1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. Southern Africa
  4. South Africa

Research shows World Cup did not fuel sex work or HIV

A sex worker stands outside a bar, March 2007. Alcohol and drug use can lower inhibitions, increasing the risk of HIV infection. However, some groups are especially vulnerable - most notably young women. The impact of HIV/AIDS has gone far beyond the hous
A sex worker stands outside a bar (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

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.

Read more on the 2010 World Cup
World Cup poses risks for out-of-school kids
World Cup HIV prevention plans fall short
World Cup HIV campaigns
World Cup kicks off camps for kids
Safer sex for soccer fans and sex workers
Straight Talk with FIFA's Social Responsibility Head

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.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Help us be the transformation we’d like to see in the news industry

The current journalistic model is broken: Audiences are demanding that the hierarchical, elite-led system of news-gathering and presentation be dismantled in favour of a more inclusive and holistic model based on more equitable access to information and more nuanced and diverse narratives.

The business model is also broken, with many media going bankrupt during the pandemic – despite their information being more valuable than ever – because of a dependence on advertisers. 

Finally, exploitative and extractive practices have long been commonplace in media and other businesses.

We think there is a better way. We want to build something different.

Our new five-year strategy outlines how we will do so. It is an ambitious vision to become a transformative newsroom – and one that we need your support to achieve.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian by making a regular contribution to our work - and help us deliver on our new strategy.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.