New York Police to Limit Seizing of Condoms in Prostitution Cases

IMG_1793The New York Police Department will significantly limit the practice of seizing condoms for use as evidence in prostitution-related cases, ending a procedure that health officials had long criticized as undermining their efforts to protect prostitutes from disease.

The change has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s five district attorneys. It allows for the continued practice of using condoms as evidence in cases involving sex trafficking.

“This is a reasonable approach to targeting the most at-risk community as it relates to safer sex practices and continuing to build strong cases against the vast criminal enterprise associated with prostitution,” the police commissioner said in a statement.

Advocates for prostitutes and public health officials have been lobbying for this type of change for years, but attempts to pass legislation have repeatedly stalled.

In 2012, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the impact that the seizures were having on prostitutes in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington.

It included interviews with some 200 prostitutes, many of whom told investigators that the police would stop and harass them without basis, then use the fact that they were carrying a large supply of condoms as evidence of guilt.

One prostitute quoted in the report said she resorted to using a plastic bag as protection during intercourse.

At the time, some law enforcement officials expressed concern that a sweeping policy change would limit their ability to go after more serious criminals involved in the sex trade.

The Manhattan district attorney said that the new policy struck the right balance. “I have long believed that it is possible to address the use of condoms as evidence in misdemeanor prostitution-related cases without weakening our ability to prosecute serious crimes, like sex trafficking,” he said in a statement.

Kamalaris Rescued

The welfare of 117 young Tharu girls at the government’s Lawajuni Girls’ Hostel in the remote Narti village of Dang District, nearly 600km southwest of Kathmandu, is the responsibility of hostel warden Brija Chaudhary, 25. They are all former ‘Kamalaris’, rescued from the system of bonded labour still applied in many middle- and high-class households.

“They have a history of traumatic experience due to their exploitation from an early age,” said Chaudhary, of the Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF), an NGO working to support such girls.

Clip_54The ex-Kamalaris are usually girls and teenagers from the Tharu community, one of Nepal’s most marginalized indigenous groups. The majority come from five districts – Dang, Bardiya, Banke, Kanchanpur and Kailali – in Nepal’s Midwest and Far west regions.

Officially abolished by the government in July 2013, the Kamalari system was an extreme form of child labour, abuse and exploitation by the owners, who promised to put them in good schools in exchange for their free labour, according to the Freed Kamaiya Development Forum (FKDF), a local NGO in Dang.

“We all ended up being exploited, abused and unable to complete school… because of working 17 hours a day,” said Manjita Chaudhary, FKDF’s president and a former Kamalari. Many people in the Tharu ethnic group have the surname of Chaudhary.

Empowerment, Not Penance 

Over the last decade, 12,000 Tharu girls and women – ranging in age from 12 to 25 years – have been rescued by various activist groups.

According to NYF and FKDF there are still 500 in servitude and it is hoped that they will be rescued soon, once their whereabouts are confirmed.

Man Bahadur Chettri, head of NYF’s Indentured Daughters Programme, believes over 80 percent of ex-Kamalaris have faced various forms of abuse, including molestation, rape, physical violence and mental torture. 

But rescuing girls and reuniting them with their families is not the solution, and they should rather be empowered through free education and technical training. “They are determined to overcome their trauma by working hard to stand on their own feet today,” Chettri said in the southern city of Nepalganj, nearly 600km southwest of the capital.

According to FKDF, some 8,000 girls are studying in 1,100 secondary and high schools, 36 are attending bachelor degree courses, and about 2,000 who dropped out earlier are now taking vocational training in agricultural farming technology, nursing, engineering and garment manufacturing.

Self-reliance 

Clip_102The government has been criticized by activists and ex-Kamalari girls for not adequately providing support for their welfare. FKDF says the government provides little money for scholarships – barely $100 for postgraduate studies, $60 for higher secondary school (grades 11 to 12) and $20 per year for secondary education (grades 7 to 10).

A spokesperson for Nepal’s Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, said, “We have allocated 3 million rupees (approximately US$30,000) this year.” But activists and ex-Kamalaris said the amount is barely enough to help the empowerment efforts.

In all five districts, ex-Kamalaris have started cooperatives to help provide low-interest loans for income generation. Today there are 32 cooperatives with 1,200 members. “Many [borrowers] have started mobile phone shops, groceries… garment shops and other small businesses,” said president of the largest cooperative group, Lawajuni.

“We have to take our own initiative to build our own future,” said a 24 year old farmer in remote Sisinaya village. Two years ago, she took out a loan of $600 from Lawajuni Cooperative to grow rice and vegetables, and start going to school. She generated $5,000 this year and has already cleared her loan.

Another ex-Kamalari 22 year old took a loan of $1,000 to open a motorcycle repair business and today earns around $4,000 per year. “I have repaired over 1,000 motorcycles in one year and sold a lot of stuff. The business is good,” she said. She is one of only a handful of female motor mechanics in the country.

“They are in a hurry to be successful and prove their worth,” said garment skills trainer at the Lawajuni Training Centre in Nepalgunj. “This is their way of getting back at the society that exploited them.” Over 50 ex-Kamalari girls will be trained in garment making this year and have already secured positions in factories in Kathmandu, where they can earn good salaries and benefits.

“We can even start our own business,” said 23-year-old, a trainee at the Lawajuni Training Centre. “I have not forgotten my past, but that will not stop me from moving forward.”

Backpage.com Peddles Teenage Girls

Clip_460Emily, a 15-year-old ninth-grader, ran away from home in early November, and her parents are sitting at their dining table, frightened and inconsolable.

The parents, Maria and Benjamin, both school-bus drivers, have been searching for their daughter all along and pushing the police to investigate. They gingerly confess their fears that Emily, a Latina, is being controlled by a pimp.

I’m here to try to understand the vast national problem of runaways, and I ask if they have checked Backpage.com, the leading website for prostitution and sex trafficking in America. They say they haven’t heard of it. Since I’ve written about Backpage before and am familiar with how runaways often end up in its advertisements, I pull out my laptop — and, in two minutes, we find an ad for a “mixed Latina catering to your needs” with photos of a semi-nude girl.

Maria staggers and shrieks. It’s Emily.

A 2002 Justice Department study suggested that more than 1.6 million American juveniles run away or are kicked out of their home each year. Ernie Allen, a former president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has estimated that at least 100,000 kids are sexually trafficked each year in the United States.

Perhaps they aren’t a priority because they’re seen as asking for it, not as victims. This was Emily’s fourth time running away, and she seems to have voluntarily connected with a pimp. Based on text messages that her family intercepted, Emily was apparently used by a pimp to recruit one of her girlfriends — a common practice.

“Made about 15 or 16 hundred,” Emily boasted to her friend in one text. “Come make money with me I promise u gonna be good.”

So it’s true that no one was holding a gun to Emily’s head. Then again, she was 15, in a perilous business. And, in this case it turned out, having sex with a half-dozen men a day and handing over every penny to an armed pimp.

A bit more searching on the Web, and we find that Emily has been advertised for sex in four states: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The ads say that Emily (the name used in the ads, which is not her real name) is “fetish-friendly,” and that’s scary. Pimps use “fetish-friendly” as a dog whistle to attract deviants who will pay more for the right to be extra violent or abusive.

“We don’t care what she did,” says Benjamin, in a shattered tone. “We just want her back.”

The ads for Emily include a cellphone number to set up “dates,” and we pass the information to the authorities. The pimp’s phone number should make it easy to find the girl, so we wait to see what will happen.

Maria is bitter that the police haven’t done more. She has been pleading for months for help, hounding the police — and now she finds that her daughter has been advertised in four states on multiple prostitution websites and no one seems to have checked or noticed.

