Olympic organisers reject ‘distasteful’ information about violence against women
Ever since London was awarded the Olympic Games back in 2005 there has been considerable media attention to the intensely contested issue of whether the Games would lead to an increase in ‘sex trafficking’ into London.
From the start women’s groups in the UK were keen to broaden out these concerns and to talk to the Olympics authorities – the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), the Mayor, the Government and different sports bodies – about the potential for an increase in domestic and sexual violence, and sexual harassment, as well as trafficking, and what action could be taken to try and prevent these.
What’s the link between sport and violence against women?
The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) brought a campaigning group on these issues together in early 2011, following some lobbying which had been started by the Women’s National Commission. With one year to go to the start of the Games EVAW published a report on the links between sport and violence against women in and sent this to the principal Olympics authorities with requests to meet.
The report details the propensity of some male athletes to commit sexual and physical violence, the connections between major sporting events and prostitution and trafficking, and the vulnerability of female athletes in intensive coaching regimes to abuse.
Our lobbying lead to several positive commitments from the authorities. LOCOG pledged to include information about violence against women and girls in the 10,000 athletes’ packs (this was a simple statement of the law in the UK on sexual violence, domestic violence and prostitution, and a set of women’s helplines).
The Mayor of London also pledged that his London Ambassadors volunteers would have similar information included in their training programme and would therefore be better able to respond to reports of abuse. We were pleased with these commitments which we thought could be part of the ‘legacy’ of the Games for future host cities.
However, just a few weeks ago we heard that LOCOG planned not to include the information in the athletes’ packs after all. They wanted to edit out material related to these ‘sensitive’ matters which were not ‘appropriate’ for the ‘tone’ of the athletes’ packs.
EVAW went to a last minute meeting at LOCOG, just a day or two before the booklet was supposed to be printed, and argued again about how important this information was, and referred to the correspondence with Lord Coe that committed to its inclusion.
LOCOG eventually gave in but they decided to title the information in a confusing way, and omitted the critical helpline details. Similarly, we heard late in the day that the information about violence against women for the London Ambassadors was also removed from their training pack.
‘Distasteful’ talk about violence against women
We suspect that this important information was reduced and deleted because of a feeling that the subject matter was in some way ‘distasteful’ and perhaps also for fear it would imply that any visitor to London might be a potential perpetrator of violence against women. This apparent squeamishness is worrying, and in stark contrast with the fact that many police forces now regularly run anti domestic violence campaigns around major football tournaments.
Despite these disappointments some excellent work to prevent abuse has been done in Newham where the council is getting a strong prevention message out to businesses and other venues all over the borough around and outside of the village itself. They are also operating a special domestic and sexual violence ‘one stop shop’ throughout the Games period. We look forward to hearing about how this works.
What next for the campaign?
When the Olympic and Paralympic Games are over in early September we will write to the principal organisers with a summary of our expectations and disappointments, and take our concerns to the International Olympic Committee.
Our hope in running this campaign has always been that a new standard would be set in London for planning to prevent violence against women and girls and that this would be handed on to future host cities. We hope that at least some of the critical issues have been highlighted and that women’s groups in Rio (the next host city) and beyond will have our experience and research to build upon.
Guest post by Sarah Green, Campaign Manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, of which Womankind is a member.