Offers Male Escort Services in New York

IMG_4246The terms of service on the website said that people could not use it to exchange money for sex. But federal authorities, who called it the largest online male-escort service and arrested the site’s chief executive and several other employees on Tuesday, said that was exactly what was happening.

The chief executive, Jeffrey Hurant, 50, and six other current or former employees appeared in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Aug 25, 2015 on charges of promoting prostitution.

Although the site, founded in 1997, required visitors to accept the terms of service, the criminal complaint said visitors would arrive at a home page stocked with escorts’ profiles listing sexual services and fees. Escorts pay to post the profiles, and the site’s visitors contact them directly to arrange meetings.

The site, whose headquarters are on 14th Street at Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, has had $10 million in sales since 2010, the criminal complaint says.

“ attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this Internet brothel made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution,” acting United States attorney for New York’s Eastern District, said in a statement.

The lawyer for Mr. Hurant, said outside court that the case represented a First Amendment issue.

“My client advertises for people who are willing to be escorts, to accompany people for their time and be paid,” he said.

“He’s upset and confused about how this legitimate business could become the subject of a Homeland Security investigation,” he said. The Homeland Security Investigations arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was involved in the investigation, apparently because it believed the site promoted prostitution across state and national borders.

“I don’t think we do anything to promote prostitution,” Mr. Hurant said. “I think we do good things for good people, and bring good people together.”

Putting up profiles costs escorts $59.95 to $299.95 a month, depending on how visible the ads are, according to the complaint. Website members then contact them.

Escorts list “primary interests,” ranging from “vanilla” (“nice and clean”) to leather to role play to other fetishes. “A user can filter by a number of categories,” from primary interests to preferred sexual position, the complaint says. There are also fields for the escort’s pay rates, the complaint says, including overnight and weekend rates.

A separate website,, “contains explicit reviews of the escorts written by previous customers,” the complaint says.

In one profile quoted in the complaint, an escort in Manhattan advertising as Ryan Raz said, “I have an innocent shy mid-west look, but once you get me behind closed doors it’s an amazing experience.” He charged $300 per hour for a standard visit.

Some of the complaint details “the Hookies,” or the International Escort Awards, which the website holds each year. The site’s marketing banter for the awards described them as “covering all aspects of the oldest profession as presented in the newest media,” according to the complaint.

At the 2015 Hookies, held this year at a West 42nd Street hotel, an undercover agent approached Mr. Hurant, who gave the agent a business card with the email address on it and explained that the Hookies were about celebrating sex “so good, you had to tell someone.”

One of the other six defendants is Michael Sean Belman, 47, the director of the site. According to the complaint, Mr. Belman has given interviews indicating that he knows the escorts are offering sex, such as describing the Hookies winners as “sexual therapists.”

Another of those arrested was Edward Lorenz Estanol, 23, an escort, Hookies award nominee and former social-media coordinator for the site. He charged $300 an hour, or $3,000 for a weekend, the complaint says. On his personal website, he wrote that “escorting is a great way to explore your sexuality and get paid doing it,” the complaint says.

Another is Diana Milagros Mattos, 43, a former saleswoman, who had “a Twitter account in which she identified herself as the ‘escort whisperer’ ” while she worked at, the complaint says, and tried to help escorts increase their social-media presence so they would get more clients.

All of the defendants except for Mr. Lukas made their initial appearances in Federal District Court on Tuesday and were released on bonds ranging from $50,000 each for Ms. Mattos, Mr. Estanol and Mr. Calero to $350,000 for Mr. Hurant. Mr. Lukas was arrested and made his initial appearance in South Dakota.

Conviction carries a maximum penalty for each defendant of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. The government said Tuesday morning that it was trying to seize the domain, which was not loading as of Tuesday afternoon.

Vagina Monologues in Taiwan

I’m in Snake Alley… I want to go home… I need to go home… I need… to… go… home…” (Exhaustedly musters up all the energy she has left and inhales deeply) (Lights gradually dim)

That was just one line from the script of the Garden of Hope Foundation’s Taiwanese version of “Vagina Monologues,” which was announced on in April 2015.

The script, which will come to life on the stage in 2015, focuses on the issues of sexual exploitation and sexual assault. It consists of three separated parts: “I’m 9 This Year,” which explores the topic of child prostitution, “The Bartender’s Ballad,” which follows the story of a female bartender serving American soldiers and “Pain Flies Away”, which deals with sexual assault.

In spite of its liberal use of black humor, the play offers an accurate depiction of the discrimination that victims face when seeking legal aid and reflects people’s hopes for a fairer judicial system that doesn’t further traumatise the victims.

Clip_59After 10 years of performing American playwright Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” the Garden of Hope Foundation has made the decision to return to its roots by performing a localized, Taiwanese version of the script. Written over the course of 3 years and consisting of 10 uniquely Taiwanese stories, the script was given the title “Shi-Di Episode”. The title is symbolic of the way in which the play picks “up” the life stories of marginalised, oppressed and abused women, thereby “rooting” out the social inequalities and harmful traditional views on women that are deeply ingrained in Taiwanese society.

