerced in some way to perform.
In preparation for the Olympics, Metropolitan Police reported numerous brothel raids, 70 during six months of 2010 alone. However, the Metro Police of course claim that the raids are unrelated to the Games.

Although prostitution in general is legal in Great Britain, only certain situations are actually allowed by law. A woman can, as an independent contractor, act as an escort and receive payment for her services. However, that same woman may not walk the streets ("kerb crawling"), work in a brothel, or have a pimp. Also the age of consent for normal sexual contact in England is 16 (something I learned on a very creepy plane ride to London when I was seated next to a talkative fourtysomething gentleman who was on his way to the UK to meet a 16-year-old internet pen pal), but prostitutes must be 18 to work legally.

In preparation for the Olympics, Metropolitan Police reported numerous brothel raids (70 during six months of 2010 alone). However, the Metro Police of course claim that the raids are unrelated to the Games.

A police spokesperson claimed that it "has not increased operations targeting brothels in the five Olympic boroughs," and was simply "responding to local concerns and feedback from residents and businesses across London about street prostitution."

An interesting statement, considering that their own statistics show that during that same period of 2010, when police were cracking down but "not targeting Olympic boroughs", there were 1.16 raids on average in non-Olympic boroughs, versus 14 in the Olympic boroughs and 33 more in nearby areas.

Several groups, like the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP),  and the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), who fight for the rights and protection of British and International prostitutes, are crying foul over the recent marginalization of this segment of the work force.

One such group, called X-Talk, called for a moratorium on arrests, detention, and deportation of sex workers until the end of the Olympics. It didn't happen, but the argument was out there, which is always good for the cause. One spokeswoman claims that police raids on brothels, especially in East London, are driving sex workers further away from their support networks, like co-workers and health services. According to the spokeswoman, "Ultimately, arresting these women and raiding their places of work just makes them more vulnerable."

Of course, for as many people as there are who support allowing prostitution in its many forms, particularly in brothels, which are commonly thought to be the safest option and work pretty well in parts of Nevada, there are a large number of folks who believe that sex work is inherently evil and exploitative.

Ironically, detractors of legalized brothels point to Amsterdam -- world-renowned for having a successful system of legalized prostitution -- as an example of how legalized prostitution can go bad. The city's mayor even admitted that legalized prostitution has led to an increase in human trafficking and that many of the women in windows, beckoning to passers-by, are owned by powerful pimps who take large portions of the ladies' hard-earned cash while forcing them to work.

Recently, during a parliamentary discussion regarding amending some of the laws around prostitution, three British Ministers visited Amsterdam (a funny mental image, especially if you see them in powdered wigs, strolling, bewildered, along the windows of Amsterdam's Red Light District), to "study their system," ultimately finding what they determined to be significant problems in the system, and Britain's laws became even stricter.

Calling Amsterdam's policy on prostitution into question could turn out be be problematic to the economy of Amsterdam and its home country, The Netherlands. Legal prostitution is arguably Amsterdam's second biggest draw for certain types of tourists (the number one draw is, of course, The Anne Frank Museum). Certainly, human trafficking is a huge problem that needs to be addressed, but is the whole system wrong because one aspect is being abused? This is a question worth discussing.

Anti-prostitution groups point to increased instances of human trafficking, while advocates of sex workers look at institutionalized prostitution as the best way for women who wish to practice the "world's oldest profession" to do so in safety. When a sex worker has a place of business with security, other women to talk to, and health care, rather than a street corner and a studio apartment, she can avoid a lot of the negative aspects of the trade, like STDs, unwanted pregnancies, rapes, and pimps preying on vulnerable women.

In Nevada, the ladies of the brothels like the Moonlite Bunny Ranch (featured on the HBO series Cathouse) seem to be happy as one can be in their line of work. If their reality show has any reality to it at all, most of these girls are happier than a majority of the people who I know with "normal" jobs.

But to many people, the act of prostitution is a sin and a crime, and should not be allowed to happen in any circumstance. It is this mindset that left dozens of East London's brothels closed for business, and hundreds of working girls out on the streets... at least while the world was watching. Now that the medals have all been handed out and the world turns their eyes away from London's East End, we will have to wait and see the fate of London's Ladies of the Night.

An interesting closing tidbit, however, is this: While sex was forcibly discouraged in East London in the area directly around the Olympic Park, life in the Olympic Village was an entirely different situation. 150,000 free condoms were distributed to the athletes, and if reports are to be believed, those suckers saw some use (probably at least half by Ryan Lochte).

The moral of the story is this: meaningless, indiscriminate sex with foreign strangers is ok, as long as you are super good at sports. That sex might even help you loosen up and win a medal, for which you might get endorsements and make a bunch of money. But skipping the middleman -- just selling sex for money -- is a different game entirely.

© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2012

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London prostitutes are putting on a red light again following the 2012 Olympic Games.
Last modified on Friday, 28 September 2012 15:07

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