“I feel very strongly that it was racism,” Maria says. In fact, the Boston police force is admired nationally for its three-detective unit that fights human trafficking. This is the gold standard, yet, even here, a missing 15-year-old girl seemed to slip through the cracks.

Every day, more than 4,000 children run away or are kicked out of their home — and there’s negligible interest. We feel outrage when Penn State or the Roman Catholic Church ignore child sexual abuse, but we, as a society, avert our eyes as well.

Partly the problem is that many see sex trafficking as serious only when the victim is dragged off in chains; we don’t appreciate Stockholm syndrome or understand that often the handcuffs are psychological. Attitudes are changing, just as they have toward domestic violence, but too slowly.

There are failings here beyond law enforcement. You wonder about the men paying to have sex with a girl who looks so young. About the hotel clerks. And about why we tolerate websites like Backpage.com that peddle teenage girls.

Clip_17A few hours after I sent police the link, officers located Emily in New Hampshire. Police raided a hotel, rescuing her and arresting a man, Andy Pena, 19, who, they said, was her pimp and took all the money she made. Police said that Pena was armed.

Pena is in jail in New Hampshire; his public defender declined to comment.

Emily is ambivalent about her rescue. She’s in a group home, getting support from other survivors of human trafficking through a group called My Life My Choice. She’s still rebellious, but it’s a good sign that she hugged her mom. Maria wept.

Today Emily is safe, but there are hundreds of thousands of other runaways out on the streets. These are our kids, in danger. Shouldn’t they be a national priority?

 

Does Porn Hurt Children?

by David Segal

Clip_16Starting late 2013, Internet service providers in Britain made “family-friendly filters,” which block X-rated websites, the default for customers. Now any account holder who wants to view adult material needs to actively opt in — effectively raising a hand to say, “Bring on the naughty.”

The initiative, which was conceived and publicly promoted by the government, is intended to prevent what PM David Cameron called the corrosion of childhood, which, he argued, happens when kids are exposed to pornography at a young age. In the same speech, he seemed to toss teenagers into the group in need of protection, referring to “young people who think it’s normal to send pornographic material as a prelude to dating.”

And here is where the topic starts to get murky. It turns out that the research suggesting that teenagers and pornography are a hazardous mix is far from definitive. In fact, many of the most comprehensive reports on this subject come to conclusions that amount to “we can’t say for sure” shrugs. One of the most recent is surely known to Mr Cameron because it was produced by the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England. In May, the commissioner released a report titled “Basically … porn is everywhere,” which examined 276 research papers on teenagers and pornography.

After sifting through those papers, the report found a link between exposure to pornography and engagement in risky behavior, such as unprotected sex or sex at a young age. But little could be said about that link. Most important, “causal relationships” between pornography and risky behavior “could not be established,” the report concluded. Given the ease with which teenagers can find Internet pornography, it’s no surprise that those engaging in risky behavior have viewed pornography online. Just about every teenager has. So blaming X-rated images for risky behavior may be like concluding that cars are a leading cause of arson, because so many arsonists drive.

American scholars have come to nearly identical nonconclusions. “By the end we looked at 40 to 50 studies,” said Eric Owens, co-author of “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research,” published in Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention. “And it became, ‘O.K., this one tells us A, this one tells us B.’ To some degree we threw up our hands and said, there is no conclusion to be drawn here.”

The absence of definitive answers in this realm seems bizarre, at least initially. An entire generation has grown up with easy access to images and films that once required a photo ID or, for the youthful and determined, a Dumpster dive. And ready availability is just part of it. A lot of online pornography is violent. Much of it merely demonstrates the astounding breadth of sexual appetites out there. Who knew that watching fully clad women try to drive cars out of mud and snow would count as a fetish? It does, apparently, as the surprisingly tame car stuckgirls.com proves.

How could the professoriate not know whether viewing this stuff will warp a young mind?

Ethics are a big part of it. The ideal study, say academics, would round up a group of teenagers who had never viewed online pornography, then provide them with a steady dose of it for two to three months. At the end, they would be quizzed to see whether their attitudes or actions had changed. There would be tests for both mental and physical effects.

Let’s leave aside the difficulties of finding porn-innocent teenagers. Exposing them to sexually explicit material is against the law, which means no university would approve of such a study. And what if it turned out that pornography is harmful to teenagers?

A lot of review boards see this kind of research as a ticking time bomb. Universities don’t want their name on the front page of a newspaper for an unethical study exposing minors to porn.

Clip_198It doesn’t help that the technology is evolving so quickly. Video now streams efficiently to tablets and mobile phones, which has been true only for the last few years. Any study that looked at online pornography before these technologies emerged would understate the sheer quantity of X-rated material that a teenager can view, as well as where and when that viewing may occur. An iPad gets updated far faster than academic literature.

Simply defining terms in this realm is tricky. Justice Potter Stewart’s famous “I know it when it see it” approach to spotting obscenity isn’t quite rigorous enough for academia. Quantifying “exposure” and “harm” is difficult, too.

This is not to say that the vast body of research in this area is without lessons. Among the most prolific and revered researchers to examine teenagers and pornography is a duo in the Netherlands, Jochen Peter and Patti M. Valkenburg. The pair has been publishing studies about this issue for nearly a decade, most of it based on surveys of teenagers.

They found, as Mr. Peter put it, that “when teens watch more porn they tend to be more dissatisfied with their sexual lives. This effect is not really a strong effect, though. And teens with more sexual experience didn’t show this effect at all.”

The pair also found that adolescents who watch more porn than their typical peers are generally less averse to casual sex.

But almost as soon as Mr. Peter was done summarizing results, he started listing caveats. Pornography can never be described as the sole predictor of an attitude about sex, or any behavior; it’s always part of a constellation of predictors.

“I would be very cautious saying that what we found in the Netherlands is applicable in the U.S.,” Mr. Peter said. “Our findings are in a country that is pretty liberal when it comes to adolescent sexuality.”

If academia can’t shed a great deal of light on this issue, perhaps teenagers can. Miranda Horvath, one of the lead researchers behind the Children’s Commissioner report, says that the most revealing part of the research came during an improvised debate, where a group of teenagers — ages 16 to 18, both girls and boys — were divided into two camps. One was instructed to argue that pornography had an impact on them, the other that pornography did not.

The pro-impact camp did not lack for fodder.

They said it had an impact on their body image, on what young people think sex should be like, what they could expect from sex. They talked about how if you see things in pornography, you might think it’s something you should be doing and go and do it.

The no-impact camp could not fill up its allotted 15 minutes. There were more giggles than arguments. After a couple of minutes, the person chosen to speak turned to the rest of the team and asked, “What else should I say?”

Neuroscience tells us that young minds are still forming and thus malleable, and they tend to respond to emotionally charged material in ways that adults don’t. Given that pornography is emotionally charged, it would be shocking if it had no impact.

That may be why every academic I spoke to, even those who acknowledge that little is known for sure on this subject, offer cautionary advice.

“I have a son,” says Professor Reid of U.C.L.A., “and I don’t want him getting his information about human sexuality from Internet porn because the vast majority of such material contains fraudulent messages about sex — that all women have insatiable sexual appetites.”

There are lots of teenagers who will tell you that they know the difference between pornography and sex in real life, in the same way, and for the same reasons, that they know “World of Warcraft” isn’t an actual world. But researchers like Professor Horvath say it’s a bad idea to hope that kids intuit what is fake or misleading about pornography. Young people are still affected by X-rated images and video, she said, and many feel pressure to conform to what porn tells them they should or should not be doing.

“One of our recommendations is that children should be taught about relationships and sex at a young age,” Professor Horvath continued. “If we start teaching kids about equality and respect when they are 5 or 6 years old, by the time they encounter porn in their teens, they will be able to pick out and see the lack of respect and emotion that porn gives us. They’ll be better equipped to deal with what they are being presented with.”