The play features women as its main subjects and focuses on the themes of sexual assault, sexual exploitation and domestic violence.

Guests who were invited to the premiere were left with teary eyes after seeing a dramatic reading of “I’m 9 This Year.”

Famous actress Kuei-Mei Yang, who was also at the reading, commended the actress for her professionalism.

Performing this piece throughout the years has been a long journey, filled with countless touching stories.

During one performance that left a particularly strong impression, the actors were on stage relating their personal stories. One actor was shouting: “He was a bad person, a horrible person! But mother slapped me and told me to keep my mouth close. When my dad passed away, it felt like a nail that had been rusting in my heart for 30 years had finally been pulled out…” The performance gave many members of the audience the strength and courage to share their own stories about and experiences with abuse, as well as reassuring them that they are not alone with their problems.

Yu-Yin Guo, who is the coordinator of the “Vagina Monologues” project, revealed that coming up with a name for ‘Shi-Di’ (Uproot) was an interesting process: ‘Though in the ten years of performing this play, people have finally become less squeamish about the word ‘vagina,’ we wanted the play to have a distinctly Taiwanese feel to it, and found the title ‘Vagina Monologues’ very limiting. We went through a number of working titles and did a lot of brainstorming before coming up with ‘Uproot.’ Everyone loved the title because of the word’s connotations and because it captured the way in which the play picks ‘up’ the life stories of marginalised, oppressed and abused women and ‘roots’ out the social inequalities and harmful traditional views of women that are deeply ingrained in our society.’

The CEO of the Garden of Hope Foundation, reminisced about the year 1993, when the Garden of Hope Foundation united with other organisations to coordinate an event where thousands of people jogged through Snake Alley to oppose child prostitution. It was an appeal to the masses, encouraging people to attach more value of human rights of young girls. The event also played an important role in the renaming of the﹛Child and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act﹜ to the ﹛Child and Youth Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act﹜.

Among the plethora of joggers, Hui-Jung Chi recalled seeing Xin (name has been changed for confidentiality reasons), a young woman who had been rescued by Garden of Hope Foundation in the past. Xin said she had always felt hopelessly alone with her problems, but seeing so many people jogging together and standing up for her on that day swept her loneliness away in an instant!

Clip_144Xin was sold into sex slavery when she was in her fifth year of elementary school. When the Garden of Hope Foundation found her, she was around 14-15 years old and had been forced to get an indecent tattoo on her back. Garden of Hope Foundation rescued her and helped her get rid of her tattoo, but Xin had lost all contact with her family and had nobody to turn to for support. It was a board member of the Garden of Hope Foundation, who helped Xin out of her predicament by offering her a part-time job at his office. The money she saved from her part-time job allowed her to finish her studies and become the independent woman today. The two also became extremely close friends.

One actress lamented that the East Asian society tends to be very conservative and parents hardly ever talk to their children about sex. She believes, however, that one’s body and physical health are both very important matters and that victims of sexual assault and domestic violence need to speak out after the very first incident in order to prevent subsequent incidents from happening.

Director of Protection Services at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, stated that there are still three to four thousand cases of child prostitution every year, with both male and female victims, adding that cases of sexual assault range from ten to twelve thousand annually. She believes that everybody should adopt a zero tolerance policy towards domestic violence and stresses the importance of speaking out after an incident of domestic violence has happened, as well as emphasising that the victim is not to be blamed in any way.

Josephine, who has been directing the Garden of Hope Foundation’s production of “Vagina Monologues” for ten years, said when women who have fallen victim to abuse took part in the rehearsals, it was as though they regained their identities. Though their bodies sometimes still bore scars and marks from their troubled pasts, these women emanated a radiant shine on stage and Josephine truly believed they will inevitably become real stars one day.

Anile Hao, the playwright of “Shi-Di”, said the three stories presented in the script are all firmly grounded in reality. Because of this, the most difficult part of creating the script wasn’t writing the stories, but looking into their eyes. She was determined not to cry before the characters in her play did.

“Shi-Di” aims to educate people on the history of gender equality in Taiwan through drama, as it explores important gender issues and cases that have contributed to equal rights legislations. For example, the play explores the case of Wan-Ru Peng, which paved the way for the ﹛Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act﹜, the case of Ru-Wen Deng murdering her husband, which led to﹛Domestic Violence Prevention Act﹜, and the case of teenager Yong-Zhi Ye, which necessitated the﹛ Gender Equity Education Act﹜. Hui-Jung Chi hopes the powerful performances will empower women and shed some light on the importance of their role in Taiwan’s history.

