Child Pornography Victimizes the Depicted Ones

Every time child pornography is viewed, it victimizes those depicted.

Clip_32That basic insight is deeply embedded in modern American law. In 1982, in New York v. Ferber, the Supreme Court held that child pornography was not protected under the First Amendment. The majority opinion recognized the unique harms associated with continuous distribution of child pornography. The court quoted academic research, which concluded that “Because the child’s actions are reduced to a recording, the pornography may haunt him in future years, long after the original misdeed took place.” And that was before child pornography went digital.

Child pornography is not like guns or drugs. It can be infinitely copied and distributed. Every time it is viewed, it victimizes those depicted.

More recently, Congress and the court have taken even greater steps to prevent and discourage unnecessary reviewing of child pornography in the Internet era. In 2006, as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, Congress enacted restrictions on a defendant’s access to child pornography evidence stopping the practice of defendants automatically receiving digital mirror copies of the evidence. In 2014, the court held, inParoline v. United States, that victims could receive restitution from those who possessed, but did not distribute or create, child pornography portraying them.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion clearly stated that “the harms caused by child pornography … are still more extensive because child pornography is a permanent record of the depicted child’s abuse, and the harm to the child is exacerbated by its circulation.”

One need not agree with the court’s decisions or the Adam Walsh Act to recognize the underlying idea that every distribution and possession of child pornography carries a new victimization with it.

If you put yourself in the shoes of a child pornography victim, you should recognize the incredible helplessness they experience as a record of their victimization is continually circulated among criminals who derive sexual pleasure from viewing their past exploitation.

Child pornography is not like guns or drugs. It can be infinitely copied and distributed. When the government distributes tangible contraband as part of a sting operation, it cannot hope to contain or limit the dissemination of the illegal goods.

If the allegations against the FBI are true regarding its control of the network for approximately two weeks, it actively participated in the revictimization of those depicted in child pornography with no possibility of controlling distribution. Such conduct is immoral and inexcusable. The FBI should have pursued its sting operations without child pornography distribution by utilizing alternatives such as virtual child pornography or by getting warrants based upon the identifying Internet information they could otherwise gather.


Calcutta’s Red Light Area

by Reema Abbasi

Clip_222Sonagachi in Calcutta wears indulgence without apology or remorse. Thin lanes stretch like veins in a 300-year-old district. It makes a single statement — freedom has to be seized for it’s the only possession that will stay forever.

The name means ‘tree of gold’; folklore has it that it was christened after a saint, Sanaullah Ghazi, entombed close to the Shiva temple in the colony. South Asia’s largest sex worker colony, Sonagachi is where over 18,000 women make a living in more than 7,000 four-storey brothels. And from all that the eyes and ears captured, this little city was not joyless.

Fabled buildings that lent their names to movies — Neel Kamal, Lal Kamal, Prem Kamal, Ganga Jamuna, Night Lovers Sangam and Nanda Ranir Bari — live on undiminished. Girls in Neel and Lal Kamal are mostly Agrawalis or Marwaris, who, it is speculated, prefer Muslim or Marwari clientele for affluence.

Clip_88“They take up to 8,000 rupees for a night but can throw you out after an hour,” says a boy lurking in the alley. He speaks of their beauty and insolence, recommending Nanda Ranir Bari for honest Bengali and Nepalese women.

Just then, a dusky girl with a large nose ring, in black leather jeans and boots, moves closer; her tattoos emerge as tales of feral power. “Nothing unique about us; you eat when you are hungry,” she smirks before walking away.

Clip_96The wider lanes are sets of seduction. The azure of the sky is barely visible through strings of red, silver and ochre that shimmer in the burnt gold of dusk. Jasmine and marigolds are spread on dewy mounds of foliage, iridescent musk stands and paan carts line up, and grille balconies double as boudoirs edged with dancing neon. The old carved facades are coated in pinks, greens and yellows, and in crevices business moves to pavements dotted with bedding, like the tight path of Shanti Palace.

As afternoon dulls, the paths are choked with women and brokers. Saris sparkle and guile populates finer quarters, whereas lower cadres are in scanty garb in deeper areas. Doors are left ajar to reveal seedy scenes to lure customers; decibel levels of negotiations rise by the second. It’s their daily cycle of life.

Inside, charm cohabits with crudity; customary patterns in alpana decorate doorsills and ceilings with marigolds and rose petals, against brocade curtains in reds and indigo. These tiny spaces have fragments of life separated in three tiers — at the top is the family platform, the middle has a worship niche and stove and the ground level is the service area.