At a minimum, researchers believe a parent-teenager conversation about sexuality and pornography is a good idea, as unnerving to both sides as that may sound. The alternative is worse, according to Professor Reid. Putting a computer in a kid’s room without any limits on what can be viewed, he said, is a bit like tossing a teenager the keys to a car and saying: “Go learn how to drive. Have fun.”

David Segal is a business reporter for The New York Times.

 

Police Arrest Women For Prostitution All The Time, But Almost Never Their Customers

Clip_11The average customer doesn’t know, care, or bother to find out if the woman he buys is under coercion or perhaps under the age of…

Criminalizing demand should work great! Look what it did to the demand for marijuana in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and it…

Yet that is beginning to change. There’s a growing awareness that sex trafficking is one of the most serious human rights abuses around, with some 100,000 juveniles estimated to be trafficked into the sex trade in the United States each year.

Some women sell sex on their own, but coercion, beatings and recruitment of underage girls are central to the business as well. Just a few weeks ago, New York City police officers rescued a 14-year-old girl in Queens who had run away from home and ended up locked up by pimps and sold for sex. According to court documents, she was told she would be killed if she tried to run away, but after three months she managed to call 911.

Police increasingly recognize that the simplest way to reduce the scale of human trafficking is to arrest men who buy sex. That isn’t prudishness or sanctimony but a strategy to dampen demand.

Polling suggests that about 15 percent of American men have bought sex, and back-of-envelope calculations suggest that a man has about a 1 in 100,000 chance of being arrested while doing so.

Yet stings to arrest johns are marvels of efficiency. In Chicago, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office places ads on prostitution websites. When men call, an undercover officer directs them to a hotel room. The officer negotiates a price for a sex act, and then other officers jump in and arrest the customer.

It’s an assembly line, almost creating traffic jams in the hotel. One time, a customer had just been handcuffed when the undercover officer’s phone rang: it was another john downstairs in the lobby.

“Just give me a few minutes to freshen up,” the undercover officer purred.

Donna M. Hughes, an expert on human trafficking at the University of Rhode Island, notes that police often are tougher on men who download child pornography than on johns who have sex with girls or women.

“I think there is still the old idea around that ‘bad woman’ lure men into bad behavior,” Professor Hughes said. “And the police don’t want to bring shame on the whole family by arresting the man.”

A basic problem is that the public doesn’t much sympathize with victims of trafficking. He remembers his department once raiding a dog-fighting operation to free pit bulls, and soon afterward raiding a sex-trafficking operation to free girls and women sold for sex. There was an outpouring of sympathy for the pit pulls, he said, but some carping about why the department was in the morals business and worrying about sex.

Yet, slowly, understanding is growing that this isn’t about policing morals but about protecting human rights. In more and more states,pimps are prosecuted more often, and minors are not arrested in prostitution cases but are directed to social programs. Sometimes that’s true of adult women, too.

As appreciation grows that human trafficking is one of the most serious of human rights abuses, so is the recognition that a starting point in addressing it is to stop making excuses for the men who perpetuate it — and start arresting them.

That’s happening more often, although the punishments are typically minimal. Here in Chicago, the men arrested were taken to another hotel room and made to watch a video about the risks of prostitution — such as sexually transmitted diseases — and then given a $500 ticket. They are advised to pay the fine immediately or a registered letter will be sent to their home address. There is no criminal record, and the men are released in about 30 minutes.

The men’s cars are also towed, which costs them another $700 or so. Mike Anton, commander of the vice unit, says that he always tells the married men that they can avoid towing fees if they call their wives to have them pick up the car.

“None of them has ever taken me up on that,” he added.

Dance Bars Re-Open in Bombay

Bars, Ban And After

  • 1980s: Dance bars begin to operate
  • 1990s: They thrive. There’s sleaze too, and exploitation of bar girls.
  • 2001: Chandni Bar depicts the trapped life of a dance bar girl. Wins a national film award.
  • 15 August 2005: Home minister R.R. Patil gets dance bars banned
  • April 2006: Bombay HC strikes down ban. State goes in appeal.
  • July 2013: Supreme Court vacates the ban, upholds High Court order***

Clip_37Munmun is not just a seasoned, self-taught dancer, but a gritty survivor of the harsh, garishly lit and strobed underbelly that is Bombay’s dance bar grind. It shows in her composure during interviews. It shows in the way she dresses and makes up impeccably, hides a giveaway accent by speaking in short sentences, leaves her long, lustrous hair open and awaits her turn to sing—not dance—at the Elora, an ‘orc­hestra bar’ in a western suburb. There’s an ordinary bar-cum-restaurant too, in the building, and, on the second and third floors, a guest house with a few rooms. Before the state government crackdown made it take the ‘orchestra bar’ tag, the Elora was a ‘dance bar’.

Thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, it will soon be a dance bar again.

News of the court vacating an eight-year-old ban on dance bars has brought cheer to the 1,000-plus bars in and around Bombay. The licences, stamped with orchestra permits, now need to be restamped with dance permits. Given NCP minister R.R. Patil’s commitment to morality, it may take more than a few days before bar owners can put together troupes of dancing girls. Before the ban, they’d swayed, emoted and flirted with their eyes to entertain drinkers and took home decent incomes from wages and admirers’ currency note showers.

The court decision means profits for bar-owners, mileage for some politicos, a victory for activists. For thousands of bar dancers, it means a right to a livelihood from what skills they have, free from the consciously prudish judgements of society and state on what’s good enough for which social stratum to be entertained by. It will mean much more to the girls if the ruling leads to a rational reassessment of laws and the framing of new ones to protect their wages and prevent this borderline business from pushing them into prostitution, as often happens. That may not happen soon, though.

For now, the customers—people, just like us—aren’t complaining. Neither are the girls. “I never thought I was doing anything wrong. Dancing comes naturally to me. There was a system in place and we were doing well,” says Munmun. The customers were neither allowed to dance with nor touch the dancers. Apart from a salary, the girls would retain 70 per cent of the tips; the rest would be divided among the bar staff. “Some days, we’d make `10,000, some days `1,000,” she says. “But it evens out, and we were able to provide decent lives for our families.”

Arvind, a corporate employee and former dance bar habitue, says, “Those days, I’d visit dance bars once a month or so and don’t regret it at all. It was fun. You’re tired, alone, you have a drink, watch the dances, blow up a couple of thousands. Where else would you see waiters sweep up 500-rupee notes from the floor! It’s fun to watch other men make fools of themselves. The dancers weren’t prostitutes. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. Why stop poor girls from running their families?”

Munmun had to pull her sister’s children out of school. Her own son is yet to join school. She looks after her mother, widowed sister and children. She doesn’t mention her husband. Most former bar dancers are sole breadwinners for their families. They’ve little schooling. “I studied till Class VII in Hindi. What use is that?” says Munmun.

The other girls in the green room with Munmun, striking in their make-up and dress, nod in agreement. This is their space, and the girls, who keep coming and going, are comfortable and loud in it. There are mirrors, there’s a platform where chai is brewed non-stop, there’s a Sai Baba picture frame with four currency notes stuck in the corners for luck. Next to a tiny bathroom is the passage to the bar. It explodes to music as four girls take the stage, waiting to sing a Hindi song or two. They can’t yet dance on stage; this is still an ‘orchestra bar’. They sing, smile a lot, and walk up to customers, who mostly hand out ten-rupee notes. Dancing would get them 500-rupee notes. The waiters and managers keep an eye on customers. The girls pray before they begin their shifts. There are a few male singers too.

