26 October 2010

No spike in advertised paid sex

There was no spike in supply and demand of sex workers advertising online and in newspaper during the World Cup, a new study found.


There was no spike in supply and demand of sex workers advertising online and in newspaper during the World Cup, a new study found.

The study followed patterns amongst sex workers who advertised in these sectors in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban before, during and after the Soccer World Cup this year.

This collaborative study included researchers of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA) and the Universities of Ghent and Wits. Technical support was provided by the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT).

The study was commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in response to the media speculation prior to the World Cup that between 40,000 and 100,000 sex workers were needed for the projected half a million soccer fans who would travel to South Africa.

Media reports also suggested that a substantial number of women and children would be trafficked into host cities to meet the apparent increased demand for paid sex. In many instances, trafficking was conflated with sex work.

Fears were raised in countries of an increase in the incidence of HIV, given that South Africa has amongst the highest prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in the world. 

How the study was conducted

Researchers conducted telephonic interviews with 220 sex workers who advertised online and in local newspapers at three points in time: pre-World Cup period (end of May), during the World Cup (end of June) and post-World Cup period (end of July).

Participants were asked about their age, country of origin, number of clients in the past seven days, country of origin of their last client and condom use with their last client.


During the World Cup, the number of unique profiles on the advertising website that was monitored had increased by 5.9%.  The post-World Cup period saw a further increase of 9.3%.

At baseline (pre-World Cup period), the average number of clients in the previous week was 14.4 clients (newspaper) and 11 clients (web-based). These numbers did not change significantly during or after the World Cup.

Contrary to what was anticipated, the number of sex workers from non-South African origin declined rather than increased during and after the World Cup. This was true both in sex workers advertising on the website and sex workers advertising in newspapers.

The number of non-South African clients of sex workers advertising on the website did not change significantly during and after the World Cup. In sex workers advertising in the newspapers, however, relatively more clients were foreign during the World Cup.

Self-reported condom use was high (99.0%) at baseline, and did not change during or after the Word Cup.

Lessons learnt

The researchers argue that intervention around major sporting events should be based on research rather than speculation.

These results are at odds with public fears about a massive increase in the number of sex workers – both domestic and cross-border – during the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The research findings also contradict concerns about a huge increase in demand for paid sex services, and engaging in unprotected sex.

According to the researchers, “in response to 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, generalised HIV/Aids information campaigns for South Africans and visitors, and rolling out anti-trafficking campaigns. Yet, none of these investments were based on rigorous research or inquiry and could have been better employed if done in a targeted manner.”

A spokesperson for SWEAT said that they doubled their number of HIV education programmes during the World Cup period.

“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 stigmatisation and discrimination against sex workers while increasing their vulnerability to violence,” researchers say.

UNFPA also commissioned a mixed-methods study focusing on street- and brothel-based female, male and transgender sex workers. The results are due at the end of November.

(Research results released by SWEAT, compiled by Ilse Pauw, October 2010)

For more information

Contact Dianne Massawe at or Gerrit Maritz at




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