The Invisible Sex Industry

Xiao-Hung Pai investigated UK’s sex industry as an undercover. She noted in the forum of her new book “Invisible: Britain’s Migrant Sex Workers” that when the government blames the “increasing illegal immigrants” for the exacerbating human trafficking, they forgot that poverty was the advantageous condition for human trafficking. If there were more harmful policies for transnational migration, the vulnerable conditions of migrants will be even worse.

Xiao-Hung Pai, a writer and reporter from Taiwan, investigated UK’s sex industry as an undercover in a brothel, and then published “Invisible: Britain’s Migrant Sex Workers” on April 9th. The book mentions that the limited job market leads to marginalization and pauperization. This is why Rumanian women have the largest number of sex workers in 60 countries of EU (In the UK, the largest number of immigrants working in sex industry are Rumanian, Russian and Bulgarian women).

When Hui-Jung Chi, CEO of the Garden of Hope Foundation, asked “Why did you interview as an undercover?” Xiao-Hung Pai humbly explained that traditional interview method keeps distant from these women and therefore are superficial. Also, the sex industry that these women worked in was rather secretive and most women did not have legitimate documents. Under these double illegal conditions, she thought the undercover was an appropriate way since she wanted to know the relationships between the labourers and the employers and the working conditions of these women.

Xiao-Hung Pai stated in the interview that there was one sex worker who she remembered most was an immigrant from China. Because of illiteracy, she could only use simple English to talk to patrons of brothel, “50 pounds for half an hour, 100 pounds for 1 hour.” Bai said that most sex workers came here to find a living because of poverty. They lacked of social connections and information so they had no choice but to work in the sex industry. They lived alone under social discrimination with no medical resources. They could hardly get any help.

She also did not hesitate to point out that even so many sex workers are in badly vulnerable conditions, they still chose to stay in the sex industry. Did they make this choice themselves? She believed that although they were not forced to work in the sex industry, it was difficult for them to get out of it due to the heavy economic pressure.

Moreover, unlike the common acknowledge that these women were forced to work in the sex industry, the choice was made by these women because of poverty. But Rumanian and Chinese women who accounted for the most immigrants working in the sex industry did not think they were forced to do this. They thought that sex work is a high-pay job, more money in short terms and a shortcut to escape poverty.

However, not everyone could shake off poverty. With the developing trend of globalization, the transnational movements of capital, technology and human resources are common. But during this process, because of the unequal statuses of exporters and importers in the political and economical structures, these movements lead to more exploitations and inequalities, especially for low-pay labourers.

Take Taiwan for an example, according to the statistics of Ministry of the Interior, there were 801,000 foreigners in Taiwan up to the end 2014. Among them, foreign labourers accounted for the largest number (68.9%), 552,000 people. Foreign spouses who havn’t acquired nationality comes as the second (5.3%). Adding up, the two groups of people accounted for 74%. They were the main ones who did the 3D work (dirty, difficult, dangerous).

Hui-Jung Chi stated that by investigating the sex industry as an undercover, Xiao-Hung Pai described many women who earned living for their families. They were “forced” to choose to work in the sex industry because of the flaws of the structure, the transnational movements and poverty. Most of them were the disadvantaged groups in economically vulnerable countries. They must fight for the basic living but the courage of those women and their difficulties were invisible to most people.

Coalition Against Human Trafficking pointed out that, although there were﹛Human Trafficking Prevention Act﹜(enshrined in 2009) in Taiwan, there were many cases that the accused were lightly sentenced or sentenced by other laws. These led to an increasing number of missing oppressed labourers. Till the end of 2014, there were still more than 40000 of them, about 8%. But, the government only tried to solve the problem by offering whistle-blower award (escape of labourers, illegal employment, mistreatments from employers).

Zhi-Fang Bai, the director of Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation and the representative of Coalition Against Human Trafficking, also indicated that the conversation with Xiao-Hung Pai reminded her of many cases during the last 10 years in the association. She pointed out that every year there are 140 cases related to the sex industry because of human trafficking in Taiwan. But 55% of the offenders were sentenced for less than 6 months. She hoped that Taiwan would implement the criminal sanctions and adopt compensation system in the human trafficking cases.

Xiao-Hung Pai used the UK as an example and said that, “In the beginning of this century, when many countries in Europe tightened the immigration policies and border control, the governments blamed the “increasing illegal immigrants” for the exacerbating human trafficking, “declaration of war on human trafficking” has been closely related to the policies of combating “illegal immigrates”…… This wrong correation clearly benefited the countries. During this process, the role of the countries…. in fact created favorable conditions for human trafficking, such as poverty……has been deeply forgotten.”

Hui-Jung Chi said that although Taiwan was not a member of CEDAW, the law has been internalized and therefore should be fully implemented. The Garden of Hope Foundation called for the acknowledgment of the social and economical contribution of the female foreign workers had made through the care work and the domestic work for the destination countries and their home countries. All the female immigrants should have their human rights protected, which include the right to life, freedom, personal safety, free from torture and degrading and inhuman treatment, and no discrimination regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, cultural features, nationality, language, religion or any other factors.