The dimly lit bar can seat some 50 people. Most patrons are alone, sipping beer, munching on nuts, savouries. There are middle-aged men, the kind with wives and kids. Some smile and nod at the singers, but that’s about it. A girl with bundles of 10-rupee notes offers change to those who want to tip. A waitress in her forties, sari-clad and sporting bindi and lipstick, checks with customers if all is well. It is. But it isn’t clear if the air of suspense in this place—as in the 1,000 or so such places in and around Bombay—is real or unreal.

“A few girls are singing, there’s music, there are people appreciating it. What’s the problem?” asks Pravin Agrawal, the owner of the Elora. And Manjeet Singh Sethi, president of the Bar Owners Association—who sports two revolvers and swears by Guru Gobind Singhji—says, “We don’t object to the same thing at five-star hotels. We don’t object to the Lido show in Paris. Families go there. It’s all about perspective.” He emphasises that the association is keen to see that member-bars don’t break the law.

But films like Chandni Bar and pulp fiction set in Bombay have brought out the exploitation that is part of this business. “R.R. Patil says 75,000 girls are on  the periphery of prostitution, but does he realise it was the ban that pushed them into it?” asks Varsha Kale, of the Indian Bar Girls Union. She trashes the impression that the girls earn a lot. “A few, like the well-known Tara­nnum Khan, do—50-60 maybe. A few hundred make good money. But most earn just enough to lead decent lives. Why shouldn’t they? An educated person can earn from his scholarship. Can’t an artiste can’t use his skills?” Acti­vist Flavia Agnes says both the state and bar own­ers have exploited the girls. “We want a committee to conduct random checks and see that bars follow the law. The ban was devastating. Many girls were forced to return to their villages.”

Laxminarayan Tripathi, a transgender and activist who once worked in a dance bar, puts it bluntly: “You only want the girls to do NREGA work or what? Is that rehabilitation? I am against having underaged bar dancers and against trafficking. Isn’t it ironical that dance bars were banned but pick-up points weren’t. Let these girls make a living and give their kids an education.”

D. Sivanandan, former police commissioner of Bombay, is weary of the ambiguity. “Policemen end up following laws blindly. Manpower is wasted on moral policing. Any discretionary power ends up being misused. Let’s have laws applicable to all sections of society.”

But despite big talk about the dignity of all jobs and professions, the stigma around bar dancing is real and heavy. On seeing photographers, customers cringe. Managers become nervous and stern. “The world leaves you embarrassed even if you haven’t done wrong,” says a customer. One girl, covering her head with a dupatta as she rushes out, says, “We have families, we can’t be seen on camera as bar dancers. The media hype has done enough damage…I’ve enough shit to handle!”

On stage, another pretty lass croons a 1970s number. Betaab dil ki tamanna yehi hai,/ Tumhe chahenge, tumhe poojenge, tumhe apna khuda banayenge. Try not to fall for that.

 

Only 200,000 Living with AIDS in Burma; 60,000 Prostitutes

Despite a decreasing prevalence of HIV/AIDS among commercial sex workers, health workers say the stigma associated with prostitution and the harsh laws against it are undermining sex workers’ access to HIV-related services.

Burma has made remarkable progress, given the limited resources it’s had to combat HIV.

Resources are usually misspent by targeting the general community rather than at-risk groups. However, the country’s national strategy has included some strong targeting.

Burma currently allocates just 3.9 percent of its budget to health [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/96014/myanmar-health-snapshot ], but the figure will rise to 5 percent in 2014, which represents a fourfold increase since the end of military rule in 2011.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria [ http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/ ] resumed operations in Burma in 2011 and in September 2013 provided US$160 million for HIV services until 2016 – an increase of $90 million.

According to the Burma Ministry of Health [ http://www.moh.gov.mm/file/Ministry%20of%20Health.pdf ], there are 200,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, and approximately 15,000 people die of AIDS-related illnesses every year.

Prevalence has been decreasing in all risk groups other than drug users [ http://www.psi.org/myanmar ].

Surveys reveal that in 2008, prevalence among sex workers stood at 18.4 percent [ http://www.aidsdatahub.org/sites/default/files/documents/sex_work_hiv_myanmar.pdf ], whereas 7.1 percent of sex workers were HIV positive in 2012.

While government data estimates that there are currently 60,000 sex workers in Burma, PSI puts the real number at closer to 80,000. The national HIV infection rate is 0.5 percent, making HIV/AIDS a concentrated epidemic. However there have been quite a lot of deaths due to a lack of access to treatment [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/94943/myanmar-urgent-need-for-hiv-treatment ].

Laws curb access to health services

Clip_142The stiff penalties for commercial sex work contained in Burma’s Suppression of Prostitution Act (1949) are a major barrier to accessing HIV treatment. The punishment is one to three years in prison for sex workers, but clients are not punished under the law.

Very harsh laws are in place against sex workers, instead of the mobilizers, the traffickers and the gangs who push women into sex work.

Even possessing a condom could be used as circumstantial evidence of prostitution until 2011, when the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a directive to the contrary, yet according to UNAIDS most of the public are unaware of the directive.

People are still not comfortable about carrying large amounts of condoms because they could be targeted as sex workers.

Overcoming stigma

Another barrier to the prevention and treatment of HIV is the stigma surrounding commercial sex work – the word “prostitute” literally translates to “bad woman”.

Burma isn’t like other countries where sex work is more organized, with red-light districts which are brothel-based. There’s a great deal of indirect sex work, such as in massage parlours and karaoke bars. 

In 1998 an amendment broadened the 1949 legal definition of a brothel to include any place used habitually for sex. This was done in response to the growth of sex work conducted in karaoke bars and massage parlours, which frequently change locations due to harassment by police. The managers of these establishments often deny health workers access to employees for fear of prosecution.

Naing said as a result of this, trying to provide HIV services was “like trying to pin down a river. The next day you go back and the sex workers are no longer there.”

Is parliament ready?

In July 2013, the founder of the Sex Workers in Myanmar network (SWIM), an advocacy group for commercial sex workers, spoke in parliament about the legal barriers to accessing HIV services. “This government is so different from when I set up the network in 2009. I think the laws could even change before the 2015 general elections,” she said.

The legislature has a number of promising members who are trying to raise the issue. But there are also very vocal conservatives, and many who agree in conscience but fear they will be seen as attacking traditional values.

Burma may not be ready to decriminalize sex work. However, before the 2010 elections, there wasn’t even any public debate. With more advocacy… we may be able to turn the tide of opinion. 

Prostitution in China

Clip_146Bathed in the fluorescent pink light that signaled she was ready for business, the woman rattled off the occupational hazards of working as a prostitute in China: abusive clients, the specter of H.I.V. and the scathing glares of neighbors that tear at her soul.

“My life is so full of anxieties,” said the woman, known as Li Zhengguo, between customers one recent evening. “Sometimes my heart feels rotten for having given away my body.”

But her greatest fear is a visit from the police. The last time she was hauled into the local station house, Li was sent without trial or legal representation to a detention center in neighboring Hebei Province, where she spent six months making ornamental paper flowers and reciting the regulations that criminalize prostitution. Her incarceration at the Handan Custody and Education Center ended with a final indignity: She had to reimburse the jail for her stay, about $60 a month.

“The next time the police come to take me away, I’ll slit my wrists,” said Li, 39, a single mother with two sons.

Advocates for legal overhaul claimed victory after the Chinese government announced that it would abolish “re-education through labor,” the system that allows the police to send petty criminals and people who complain too loudly about government malfeasance to work camps for up to four years without trial.

But two parallel mechanisms of extralegal punishment persist: one for drug offenders, and another for prostitutes and their clients. “The abuses and torture are continuing, just in a different way,” said a China researcher at Amnesty International.