Ironically, Subhanker, my volunteer, is prey to be shielded. “Don’t leave him outside. Women will lynch him if he refuses,” says Poonam who has spent 25 years here. “I came here after divorce and go to meet my six children once a week. They live with my mother and I live with my babu [partner] who cooks, does the chores and sends money to his family from my earnings. Most older denizens have babus,” she says.

Clip_68The air of empowerment is Sonagachi’s newest avatar; past lifetimes have left wounds that bleed into generations. Paromita, 55, meets me at the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), an initiative which has turned the colony’s fate around. “I got into this trade when there was child trafficking here to support my siblings. They moved on with normal lives; mine stood still. I have a babu and am a bai [madame] now,” she narrates. “We lived in dismal conditions — police raids, rape, child prostitution. Now there is a large Durga platform and processions, but until the late ’90s we were considered too impure to worship a goddess who is incomplete till the mud from a prostitute’s home isn’t mixed in her clay.”

Pramila Singh, having spent 40 years here, doesn’t mind if her educated daughter “comes into this line”. She vouches for DMSC too. “Now girls are free to roam and earn without fear of abuse.”

DMSC, founded by Dr Smarjit Jana, a public health scientist, in 1992, is now run by the community. A marginal community development programme, it ensures prevention from violence, child labour, HIV and STDs, provides micro loans, vocational, sports and arts training.

“No girl will entertain a customer who refuses precaution and there’s a price chart for fetishes,” says Paromita. “We have three-monthly blood tests and a doctor on call round the clock. A board monitors new girls. If she is unwilling or underage, we organise paperwork to return them to guardians. Our union ensures basic civil rights and a secure future for sex workers.”

Usha Bank and Usha Multipurpose Cooperative Society were established in 1995 and employ sex workers or relatives and sends out over 50 collectors for door-to-door service.

The collective addresses the soul too. “We have weekly meetings where sex workers are counselled for past traumas,” says Paromita. “Without recognising sex work as an occupation, support services will not empower women in sex work to live with dignity. It requires courage to challenge our mindset. This will help women in general and sex workers in particular to regain their sociopolitical space,” says Dr Jana.

Shohini Ghosh, director of the award-winning documentary on Sonagachi, Tales of the Night Fairies,supports Jana. “I made the film to make an intervention in the feminist debate on sex work, where the abolitionist position was dominant.”

The model has been replicated in South Africa and in Bangladesh. There is little reason for it not to inspire Pakistan’s health activists to adapt it so that thousands can be saved from violence and disease.

In Paromita’s words, “There’s no one way to see us. From one angle we are a tragedy, from another, we’re free. In the end we’re all dust.”

Many believe there is an end. But choice cannot be extinguished.

Twitter: @ReemaAbbasi

Hyderabad’s Red Light Areas

by Reema Abbasi

Clip_119The business of flesh hangs on despite the ravages of circumstance in the city of Hyderabad, with alluring names like Shahi Mohalla, Bulbuli Hazaar Dastaan, and Bazaari Husn, formerly Sundarta Bazaar.

Walking past the colonial quarters of Hirabad in Hyderabad, where intricate balconies and stone filigree jostle with modern-day eyesores.

Bazaar-i-Husn is said to be some 250 years old with over 600 multi-storey brothels and a hierarchy: the affluent leave their doors ajar — gaudy rooms in pink or red with ornate women who perform in cities or in faraway lands; some leave for a respectable life as the night ages.

By a corner of the ‘offices’, I met the man who has carried the taazia from here for decades. In a sharia-compliant pajama and a white beard, when questioned he went into contortions of denial: “I have nothing to do with this area. Talk to me about religion. I appear on TV for my expertise,” he roared.

But one could hardly slide away without catching his murmurs — “Firdaus hai aaj? Ya sab maiyyat mei gaee hain?” (Is Firdaus available today or is everyone at the funeral?)

Clip_12Some two doors from this sanctimony is veteran stage artist and dancer Jamila, known as Apa Peeno. A friend of the erstwhile movie star and one of the bazaar’s bygone caches, Chakori, Peeno belongs to days when the alleys had splendour.

“We learnt from Maharaj Samrat, and danced in beautiful clothes, heavy anklets, in the company of the genteel. It’s filthy now so I don’t live here,” she says as she takes us for a walk. We stop at a square with a shiny alam, above it a girl combs her hair on a balcony, and strikes a pose to grab lucrative attention.

“This alam stands all year; we bring it down 10 days before Muharram to decorate it afresh,” Peeno says after a quick prayer beneath it. “Saturday is not a night for chatter,” she smirks and leaves with her son.

But for some, every night is a night of exorcism of inner demons. Alia, a retired madam, joins us. “The rich ones will shut their doors now. I can take you to poor homes but they do nights. The government has banned us without another option. So we compromise our health and security,” is a wise gem from her.