Prostitution: The Right to Buy Women

“Do we really want to raise our children in the belief that they have the right to buy women for sex? Won’t we teach them [instead] to have mutually satisfying and consensual sexual relationships? Won’t we teach them that women must be respected and not paid for?” – “Heaven”, sexual abuse survivor, exploited in a brothel from age 14

Clip_13Right now, Italian lawmakers are discussing bills that would undermine efforts to reduce sex trafficking and exploitation, make things worse for people in prostitution and violate their human rights.

Parliament is seriously considering legislation to decriminalize pimping and brothel-keeping; create legal “red light areas”; criminalize those selling sex outside of these areas; and require public registration and exorbitant fees for people in prostitution (Bill No. 1201, the ‘Spilabotte Bill’).

Alarmingly, it also proposes secondary school lessons for young men and boys on how to “safely” use people in prostitution — essentially teaching young people that it is ‘ok’ to buy sexual access to another person if you have the money for it, and normalizing the objectification of women and girls.

Essentially, the bill would stigmatize people in prostitution, normalize exploitation, and allow the Italian government to promote and profit from trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

In Italy, the vast majority of those in prostitution are women and girls, primarily from disadvantaged backgrounds and poorer countries. Many have been trafficked, and they are constantly exposed to serious safety and health risks.

Please join Resistenza Femminista and IROKO in calling on the Italian government to #ListenToSurvivors and reject the Spilabotte Bill and similar proposals. Rather than criminalizing people in prostitution and profiting from their exploitation, the government should enact legislation that protects their human rights and reduces exploitation in the commercial sex industry.

French Website Gleeden Encourages Married Women to Cheat on Their Husbands

ClipIn a country recently transfixed by the trial of a famous politician that revealed details of his orgy escapades, and where the President on his live-in partner, an ad promoting extramarital affairs might not seem like such a big deal.

But even in famously libertine France, the latest advertising campaign — evoking the temptations of Eve with a partly eaten apple — for a dating website geared to married women looking for affairs has spawned a backlash and a national debate.

The ads for the dating website Gleeden, which bills itself as “the premier site for extramarital affairs designed by women,” were recently splashed on the backs of buses in several French cities. Seven cities decided to withdraw the ads, and opponents have mobilized against them on social media, providing the latest example of a prominent cultural divide in France about the lines between public morality, private sexual conduct and the country’s vaunted freedom of expression.

The Catholic Family Associations filed a legal complaint against the site’s American publisher, Black Divine, in a Paris superior court. The Catholic group said the ad was crude and immoral and a reckless breach of an article in the civil code.

The article, written in 1804 during Napoleonic times and invoked during marriage ceremonies, stipulates that married couples must show each other respect, fidelity, help and assistance.

“I was shocked and disgusted when I saw the ad,” said a spokeswoman for the Catholic Family Associations. “Infidelity pollutes the couple and the family and destroys the social fabric of France. It is immoral to be publicly promoting adultery, and hurtful to infidelity’s victims.”

In conservative Versailles, site of the chateau of King Louis XIV, whose mistresses are described in 11 separate Wikipedia pages, the bus company Keolis said it withdrew the ad after receiving 500 complaints in a week. Normally, the company said, it might receive 900 such complaints over the course of a year.

In picturesque Rambouillet, the conservative mayor asked a bus company to remove the ad on the grounds that it breached the civil code and threatened the sanctity of marriage.

An anti-Gleeden petition that was circulated on social media garnered more than 20,000 signatures, while a #stopgleeden hashtag proliferated on Twitter.

The storm unleashed by the ads reflected a deep, though often overlooked, strain of social conservatism in France, underlined, for example, by the rise of the far-right National Front party, which in addition to railing against immigrants champions traditional family values in this nominally Roman Catholic nation.

Similarly, advocates of same-sex unions have been taken aback in recent years by the stronger-than-expected backlash against the legalization of same-sex marriage here, which prompted hundreds of thousands of protesters to take to the streets.

The conservative strain has provided the perfect foil for Gleeden and other extramarital websites that have sought to lure subscribers with controversial ads. Another Gleeden campaign on the Paris metro suggested that taking a lover was less expensive for the national health service than taking antidepressants.

A campaign by Ashley Madison, another extramarital website, featured President François Hollande and his three predecessors with smudged lipstick on their faces. “What do they have in common?” the ad asked. “They should have thought of”

When the ads were introduced, several were removed by the police, the company said.

Gleeden, launched in 2009, has a million subscribers in France, and 2.4 million globally, who can anonymously trawl profiles for lovers.

A Gleeden spokeswoman, denounced censorship, arguing that the lawsuit against the site was bogus since adultery in France was decriminalized in 1975.