The murky penal system for prostitutes, “custody and education,” is strikingly similar to re-education through labor. Centers run by the Ministry of Public Security hold women for up to two years and often require them to toil in workshops seven days a week for no pay, producing toys, disposable chopsticks and dog diapers, some of which the women say are packaged for export. Male clients are also jailed at such centers, but in far smaller numbers, according to an advocacy group Asia Catalyst.

Women who have passed through some of the nation’s 200 custody and education prisons describe onerous fees and violence at the hands of guards.

As with re-education through labor, the police mete out custody and education sentences without trial and with little chance for appeal. “It’s arbitrary, abusive and disastrous in terms of public health,” said Human Rights Watch, which issued a report last year on the perils faced by women working in China’s booming sex trade. “It’s another rotten branch of the Chinese legal system, and it should be abolished.”

The Asia Catalyst report portrays custody and education as a vast moneymaking enterprise masquerading as a system for rehabilitating women. Established by China’s legislature in 1991, the detention centers are run by local public security bureaus, which have the final say on penalties. Former inmates say police officials sometimes solicit bribes to release detainees.

The government does not publish regular statistics on the program, but experts estimate that 18,000 to 28,000 women are sent to detention centers each year. Inmates are required to pay for food, medical exams, bedding and other essential items like soap and sanitary napkins, with most women spending about $400 for a six-month stay, the report said.

“Those who couldn’t pay were only given steamed buns to eat,” one woman told Asia Catalyst.

At some centers, visitors are required to pay an entry fee of $33 to see imprisoned relatives.

Those who have studied the system say that local public security bureaus earn a sizable income from what is essentially free labor.

Clip_3The Chinese government’s approach to prostitution is inconsistent. After the Communist victory in 1949, Mao Zedong made the rehabilitation of prostitutes, whom the Communists saw as victims of capitalist exploitation, a priority. During his first years in power, he effectively eradicated the trade. But the introduction of market overhauls in the early 1980s led to a resurgence in prostitution, and up to six million women were estimated to be working in the sex industry in recent years, according to a United Nations report.

Today, Chinese cities are full of “hair salons” with curtained-off back rooms and no visible scissors; at upscale karaoke parlors, young female attendants double as call girls. The police are often paid to look the other way, many prostitutes say.

But that apparent forbearance evaporates during periodic “strike hard” campaigns in which large numbers of prostitutes are rounded up, often before important political meetings. A police official in Liaoning Province told Asia Catalyst that cities and counties were required to meet quotas, prompting occasional “vice sweeps” to replenish jailhouse workshops. Legal advocates say the police sometimes use violence to extract confessions and force women to strip for photographs that become evidence of their transgressions. “The way they are treated is such a violation of their dignity,” said Shen Tingting, advocacy director at Asia Catalyst. “The entire system stigmatizes women and sends out a message that sex workers are dirty and need to be reformed.”

Women describe the camp labor as tolerable but tedious. In an interview, a 41-year-old native of southeast Jiangxi Province said she spent her days at one such jail making stuffed animals, sometimes until 11 p.m. “You’d sew so much, your hand would hurt,” said the woman, who would only give her street name, Xiao Lan, or Little Orchid.

She laughed when asked about the program’s education component — mostly long sessions spent memorizing the rules governing behavior at the jail. “We called the guards teachers and they called us students, but we didn’t learn anything,” she said.

Xiao Lan was released after six months, and she immediately returned to her old trade. “So, too, did all the other girls,” she said.

Reached by phone, public security officials in several provinces that operate large custody and education centers declined to discuss the matter, saying they were not authorized to speak to the news media.

Those seeking to abolish the system acknowledge a tough road ahead. There is little public support for reducing the penalties for prostitution, and China’s influential domestic security apparatus is unlikely to give up willingly the power and profits of the current system.

The indignities of incarceration do little to dissuade women who can earn more than $1,000 a month as prostitutes, triple the average income for unskilled laborers in China. Ms. Li, the single mother of two, said she was illiterate and could never make as much money in a conventional job. “I’m an uneducated country girl with no skills,” she said.

A former pig farmer with a giddy laugh, Ms. Li operates out of a cramped storefront in the commercial heart of Beijing. A flimsy wall separates her work space from the bedroom she shares with her sons.

She relies on a steady clientele, mostly married men and lonely migrant workers, but even the regulars sometimes try to leave without paying. Then there are those who claim to be police officers and demand free sex, customers who furtively cut off the tops of condoms, and drunken men who fly into violent rages when Ms. Li refuses to do their bidding.

“I’d call the police, but they always take the customer’s side,” she said.

With that, she excused herself to welcome a client who was waiting outside her door.

 

 

Thousands Opt for Intimacy On the Web

Clip_22A 25-year old woman whose fans know her as Lacey or Miss Lollipop, neither her real name, dipped an index finger into a small glass jar. She scooped up a dollop of foundation makeup and spread it on her forehead and cheeks.

“One of the other models showed me this,” she said, examining herself in the mirror. “It’s for high-def cameras. You don’t get that cake look.” She wore a low-cut purple cocktail dress and her hair was pulled into a loose bun.

“I’m late. I still have to set up the lights.”

She hustled to the corner of the small room to retrieve two inexpensive light stands. On the wall next to the lights hung some of Lacey’s props, including two wooden paddles she uses to spank herself. Most of her other sex toys and accessories were out of sight in a bureau and organized in bins.

It was 10 a.m. at Lacey’s home office, a three-bedroom rental in New Mexico. She was about to start work.

Lacey is a cam model. She performs one-woman sex shows, often from her house, though she has performed in a car, on a hiking trail, and once at an airport. The action is captured by a small, inexpensive camera clipped to the top of her laptop, and made available to anyone who visits a Web site called MyFreeCams.

The cam business, a kind of digital-era peep show, has been around for a few years, but as the technology has become better and cheaper, the concept of camming is proving well more than passing: it has created a money-making opportunity in a pornography business eroded by the distribution of free sexual content on the Internet.

Unlike prerecorded pornography, cam shows, which happen in real time, are hard to pirate. The traffic to the most popular camming Internet sites is substantial, with a handful of the top sites getting 30 million visitors a month, according to  Compete.com, which measures Internet traffic.

At any given time, hundreds of models are online, some being watched by 1,000 or more people, others giving private shows. The money generated by cam sites is hundreds of millions of dollars at least, and very likely a billion or more, according to industry analysts and executives.

The money generally comes not from subscriptions or pay-per-view, but rather from credits or “tips,” electronic tokens viewers give that allow them to interact with the models — instructing them through typed messages to use a certain sex toy or use it in a specific way. The Web sites provide the platform and then collect and distribute the tips to the models.

This payment structure, and the fact that the models can work in a safe place, slyly inverts the traditional power dynamic in the sex trade. A cam model does not need a pimp or protector. But as a decentralized business model in a traditionally sketchy industry, camming has its abuses, with some models driven by economic desperation or even enslavement. And some cam models discover that despite the sense of security the virtual platform provides, they still can be blackmailed, threatened with disclosure to friends and family, and pressured to do acts they didn’t bargain for. Using the Internet to find a mass audience exposes cam models to anonymous, unseen enemies, something Lacey learned the hard way when one customer apparently revealed her real name online.

There came a knock on the door of Lacey’s office. It was Jim Lewis, a retired Navy officer with unkempt gray hair and a goatee who worked as Lacey’s assistant.

“You’re late, Lolli. You want me to send a note?” he asked, meaning an e-mail to waiting viewers.

“I’m ready.”

Lacey’s regulars know many intimate details about her. But they may not realize that she runs a serious business. When she’s not on camera, she tracks metrics and promotes herself on social media, checks in with clients. She can’t see the men she performs for, but she watches their habits closely.

