No Sex in the City as London Cleans Up Before 2012 Olympics

London Cleans up Ahead of 2012 Olympics
Houseboat residents near the Olympic development site in east London say British Waterways is attempting to “cleanse” the area. Photographer: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

London prostitution, strip tease bars, canal boats and the homeless are being cleared away as the U.K.’s capital prepares to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

Serious Crime Directorate 9, a unit of the Metropolitan Police, conducted 127 brothel raids since it was formed in April 2010, according to police data. The City of London Corp., which governs the capital’s main financial center, voted on May 5 not to grant sexual entertainment licenses to clubs and pubs.

Houseboat residents near the Olympic development site in east London say British Waterways is attempting to “cleanse” the area, said Nick Brown, legal officer for the National Bargee Travellers Association.

“It is sad that it took the hosting of the Olympics for London to really begin to take action against commercial sexual exploitation and the proliferation of the multibillion pound sex industry,” said Anna Van Heeswijk at Object, a women’s rights group.

Chinese factories cut production to reduce smog for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while Athens in 2004 evicted Romany families from their homes near the Olympic stadium, Amnesty International said at the time. The original route of the marathon in London was to take runners through the borough of Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest boroughs in the city.

Deprived East

London’s Olympic bid beat competition from Paris, New York, Moscow and Madrid in July 2005 after persuading the International Olympic Committee that the event would regenerate the city’s East End. The games will be held in the borough of Newham, the sixth-most deprived district in England out of more than 350 assessed, according to the 2007 Indices of Multiple Deprivation by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The Metropolitan Police’s human exploitation and organized crime command, has conducted 127 brothel raids since it was formed on April 1, 2010. Before the unit was formed police carried out 70 brothel visits, or raids, between January to August 2010 in the five boroughs closest to where the games will take place, according to data from the Met. There were a further 20 raids in Westminster and 13 in Camden -- two boroughs that may house many visitors during the event.

That compares with 29 raids over the same period in the 25 remaining boroughs of London, the data show. A spokeswoman for the police force said figures for the first quarter weren’t available.

Eros Centre

When Berlin was preparing to host the 2006 World Cup as many as 60,000 women were expected to fall into sex trafficking, according to a Council of Europe parliamentary assembly report. The city took a different approach. A 3,000-square-meter sex complex called the Eros Centre with 650 “service boxes” was built near Berlin’s Olympiastadion, according to the April 2006 report.

“No one coming for the Olympics will be the slightest bit bothered bumping into a lap-dancing bar,” Peter Stringfellow, 70, who runs two London lap-dancing clubs, said in a telephone interview. “You can’t have moral objections, you start that and you start banning a lot of things. Hypocrisy is a wonderful thing.”

Spearmint Rhino Ventures U.K. Ltd., which runs six lap-dancing clubs in Britain according to its website, didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

British Waterways, which manages 2,200 miles of canals and rivers, plans to impose mooring rules that may increase the cost of living on canal boats on the River Lee from about 600 pounds ($979) to 7,000 pounds a year.

Canal Boats

“It is absolutely despicable,” Brown said in a phone interview. “It is a wholesale deportation of the area, social cleansing. There is no question that the Olympics have played a part in that. They want the live-a-board boaters gone by the time of the Olympics because of the visual impact.”

Congestion on the River Lee and elsewhere on the canal network is an issue “with or without the Olympics” and the authority has invited boat owners to travel to London for the games, British Waterways spokesman Jonathan Ludford said.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said in February 2009 he would end sleeping on the streets of London by 2012. The U.K. faces a housing shortfall of 1 million homes by 2015, with London worst hit, according to property broker Savills Plc.

On the Streets

“The Olympics has given a greater focus on improving activity for rough-sleepers and that’s a good thing,” said Howard Sinclair, chief executive officer of Broadway, a London-based charity for the homeless. A total 3,673 people were seen sleeping on the street in London in the year ended March 31 with more than a third aged 35 or under, according to Broadway data on its website. That compared with 3,472 in the prior year.

Those sleeping on the streets are being harassed more frequently as local authorities give in to political pressure ahead of the Olympics, said Richard Burdett, the editor-in-chief of The Pavement, a magazine for the homeless.

“The worry for any target to solve homelessness, particularly the Mayor of London’s aim to end rough sleeping by 2012, is that as the date approaches boroughs and organizations are apt to consider coercion to move long-term rough sleepers off the street,” Burdett said by e-mail. “We blame the escalation in the harassment of rough sleepers on political pressure in the run up to the Olympics.”

Olympic Visitors

The cost of staging the games is estimated at 9.3 billion-pounds ($15 billion) and includes building five permanent stadiums including the centerpiece Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre, according the London 2012 website. About 320,000 visitors will come to London in the six weeks encompassing the Olympics and Paralympics, according to a study by the consultancy group Oxford Economics.

Adrian Bassett, a spokesman for The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, declined to comment.

The games may contribute as much as 1.5 billion pounds to London’s tourism between 2007 and 2017, according to the city’s official tourism agency Visit London.

The revival of London’s East End is long overdue after the economic collapse of the docks in the late 1970s, said Labour Party lawmaker and employment spokesman Stephen Timms, who’s lived in East Ham since 1978.

“East London has been the poor part of London for a hundred years or more, so it’s certainly been a long wait for this,” said Timms, 55, who was stabbed in the stomach last year while meeting his constituents at an east London community center. “The impact is going to be permanent and very striking.”

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