Moreover, she said the website, run by women for women, was a form of justice since Frenchwomen had suffered the indignity of cheating men for centuries while historically bearing the brunt of punishments for infidelity, including being shipped off to convents or prison. “In 2015, religious organizations, whether Catholic or otherwise, cannot dictate morality to the French,” she added.

In an era of surveillance cameras, leaked emails and heavily publicized presidential affairs, sociologists said the desire by would-be cheaters to avoid getting caught by an irate spouse was helping to drive traffic toward extramarital dating websites, where the risk of detection was less perilous than seducing a neighbor.

The costs of infidelity were underlined here recently after the trial in February of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF, whose penchant for sex parties helped destroy both his political career and his marriage.

President Hollande was targeted by the news media after he was discovered in 2014 sneaking out of the Élysée Palace on his motorbike to meet his mistress, a French actress.

His scorned former girlfriend, Valérie Trierweiler, responded with a damaging tell-all book exposing how the affair had pushed her to binge on sleeping pills. It became a best seller and may soon be turned into a film to coincide with the 2017 presidential elections.

“A president can be a good president and a bad husband, and the French will not mix the two,” said a professor of sociology and the author of “The Four Faces of Infidelity in France.” She argued that in France, today’s generation of postfeminist, independent women were far less tolerant of infidelity than their mothers or grandmothers. While there were 30,000 divorces in 1960, she noted, there were 125,000 in 2012. She also noted that if women were turning out in greater numbers on extramarital websites like Gleeden, it was because at least some were spying on their husbands.

Human Trafficking Intervention Court in New York

Clip_13There is a Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens, which marked its 10th anniversary recently. It serves as a model for a statewide 11-court program that began in 2013. The intention is to change the legal conversation around the multibillion-dollar sex trade by redefining the women in it as victims instead of criminals. Most are offered a deal: Take part in a set number of counseling sessions, usually five or six, and the charges will be dismissed and the record sealed.

After 13 months, the five New York City courts are still a work in progress, their success tracked more in individual stories than statistics.

“This court is not devised to solve the problems of trafficking,” Judge Serita said of the program, “but to address one of the unfortunate byproducts, which is the arrest of these defendants on prostitution charges.”

All defendants in the specialized courts are presumed to be victims at risk, the first of many assumptions made, in part, because of the silence surrounding sex trafficking. That silence also makes it tougher to shift social mores. Not only do the police and the justice system still treat prostitution as a crime, but the women themselves, most undocumented, often don’t define themselves as having been trafficked — whether out of fear, shame or choice.

New York State’s progressive anti-trafficking law has no definition of a victim, but describes the coercive tactics a trafficker uses. These include fraud, physical injury, withholding or destroying immigration documents and exploiting debt.

At no point in the proceedings does the judge, the prosecutor or the defense lawyer ask if the defendants have been trafficked; nor is there a quid pro quo to give up a trafficker. It is rare, but the hope is that the women, perhaps after working with counselors, will feel comfortable describing the conditions that led them to prostitution.

“It’s a trigger mechanism to establish contact between individuals and service providers,” Judge Serita said of the court. “We know that five sessions is not necessarily going to change some people’s lives, but if they can establish meaningful contact with somebody else that can be used in the future, that’s what we’re hoping for.”

Clip_179Inside the courtroom, the drama may seem perfunctory. The defendants have been charged with prostitution or loitering with intent to engage in prostitution, both misdemeanors. After arraignment, Kimberly Affronti, the assistant district attorney who has been the Queens court’s only prosecutor since its inception in 2004, decides what to offer the defendants after discussing options with their lawyers.

“This court is a lot more nonadversarial than other courts,” Ms. Affronti said. “It’s a team effort.”

For a first offense, five counseling sessions is the primary option. A defendant can also plead guilty to disorderly conduct; a small percentage of clients choose to fight their charges and get sent to an all-purpose court.

During an initial appearance, Judge Serita will refer the defendant to one of the court-approved counseling organizations. Upon completion of the sessions, she will grant an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, which means that if the defendant stays out of trouble for up to six months, the record will be sealed. Over the past year, her court has issued 398 such adjournments out of 639 cases heard.

The Queens court has changed significantly in the decade since Judge Fernando M. Camacho founded it. Dismayed at seeing the same American-born teenage girls reappearing in his court for prostitution, Judge Camacho said he wanted to break the cycle by offering them alternatives to a criminal record or incarceration.

Now, a majority of the defendants who sit in the worn walnut benches are either Latin American women or, even more often, older, undocumented immigrants from Asia, ranging in age from 30 to 50. According to statistics Judge Serita’s court has kept, Asian defendants represented 27 percent of the cases in 2010. In 2014, they have made up 40 percent.