After Mr. Lewis returned to his station in the next room, Lacey picked up the laptop and placed it on a glass table beneath the lights. She let down her hair. It was the last day of the month and she wanted to end strong. In a good month, she says she makes $8,000, nearly six figures a year.

She clicked the laptop to start the camera.

“Hey guys!”

She started her work, a combination of old school titillation with a new economic model and serious new risks, too.

The erosion of the pornographic movie business has been well chronicled, and predates camming. The culprit was the Internet, which while it made pornographic content more accessible, also led to widespread piracy.

Camming is the next disruptive influence. Some content can be free to users but, in fact, tips and other fees produce substantial revenues. Exactly how much is a tough number to come by given that there are hundreds of sites, most privately held. Douglas Richter, an executive-level consultant with LiveJasmin, one of the most visited cam sites — and a competitor to MyFreeCams — estimates industrywide annual revenue from camming at more than $1 billion. The pornography business as a whole is estimated to be about $5 billion, a sharp drop from a decade ago. Steven Hirsch, the co-chairman of Vivid Entertainment, a prominent pornographic movie studio, said that while there remained a market for prerecorded movies and clips — available for download and through cable subscription — interactive entertainment, including camming, accounted for half of the sales in the industry.

Internet traffic numbers bear out the popularity of camming. According to Alexa, a site owned by Amazon that measures Internet traffic, LiveJasmin, which is based in Luxembourg, ranks as the 80th most popular site in the United States and 103rd globally. Compete.com, a unit of Kantar Media, reports LiveJasmin has around 25 million unique visitors from the United States per month. Compete.Com puts MyFreeCams at four million unique visitors per month, while Alexa ranks MyFreeCams as the 341st most popular site in the United States.

That traffic still pales by comparison to the draw of pornographic sites that offer free prerecorded content. Pornhub ranks 56th in the United States, but its prerecorded clips are free. Among the ways it makes money is by converting visitors to customers of cam rooms.

“Live cam has become the most prominent part of the industry,” said Alec Helmy, the publisher of Xbiz, a sex-trade industry journal, eclipsing previous forms of pornography in popularity if not yet in total revenue. “Camming is driving the adult industry.”

The sites make money through sales of tips. The users of the site (most, but not all, are men) buy the tips in bunches; on MyFreeCams, the cost is $19.99 for 200 tokens. The men “tip” the models by giving them tokens during a show. (They can also buy “private shows” for much higher rates.) According to Mr. Richter, from LiveJasmin, credits for tips are purchased by about one in 300 men who visit the sites with female models. He said the gay-male audience tends to buy more. (There are cam models and sites catering to different audiences.)

The cam model sites are talent aggregators, middlemen, but only in the sense that Apple is the middleman for bands selling music on iTunes. (MyFreeCams is registered to a man named Leo Radvinsky, based in Glenview, Ill. He did not respond to requests for an interview.) The cam models work for themselves, listing thumbnail pictures and descriptions on the sites. The sites keep a percentage of the tips, but the amount varies. Big earners can get a bigger chunk of their tips. Lacey tends to get 50 to 60 percent.

The business model has become so popular that competitors are racing to catch up. Witness the efforts of Kink, a pornography company based in an old military armory in San Francisco. A few years ago, Kink was seen as ushering in the new age of pornography; it catered to various fetishes by filming and streaming content ideal for Internet consumption. These days, Kink is turning rooms at the armory into cam studios that independent cam models can, effectively, rent. “Strategically, this is the future,” says John Sander, vice president for marketing at Kink. “The value of prerecorded content has eroded across the industry.”

Todd Blatt once produced pornographic movies in Southern California and had several Ferraris to show for it. Last year, he sold 72,500 pornographic DVDs he had collected over the years, getting $30,000 for all of them, compared with $700,000 he once thought the collection would bring.

“If you’re the middle guy who has been eating off this industry for 20 years, it’s a big change,” said Mr. Blatt, 45, who recently sold the last of his Ferraris. “The girls don’t need anybody.”

Incredibly Isolating Job

“Hello Dugging!”

Lacey, sitting on the floor, sipping coffee, greeted guests as their screen names popped onto her laptop.

The lighting was bad “because Archie chewed through the cord,” she explained to about 150 far-flung people she couldn’t see, who were watching from unknown locations. Archie, she told them, is one of two dogs she’s fostering.

For Lacey, this sort of virtual relationship is nothing new. Her first intimate relationship began online when she was 14 years old, back in New Zealand. As the middle of nine children, she found connection in a chat room on Napster, the online music service.

There, she met a 17-year-old from Arkansas named Dawson. That was his handle, not his name, which she declines to give. (Lacey asked not to use her real name because her parents do not know she is a cam model. She told them that she does marketing for pornography companies.)

Dawson visited Lacey in New Zealand when she was 18. They married, and she moved with him to Arkansas. There, she discovered that having a relationship could be tougher in person than online. “When we had a fight, honestly, if I needed to talk about something,” she said, “I would e-mail him, even though we lived together.”

She worked in an animal shelter, making $65 a day. With her marriage faltering, she started engaging in intimate relationships online. She read about camming on an erotic story site. When Dawson went to a trade school in another state, she decided to try camming. “I needed to make good money — immediately.”

Her first show was Oct. 1, 2010. She earned $50. The next day, she earned twice that. One night that December, $400. Then, the woman who owned the animal shelter found out and fired her on the spot, telling her only a woman desperate to feed her children should do something like this.

Economic desperation absolutely drives some women to camming. Some use it as a platform for prostitution. And some women, particularly overseas, are forced into it, sex slaves just working in a new medium, said Kathryn Griffin, a former prostitute turned sex-industry recovery coach who works for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston.

Even those women who become cam models of their own free will take on serious risks associated with sex work, Ms. Griffin said. Those risks, she said, run from the low self-esteem that comes from working on the margins of society, to using drugs to cope with a job that can feel shameful, to getting into other activities, whether stripping in a club or prostitution. The still-unsolved murders on Long Island of women who advertised as prostitutes on Craigslist also speak to the risks of going it alone in the sex industry.

“The longer they do it, the more vulnerable they become to going to the next stage and the next stage,” Ms. Griffin said of camming.

That said, Sienna Baskin, a co-director of the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project, said she was not aware of a widespread problem of domestic cam workers’ being coerced into the activity. “To my knowledge, it is not a very common form of human trafficking,” she said.

Kari Lerum, a sociologist at the University of Washington, Bothell, where she studies the sex industries, said camming could provide more comfort and autonomy than other sex work. “The women work out of their homes, it’s safe, they have more control over working conditions,” she said.

Clip_72Lawrence Walters, a Florida lawyer who is an expert in obscenity law, said that there was nothing inherently illegal about cam shows, as long as the models were over 18.

There is another risk. “There’s a perception that you can be a stealth webcam model,” he says. “That’s not always the case.”

Serena Blair, the stage name of another cam model, studied biology at a major university, but came to camming in 2011, frustrated that she couldn’t find a research position that paid more than minimum wage. Now, in a good month, she said, she makes $8,000 in tips. But the choice to become a cam model carries a burden: she fears her parents would shun her if they discovered how she earns money. She can’t put camming on her legitimate résumé, and not long ago she worked a night at a strip club, something she thought she would never do (and vows she won’t do again).

Lacey has faced more immediate problems. Two years ago, a particularly heavy tipper started making demands about what outfits she should wear. He became threatening. Afraid of losing his tips, she initially acceded to his demands, but then stopped. Soon after, her real identity started showing up around the Internet, tied to her cam name and her real address.

