Saturday, December 5, 2009

When Crime and Exploitation Are Deemed Important

It is pretty disheartening how the international community only cares about crime and exploitation when a major sporting event is on the horizon. Keeping athletes and those who come to watch safe in the host country is clearly of greater importance than addressing the root causes of crime that occur in marginalized areas of the world. That, unfortunately, has become glaringly evident as next year's World Cup, being held in South Africa, and the 2016 Summer Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, approach.

It appears that areas of South Africa are now being "cleaned up" so that tourists are not bothered by the homeless. Clearly, potential tourists, their income, and the country's image are defined as more important than South Africa's own marginalized citizens. What actually occurs remains to be seen. As seen in the Al Jeezra YouTube video, below, homeless may simply be driven out of the area, housed temporarily in camps, or given short-lived employment. But again, the important points here are, (1) the homeless situation is only being addressed with the World Cup approaching, and (2) no root causes of homelessness are being addressed.

Additionally, South African officials are considering decriminalizing prostitution, not entirely with the intent of enhancing the safety of sex workers, but to improve "entertainment venues" for foreign tourists (from the BBC):

Durban's municipality said Germany had many adult entertainment centres during the World Cup in 2006, which were very popular with visitors.

It said while prostitution was illegal in South Africa, it could not ignore the fact that the sex industry thrives during major events like the World Cup.

To address this, entertainment centres such as strip clubs and escort agencies would be located in special areas where they would be safe and easily accessible.

More from an article in The Guardian:

Calls are growing for South Africa to legalise prostitution ahead of next year's football World Cup in an effort to limit HIV infection among millions of fans visiting the country for the tournament.

There is rhetoric focusing on the health and safety of sex workers.

In January, MP George Lekgetho called for prostitution to be legalised during the tournament.

"It is one of the things that would make it a success," he said.

He told parliament that it would help cut incidences of rape.

The BBC's Mpho Lakaje in Johannesburg says his suggestion was met with derision by other MPs. But a group representing sex workers welcomed it.

"We would support any legalisation of sex work, particularly during the 2010 World Cup," Nicola Fick from the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (Sweat) told the BBC.

However, others note that legalizing prostitution does not stop the harm of women and girls, but rather increases their violent victimization. Furthermore, as noted with the piece on homeless in South Africa, it is only with the World Cup coming up that this issue matters, and nothing is being discussed that would help to ameliorate the root causes of sexual exploitation (poverty and patriarchy).

Finally, in the context of the World Cup, these articles' headlines are evidence enough of who and what is defined as important (incoming tourists and the host country's reputation) and who is not (the poorer South African citizenry):

The same short-term, iron-fisted and often corrupted policies are escalating in Rio de Janeiro where the 2016 Summer Olympic Games will be held (from NPR):

...could the arrival of the 2016 Olympics do more harm than good for Rio de Janeiro's poorest residents? It could depend, in part, on how the Brazilian government plans to beef up security in advance of the Games?

Security crackdowns in Rio de Janeiro have often amounted to police raids on the sprawling shantytowns, home to a third of the city's population, where drug traffickers have ensconced themselves. The resulting gun battles have killed scores of innocent bystanders — predominately poor and working-class residents of the favelas — thus contributing to the stunning 2,069 murders that happened in Rio last year.


Certainly, Rio won't be the first Olympic city to resort to such measures — even liberal Vancouver is trying to force its homeless into shelters in advance of the 2010 Winter Games, and China made no secret of its repressive crackdown in the lead-up to last year's Olympics. But Rio de Janeiro's history of using ham-fisted tactics to combat violence makes me worry that the city's working poor will end up in the crosshairs in run-up to the Games.

Major sporting events are part of the global economy. They frequently command so much international attention and incoming revenue that governments will pander to foreign countries that have enough wealthy residents who will fly in and spend money in hotels, restaurants, and retail stores (or even in criminal ares, e.g., prostitution). This governmental pandering, however, comes in the form of defining the foreign tourists and their money as more important than the local "deviants." The emerging justice policies reflect this viewpoint.

(Photo via The Guardian)

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