If Judge Serita, 53, seems sensitive on the bench to the plight of new immigrants, perhaps it is because she, too, was an immigrant, coming to this country with her parents as a 5-year-old from Sapporo, Japan. As an only child attending elementary school in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, in the late 1960s, she would bring the lunch her father, an artist, packed for her in a bento box. “I used to get teased all the time,” she said.

She turned an inclination for public service into work as a Legal Aid appellate lawyer and was appointed to the bench by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2005, becoming the first Japanese-American judge in the state court.

On Fridays, Judge Serita usually hears more than 40 cases in three hours. “How are you today?” she asks each of the women, inquiring whether they take English classes and praising their progress. Several defendants said they noticed less that she was an Asian woman and more that she had a warm demeanor. On other days, she presides over the drug treatment and mental health courts in Queens.

The trafficking court, she acknowledged, is a Catch-22: For people to feel less like criminals, they must first go through the criminal justice system.


Leigh Latimer, the Legal Aid Society lawyer assigned to Judge Serita’s court, agreed. “There is a somewhat more recent view that clients are potentially victims, but we’re still arresting them at a very rapid pace,” she said. “We’re trying to solve their problems through being arrested, which is not an affirming process.”

Judge Serita has tried to offset that by assembling a large network of counselors and court advocates. Judge Camacho originally partnered with Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, and Judge Serita has added a half-dozen more, including two that work with Asian women: Restore NYC and New York Asian Women’s Center. On Fridays, counselors from those groups stand with clipboards outside the courtroom, waiting to sign women up.

Moving in and out of the courtroom is Paul Puma, 40, the head court officer for the trafficking court. He, too, must make assumptions.

“When at any time a defendant comes in escorted by a male, I just ask the male to step outside,” Mr. Puma said, adding: “Nine times out of 10, I know I am speaking to their handler, or whatever you want to call them.

“I don’t want them in the court,” Mr. Puma continued. “I want the women free to be able to take advantage of the services this court offers. I don’t have a legal right to stop them from coming in there. But I tell them, ‘I’ll let the judge and the prosecutor know that if you insist on being here for this young lady, they’re going to want to know who you are.’ ”

One Mandarin-speaking man who waited outside seemed less than encouraging about the counseling sessions his female friend would be attending.

“As far as I’m concerned,” he said in Mandarin, “this is just propaganda.” He would not give his name.

On several Fridays, nearly a dozen women said during interviews in Mandarin that they did not feel like trafficking victims, but victims of the police. The women all spoke on the condition of anonymity because their cases were still pending.

“My name has been tarnished,” said one woman, who was upset that her case was “lumped with all those others.” She denied performing a sex act, but the police report contradicted that, Ms. Affronti said.

Another woman explained that she was arrested at 4 a.m. on her sixth day of work. She and her sister, who quit after the second day because she sensed “something was not right,” owed more than $80,000 to friends and family members who raised the money for them to come to the United States from Fuzhou.

That type of pressure to pay back smuggling agents — often with interest as high as 12 percent — is considered “debt bondage.” It is a more subtle condition of human trafficking, but is pervasive in New York’s Asian communities, lawyers say.

“Of course we have to borrow,” said the sister who was not arrested. “Who has that kind of money?”

The women who accept the court’s deal attend full-day group counseling sessions once a week; they often begin the day with yoga, and then learn about the court process, their rights and prostitution laws.

  1. — who asked to be identified only by her first initial because she had not told her family in China she had worked as a prostitute — told a common story of debt bondage. Last November, she owed $60,000 to the travel agent who arranged for her entry to the United States. Because she had to pay $500 for her airport pickup, she soon began running out of money.

She could not find a job without work papers, and by the time she started looking through the classifieds of World Journal, a popular Chinese-language newspaper, she was desperate.

The section is full of ads for so-called authentic massage — “tuina” — and there are plenty of questionable ones, too, like those looking for a “spicy little sister” or “a woman tender and warm.” One ad seeking massage workers promised $500 daily; another, “tens of thousands” for a month.

She was 42, alone and broke; she agreed to work at the first place that was hiring.

It was not until her new boss drove her to the job — in a Queens house — that first day, she said, that he told her she would be performing sexual services instead of massages. “All the women like you who come here and don’t have friends to help them — they all do it,” he told her.

One month later, she was arrested and felt humiliated. But after she appeared before Judge Serita and completed the counseling sessions, the charges were dropped and her case was sealed.

Ms. Latimer, the Legal Aid lawyer, put X. in touch with Sanctuary for Families, an organization helping victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence; Sanctuary is now working on a visa application for her and arranges medical appointments for her problems incurred during that dark month last fall.

“I recognize that I took the wrong path,” X. said in Mandarin in an interview recently, interpreted by Rosie Wang, 26, a legal fellow at Sanctuary and recent graduate of Columbia Law School.

“But,” X. continued, “I also think that if I didn’t, and these bad things didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be connected to so many people who have helped me so much.”