She went to the police, but was told there was nothing that could be done; putting real information on the Internet is not illegal. (She did get the sites where her information appeared to take it down.) Then, she found out that the same man had outed several other models, or threatened to. “My big fear is he would call my parents and tell them. If that happens, I will deal with it, but it won’t be pretty if it does,” Lacey said, adding: “Camming is like doing small-scale porn. Your image is out there forever. You have to be O.K. with that before you get into it.”

Some cam models said they weren’t prepared. “Camming is an incredibly isolating job,” wrote one woman, echoing the sentiments of others reached on an Internet forum for cam models, noting she was confident and happy on camera and increasingly withdrawn in the real world. “I spent so many hours a day” being the person she was on the webcam, she wrote, “that I have days where I no longer feel like my real self.”

Lacey seems more comfortable than some with those trade-offs. She said camming was “the best option but not the only option” for making money. She attended one year of college in New Zealand, and could have returned to go back to school or work in her parents’ hotel. “I never felt trapped.”

But she also said that camming was “potentially very dangerous.”

Back in her chat room, the tips were flowing. When they arrive, there’s a pinging noise — like a slot machine — that all participants online can hear. The tips also show up as lines of text highlighted in yellow on Lacey’s screen, typed by the viewers. Their responses can be seen by others watching, creating a strip-club dynamic, with the guys cajoling each other to tip, egging each other on.

Someone with the screen name BBB0223 tipped 24 tokens. That is $2.40, of which Lacey gets roughly half.

“Thank you BBB!” Lacey exclaimed.

The tip amount is not random. It pertains to the day’s theme, which Lacey calls the whiteboard game. It’s one of many games she has devised to draw tips from her viewers. Behind Lacey, a whiteboard is covered with 50 numbers from 20 to 70. When someone tips an amount on the board, Lacey erases the number. When all the numbers are off the board, she promises, she’ll start the racier part of her show. But behind the scenes, the hard-core business already is under way.

A New Kind of Intimacy

Outside Lacey’s office, at a desk beside the brown couches in her living room, Mr. Lewis was tracking the users in Lacey’s chat room, sending Lacey notes through a private channel when big tippers arrived.

Mr. Lewis is known to the regulars as Lolli’s Helper, his screen name. Lacey hired him last October. She was working five or six days a week on camera, often more than one session. She was also writing for her two blogs, running a membership site and posting to Twitter. She met Mr. Lewis at a local association of people involved with bondage and sadomasochism.

Lacey offered him 5 percent of her revenue to help her expand the business. He built a database of the screen name of every one of the 1,594 people who tipped Lacey since October and how much they tipped. Another database logs Lacey’s shows, the theme and how much money each generated.

This gave Lacey metrics. One of her best shows, in which she applied oil while in her backyard, brought in 48,795 tokens (about $2,439 to Lacey); the “maids and room service,” a more typical show, brought $534.85. She has Mr. Lewis look at what other models are doing, explore new trends, try to measure what works and doesn’t. She goes to pornography industry conventions. She offers promotions and prizes on Twitter and offers business counsel to other models in cam forums.

Lacey has a boyfriend who does not much mind that she spends time naked in front of other men, but he does say he wishes that she would sometimes stop with the round-the-clock entrepreneurship and “turn off the brand.”

That morning Mr. Lewis was monitoring the number of guests in the cam rooms. “She’s the eighth most popular room,” he muttered. Impressive, considering there are nearly 1,400 models online. A guest named “Whodeybuckeye” had tossed in nearly 10 tips. “Interesting,” Mr. Lewis says. “I’ve never seen him before.”

There were a few regulars hanging out, but not a lot of her big tippers. Among the missing was Alex K.

Alex is 53, a warehouse manager in western Massachusetts. His last serious girlfriend was just after high school. He describes himself as a loner, but less of one since he found Lacey. He has spent nearly all of a lottery pot of something less than $20,000 on Lacey. “She’s a very open person,” he said. “There are no lies. No big walls.”

Dr. Lerum, from the University of Washington, says men are more open, vulnerable and emotional in cam rooms than in, say, strip clubs. They can also become invested in a relationship that exists only on the screen. “This is mutual objectification,” she said of camming.

Alex spends hundreds to thousands each month on Lacey. He bought her things — a scarf, hat, coat, sex toys — and cleared out her Amazon wish list. He sent her a computer. They communicated daily by phone, usually by text. Finally, last year, he met her in person over breakfast at a pornography conference in New Jersey. Alex, who was interviewed by phone, said, “It was like meeting someone I’ve known for a long time.”

Lacey describes their relationship somewhat differently. It’s business, but also, she said, it’s “complicated, a friendship.”

Models like Lacey think of themselves as digital geishas, therapists, consorts, virtual performance artists. Unlike traditional pornography, or even old-school peep shows, the cam medium titillates with the promise of virtual friendship.

“They’re defining a new kind of intimacy,” said Viviana Zelizer, a Princeton sociologist and author of “The Purchase of Intimacy,” about the interplay between economics and relationships. It’s not traditional sex work, not a relationship, but “something in between.”

Blurred Lines

About 90 minutes after the show started there were about 1,150 guests in the room.

Then it was over.

Flushed, Lacey started chatting with the group, and the watchers responded to her with text questions and commentary. They talked about New Zealand and her dogs. “If you like me and miss me,” she said in a final plug, “check out my forum.”

After signing off, she appeared in the living room in her robe. Lacey and Mr. Lewis looked at the stats: It had been an O.K. morning, bringing in around $350.

A chunk came from the new guy, Whodeybuckeye, who seemed to have made the leap from lingerer to tipper. Two weeks later, when Lacey got the flu, she did a show from her kitchen, fully dressed, sniffling. Whodeybuckeye was there, part of the loyal gang tipping her to hang out and just chat.

With the business going well, Lacey and her boyfriend decided in June to move to New Orleans. There were several reasons: his family was nearby; Lacey didn’t like New Mexico’s dry air; New Orleans is “a destination city,” which other cam models might visit to do shows with her; and she might make some extra money persuading customers to visit and pay to have dinner with her. “No sexual contact,” she said, adding that her boyfriend would go along on these outings.

As she pursues the edges of this new business and the decision to move, she sounds like any young person describing the chance of a lifetime. “I didn’t want to wake up 10 years from now and say, damn, I had all that opportunity, and I didn’t take it.”

In this case, though, the opportunities show how this business can escalate, inviting potential hazard by further blurring the lines between the virtual and the real.

 

Turning To Sex Work in Sri Lanka’s North

Clip_77With more women taking up as family breadwinners  in Sri Lanka’s former war zone – the island’s north – the region is recording an increase in women turning to survival sex.

The number of women engaged in sex work is said to be as many as 7,000, considered by some as a conservative estimate.

Vishaka Dharmadasa, head of the Association of War Affected Women, a northern-based NGO working with sex workers, says:

“This was a new finding during a [local] household survey on women-headed households and livelihood requirements. They are under immense pressure to provide for families in homes where men are either dead or reported missing. It has made a sizeable percentage of women to reluctantly turn to sex work.”

The government estimates there were over 59,000 women-headed households in the island’s north in 2012.

“They bear economic burdens once carried by their fathers, husbands or brothers. Poverty and lack of options are driving women to adopt commercial sex as an income generator,” Dharmadasa added.

She says the “strong” military presence in the north, along with men from the south taking jobs in the north’s building boom, were “somewhat regular reasons for an increase in commercial sex”.

In addition, an increased number of Sri Lankan-born Tamils from the diaspora visiting their place of origin since fighting ended four years ago, has also increased demand for commercial sex, Shanthini Vairamuttu, a community worker from the district of Jaffna, said.

Fending for themselves

Sexuality is largely considered taboo in the north where caste and class are still decisive factors in women’s subservience.

After fathers, women are cared for by their husbands and, thereafter, by sons. Following almost three decades of civil war, and the loss of thousands of the region’s men, this tradition and structure have crumbled, requiring women to fend for themselves when before they were discouraged from leaving their homes except for agricultural pursuits or education.

“The structures have changed and the trends are changing, causing the emergence of fresh social concerns,” Vairamuttu added. “There would have been the occasional sex workers in these villages but not to the extent that it became known to the community,” she added.

Sex work is illegal under Sri Lankan law.

“Thousands of Tamil men have died due to the war or been reported missing. [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/98715/analysis-mental-health-cost-borne-by-families-of-missing-in-sri-lanka ]

“There is no point in sweeping this issue [of women turning to sex work] under the carpet of cultural conservatism. It is happening and we require better livelihood support initiatives,”said Shreen Saroor, founder of the Mannar Women’s Development Federation and the Mannar Women for Human Rights and Democracy, which work with conflict-affected women in the north.

The director of the Jaffna-based Centre for Women and Development, Saroja Sivachandran, whose organization conducted a survey from 2010 to date of 1,500 female-headed households in the north (the survey is being finalized), said there is reason to believe the sex trade is “slowly taking root in a region that boasts of tradition and culture”.

Few livelihood options

Sivachandran said improved conditions are needed to give women (traditionally homemakers) sources of income other than sex work.

“We try to encourage them to look for other options. But they say they have little choice,” said a health worker working in the north’s Mannar District who preferred anonymity. “We provide the women with condoms and give advice on contraception as protection.”

“We may not know the level of the problem. In a country where commercial sex is illegal, the chances of finding the numbers would be difficult without substantial studies. But it deserves attention and action,” the country’s deputy minister of social services, Chandrasiri Sooriyarachchi, said.

The north’s patriarchal and highly conservative social structure linked to Hinduism, which is the predominant religion practised in the north among Tamils, has made it difficult for researchers to study sex work there, but health workers and activists working with women say the loss of so many of the region’s traditional breadwinners (men), intense disruption to women’s livelihoods wrought by the conflict, and the slow return to normalcy are key reasons behind their turning to sex work.

“I did not want to be a sex worker. I come from a respected Hindu family. My father and husband both died due to the war. I am the eldest in a family of three girls. I have to provide for my mother, two sisters and my only son,” said 29-year- old Vasugi Ramalingam*, a Kilinochchi resident, widowed since the age of 20.

Traditionally, Hindus consider widows to be inauspicious and unfit for remarriage, leaving Tamil women to care for their families alone in a region marked by widespread unemployment. [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/95488/sri-lanka-legacy-of-war-unemployment-and-homelessness ]

Separatist rebels with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) waged war for 26 years to carve out a separate ethnic state in the island’s north where the Tamil ethnic minority – 12 percent of the country’s population – forms the majority.

An estimated 60,000 lives were lost in the war which came to an end in May 2009 with the crushing of LTTE by government forces.

Clip_63A UK-rights group has accused the Sri Lankan government of failing to address the marginalization and sexual abuse of women living in these former war zones in the north and east, an allegation officials dismiss as coming from a “diaspora-led false propaganda machinery”.

A report recently published [ http://www.minorityrights.org/download.php?id=1296 ] by the London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) said rape and sexual harassment of women in former war zones in the north and east are continuing even after the end of a 26-year civil war in 2009, and that 89,000 widows (based on a 2010 government estimate) – including some 40,000 female-headed households [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/98285/bleak-future-for-sri-lanka-s-female-headed-households ] – are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, exploitation and assault by army personnel, domestic tourists and others due to the women’s poverty.

In a general culture of impunity, MRG authors wrote, Tamil and Muslim women (the two largest ethnic minorities in the former war zones, 12 and 8 percent of the general population, respectively) have feared reporting crimes to police.

The report cited data from Jaffna Hospital in the north of 102 reported cases of rape and “severe violence” against women and girls from Northern Province in 2010, 182 in 2011 and 56 in just February and March of 2012.

MRG’s South Asia expert, Farah Mihlar, wrote:

“Tamil and Muslim women are especially concerned for their safety and freedom, and yet have little course for redress since they fear reporting attacks against them to the authorities.”

The island’s military spokesman, said that of 125 people found guilty in civil courts of perpetrating sexual violence in the north between January 2007 and May 2009, seven were security forces personnel.

After fighting ended, from May 2009-2012, of 307 people found guilty in civil courts of committing crimes of sexual violence, 10 were soldiers, based on a military assessment.

He added: “We deny in the strongest terms that there is a prevailing culture of silence and impunity for sexual violence crimes,” noting that the government has taken “legal action” and that convicted soldiers are referred to the military tribunal for court martial.

Citing the army assessment, he wrote in a statement recently sent to journalists:

“It is worthwhile to notice that only 11 incidents out of a total 375 reported incidents [from January 2007-May 2012] can be attributed to security forces. Therefore the inference that the presence of the military contributes to insecurity of women and girls in the former conflict affected areas is baseless and disingenuous.”

Demographic changes

The demographic shift following the civil war – from a largely homogenous Tamil community to one that includes more ethnic groups, including Muslim returnees [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/97297/briefing-sri-lanka-s-muslim-idps-25-years-on ] who had been forced out by Tamils in the late 1990′s, domestic tourists and, the authors wrote, the government-sponsored relocation of workers and households from the majority Sinhalese ethnic group, has heightened the threat of women being sexually exploited by armed forces and other men (sometimes from their own ethnic community) due to poverty.

“With the increasing presence of Tamil diaspora in their home towns (places of origin), community women have told us that their daughters are often being viewed as sexual objects and in some cases, been sexually assaulted,” a leading woman’s activist working in the north said.

For almost three decades, separatist rebels known as the LTTE fought for an independent state in the north carved along Tamil ethnic lines. Fighting ended in May 2009 with the crushing of rebels by government forces.

“After the conflict the situation has got a lot worse. People are less disciplined. There are outsiders who have come from other areas. There are lot of army people; they are in buses, everywhere,” said a Tamil woman from Mannar District, as cited in the MRG report.

The report explained how during the war, LTTE fighters (mostly followers of Hinduism) maintained a rigid code of conduct in areas it controlled, with sexual relations monitored and restricted to married couples. “While women do not necessarily approve of what the LTTE did, nor any similar regulation of their personal lives, the current context has left many feeling disoriented and insecure,” MRG wrote.

The current commissioner of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission [ http://www.hrcsl.lk/ ] (appointed by the president), Prathiba Lamanmahewa, told IRIN the island is committed to investigating all rights violations but will not be “bulldozed” by groups with vested interests.

“We have come a long way in post-war recovery. Most recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) [ http://www.presidentsoffice.gov.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=54:llrc-report&catid=53:nomenuarticles&Itemid=290 ], the blueprint for reconciliation, have been implemented.

Adequate steps have been taken to restore civil administration in the north and now there is a provincial council [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/98885/tough-times-ahead-for-sri-lanka-s-northern-provincial-council ] there. It is a process and Sri Lanka has fared better than many other conflict-ridden countries,” he said.

But local activists and residents continue calling for more [ http://www.irinnews.org/report/95785/sri-lanka-lot-of-talking-and-not-much-improvement-in-the-north ].

In interviews with some 1,800 households, a citizen group published a report in March [ http://groundviews.org/2013/03/14/the-numbers-never-lie-a-comprehensive-assessment-of-sri-lankas-llrc-progress/ ] this year concluding “little progress” had been made on the recommendations.

For allegations of sexual abuse, the MRG report called on the police to create Tamil-speaking desks in all police stations in former conflict zones, boost female representation among government officials in the north and east, as well as prosecute perpetrators.

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