Despite the court’s innovative ambitions, it hasn’t always been able to meet the day-to-day needs of the women whom it aims to help. As the number of Asian defendants has surged in Queens, the private counseling agencies, already short of money, have had trouble keeping pace. Over the summer, defendants faced waits of up to six weeks to begin their court-mandated counseling with the New York Asian Women’s Center or Restore NYC. Both organizations said recently that there currently were no waits.

Danielle Sennett, a public defender with Queens Law Associates who is assigned to the court, said any delay could make it more difficult for clients to get work and could keep them stuck, living in danger. “Some women who are in high-risk situations are not being served,” Ms. Sennett said.

The courts do not keep a record of recidivism, although if women are rearrested, they often return to fulfill more counseling sessions. Despite efforts by the New York Police Department’s vice enforcement squad, advocates say the message has not always filtered to the precinct level to treat women as victims when arresting them.

So far this year, the Police Department recorded 686 arrests in Queens on misdemeanor charges of prostitution and loitering, including 149 in the 109th Precinct, covering Flushing, which is where most of the massage parlors in the borough operate.

Queens Criminal Court has only 15 cases pending for trafficking, a felony that is tried in a separate courtroom, deliberately far from Judge Serita’s court.

“In a system that prioritizes a high volume of low-level arrests, you still have to ask: ‘Who is getting arrested?’ ” said Kate Mogulescu, the supervising lawyer of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project for the Legal Aid Society in New York. “What’s the endgame?”

The New York State chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, acknowledged that “the focus should be on the demand, on the traffickers and the buyers.” But he added: “The reality is we don’t make decisions as to who gets arrested, and we want to assure that these victims get the assistance that they need and ultimately get out of ‘the life.’ ”

Clip_178M., 40, who asked to be identified only by her first initial because she is undocumented, is one of those trying to get out. Arrested on a prostitution charge in Queens in May, she went through the counseling program at the New York Asian Women’s Center; when it was over, the group told her to call if she ever ran into trouble again. She said she had been working at what she thought was a legitimate Manhattan massage parlor in September when her bosses forced her to perform commercial sex. They beat her and threatened her life if she did not continue, she said. Desperate, she called the Women’s Center, which swiftly connected her with Sanctuary for legal help.

Ms. Wang, who came to this country from Chengdu when she was 1 and jokes that she speaks Mandarin with an American accent, met with M.

Gradually, M. felt comfortable telling her of the abuse and became emboldened by Sanctuary’s support. “After the incident happened where I was trafficked, I was feeling very lost,” M. said in an interview, with Ms. Wang interpreting. “But now I feel like I have the courage to talk to people about it, including law enforcement.”

Like many Chinese immigrants who settle in Flushing, M. had applied for political asylum when she arrived. The lawyer she approached said it would cost $3,500 and demanded $500 upfront, which she paid. His office has since closed.

Sanctuary explained to her and many other clients that political asylum is rarely granted and applying for it risks deportation. Instead, women like M. are better off applying for a T Visa, reserved for victims of trafficking, said Melissa Brennan, Sanctuary’s senior staff lawyer in Queens. In July, Ms. Brennan created a free project involving seven New York law firms that have since given 34 immigration consultations. The program is now helping nine clients, including M., to apply for legal status.

“Launching this project, I never expected to see the level of disclosure that we have,” Ms. Brennan said. Six women have told Ms. Wang that they were victims, and Sanctuary is following other cases of potential trafficking.

In a court that is based on assumptions, success can be hard to define. Or it can come splashing down in grateful tears.

“I just don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else,” M. said.


Indonesian Brothel Closures Hit HIV Prevention

Clip_13Brothel closures in Indonesian cities could put sex workers in danger and hamper HIV prevention efforts.

In 2013 Surabaya’s firebrand mayor closed two of the city’s six red light districts, and in June 2014 she shut down Dolly, one of the largest sex work complexes in Southeast Asia. But while she is running the campaign in the name of public morality, research shows closing brothels puts sex workers at increased risk, and HIV interventions must adjust.

“Now if someone asks us `where is the red light district in Surabaya’, we have to say ‘everywhere’,” an HIV outreach worker in Dolly for 20 years said. Anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 sex workers used to operate in Dolly alone. But the now-empty alleyways do not mean the sex trade has disappeared, just dispersed.

Sex work is not itself illegal in Indonesia, meaning sex workers are afforded some protections – but mostly only if they stay out of sight, such as in brothels. Working on the streets or in other public venues such as cabaret restaurants, can come with increased risk of police harassment or violence.

While Indonesian brothels enforce strict health measures, such as regular HIV tests, others say such programs violate sex workers’ rights and cultivate reliant behaviors. With many brothels closed, HIV outreach workers are scrambling to change their approach.

Scattered on the Streets

The Surabaya municipal health department has made attempts to map “hot spots” of where sex workers are now going, and share the data with outreach staff. However, its efforts have had limited impact as the population is moving swiftly – sometimes even to other islands.

Now that more people are on their own, we hardly know where to find everyone – we rely on informal information, phone calls and gossip.

The 2012 Indonesian AIDS Commission’s report to the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS noted that non brothel-based sex workers “continued to be deeply disadvantaged in their access to information, supplies, and services”.

Since Dolly stuttered to a close in July, Susi, a 34-year-old former sex worker, has been working on a construction site earning 400,000 rupiah (US$33) per month – a fraction of her earnings at the brothel.

“I carry stones. My body is always sore,” she said. Most of her colleagues are former clients, but she does not do sex work anymore. “I can’t do sex work outside of the brothel because I am too afraid to negotiate prices and condoms,” she said.

“Many of my clients at the brothel asked not to use a condom. Sometimes I did it, and I made them pay a lot for it, but I knew I could bargain because they knew the 100 percent condom rule, so I could always ask security to throw them out. Now I don’t know how I would negotiate that outside, but the construction money is not enough for ever.”

Police Target Street-Based Sex Workers

A multi-year public health study on brothel-based sex workers in Surabaya published in 2014 said: “Street-based FSWs [female sex workers] are subject to legal crackdowns” while “brothel-based FSWs.typically are not subject to the same legal enforcement.”

The 2012 UNDP Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and UNFPA joint report Sex Work and the Law in Asia-Pacific explained: “Police use the vagrancy offence under the Penal Code as the basis for targeting street-based sex workers – including targeting outreach workers who are carrying condoms.”

The Indonesian government’s historical condoning of red light districts was, in part, a form of pragmatism.

The government has a history of working closely with the pimps and hotel owners to make sure the sex workers were at least safe. Brothels were typically quite control-oriented, with management only allowing their female sex worker employees limited amounts of freedom. It was an acknowledgement of the patriarchal culture that ran the place, but it was pragmatic.

Some street-based sex workers are locked inside rehabilitation centres and tortured for months by the police. There’s a reason women prefer the brothels. They know that the brothel owners have an incentive to keep them safe, and feeling well.

Once a month the health department would come do HIV tests. The pimps and brothel owners said we had to do it or they would kick us out, so we would do it, we didn’t have to plan for it because we knew it was coming. Or, as the 2014 health study explained: “Brothel-based female sex workers in Surabaya have been the targets of sexually transmitted infection control and condom use promotion efforts for more than 3 decades.”

More Risks For Sex Workers?

Since Surabaya’s brothel closures began, everyone associated with the industry is desperate to maintain income.

Now, because the professional sex workers are gone, sometimes hotel owners just ask random women on the streets if they want to have sex a few times to make money. Some of them say yes, but this is a very different type of person – she is not a professional. It’s not clear she knows much about sexual health at all because the brothels are where such things were taught and enforced.

It is that termination of health “enforcement” that has others worried.

A 2013 review of the USAID’s HIV work in Indonesia, published as red light districts were being squeezed, warned that “brothel closures can rapidly decrease the size of the population that can be reached.” The report said: “Staff at the district health office in Surabaya noted that they have no plan for providing HIV prevention services to female sex workers who will be affected by brothel closures.”

Enforced HIV Testing Counterproductive?

But the shift to the less-secure streets is not the only problem. The way brothels manage sex workers’ health, others say, may create more risk in the long run.

Indonesia’s 2010-2014 National HIV and AIDS Strategy and Action Plan promotes “100 percent condom use”. Dubbed “100% CUP”, the strategy involves registering and monitoring brothel-based sex workers.—ed_protect/—protrav/—ilo_aids/documents/legaldocument/wcms_173075.pdf


The approach has been popular among brothel owners and local governments in Indonesia, and data suggest some impact. According to 2011 Integrated Bio-Behavioral Survey (IBBS) data, 47 percent of “direct” female sex workers (or DFSW – those who earn money only from sex work, often brothel-based) report they always use condoms, compared to only 35 percent of “indirect” female sex workers (IFSW – those for whom sex work is not the primary source of income, and who very rarely appear in brothels). The report also showed that only 25 percent of IFSW had ever made contact with an HIV outreach worker, whereas more than half of DFSW had.

“100% CUP” has been repeatedly criticized, however, for leading to forced HIV tests. UNDP, UNAIDS and UNFPA argued that, “condom programs that rely on enforcement of mandatory measures by health authorities, police or managers of sex work businesses can be counterproductive to HIV responses.”

“We have only been able to create a real difference for the sex workers in the red light districts because that’s where we have been funded to focus,” one activist laments. “That’s where the plans and interventions have targeted.”

“We need to find ways in Indonesia to make health services available, accessible and acceptable to sex workers based on the principles of non-discrimination and the right to health,” UNAIDS-Indonesia country director saod, echoing WHO standards that universal access to condoms is more effective than regulatory measures such as coerced testing of sex workers.


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