A long stroll leads to a squalid hovel jammed with people. An irritable, gnarled woman is perched on the ledge outside it — she has brought a fresh recruit from Punjab. “Go and talk but she doesn’t sell,” says Bhootni Buriya — an apt name.

Her pit of sad darkness has seen glory — exquisite colonial floor tiles, lattice-worked walls, high ceilings and, like a patio, the upper floor opens into it with a grille balcony. It reeks of weed and alcohol; some refuse to awaken even in the din; a zombie-like man stares and two girls sit near the door. It was once home to former film star Neeli; the man with the vacant look is her uncle. A photograph of the girl who disowned them, adorns a wall. “Neeli now lives in Qasimabad and comes for Muharram,” discloses Alia.

Just then a policeman arrives. They are discreetly forbidden to talk; a girl disappears upstairs. “They take bhatta from us with free service,” cribs the old woman.
Clip_163For lower sex workers, the balance of power does not tip in their favor. However, Pathani, Alia and their ilk can call the shots. They were both abducted at 10 and 12 years of age. At a distance of a few yards from Neeli’s past is Pathani’s duplex where she rents a stark room. Still a beautiful woman, Pathani has spent 30 years in the trade.

At her place, the two embark on their tales of love and betrayal. “I have nine children. I was so happy when my ex-husband proposed. It was a way out. But he was another salesman like Alia’s; she stayed and I separated,” Pathani says with tears then cracks crass jokes about men.

“We do a lot of nasha. Where else will relief come from? Some men pay to talk for hours. Are doctors in short supply?” she laughs. Little does she realise that they are vessels of grime that send out cleansed souls.

Clip_115These are also places where you least expect a wish list of love. “Now I have a nice man. He is good to my children; no one can harm me. He will not marry me but I pray he ensures a respectable life for my brood.”

Pathani is Erum Bubbly’s relative — many years ago, Erum Bubbly shook Hyderabad when she took a bullet from her DSP boyfriend.

“She is a good woman who is happily married. Fairy tales happen,” Pathani smiles.

Bazaar-i-Husn bucks many trends. It is still a hub of syphilis as screening is rare, with negligible knowledge about precautions — despite the presence of a health NGO office nearby. “We know girls can’t be healthy after 13-hour workdays but if they are careful, business will dwindle,” Alia confesses.

Sadly, the area is a watermark of the time when it was washed with rosewater and sandalwood. Its women no longer stop to smell the roses.

Twitter: @Reema Abbasi


Central Asian Prostitutes in New Delhi

Clip_10 (2)Shakhnoza and Naaz were close friends and belly dancers from Uzbekistan. When their badly mutilated bodies were discovered in the capi­tal, investigators suspec­ted a money-related feud. Shakhno­za’s mother Shukurova and her two sisters, Zamika and Nadira, can’t bel­ieve she’s dead. They are camping in a tiny flat in Lajpat Nagar looking for justice and an answer to the many questions the murd­ers have raised—the trafficking mafia, prostitution, exp­loi­tation. “We’ll find the truth. We will help police solve the case,” says Nadira, who can converse in English.

Clip_4It’s not going to be easy. In many cities in India, the white flesh trade is now a lucrative business. And young girls from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) dominate the domestic prostitution racket in the cities, as also the social landscape of the nouveau riche. They are paid fixtures at birthday parties, marriage receptions, commercial events, rave parties, even at private dinners at the ubiquitous farmhouses. It seems everyone has a story or two to tell about their ‘white woman’ enc­ounter, like the one that was dancing in a martini glass, or serving drinks in diaphanous tun­ics. They are clearly there to add the sex quotient, dancing, entertaining, even playing host. Now the line that divides these activities with prostitution is very thin. In some circles, they are even gaining respectability. For last year’s Navy Day celebrat­ions in Delhi, two Uzbek women per­f­or­med a belly dance for 20 minutes and charged Rs 4,00,000. A senior naval officer justified the expense saying: “There’s nothing bad about it. Belly dancing is an art form.”  They are also hired and supplied by India’s leading event management company Wizcraft. A senior executive, Michelle Rocha, respo­nded to anOutlook query by saying: “The girls are hired in Delhi.” Even the Uzbek embassy refused to comment.

While organisations like the Navy may be just navel-gazing, this fetish for the white skin has bred a multi-pronged racket. A white woman can charge many times more than a local girl and there’s a rate list for every demand, depending on the looks, age, needs of the client, venue, duration, number of people and nature of activity. There’s even a rate for selfies with a bikini-clad blo­nde: Rs 2,000. And there’s no dearth of supply to meet the demand. An IB official estimates that there are some 5,000 girls from CIS countries in India, almost all here on tourist or medical-related visas. They are clearly all not just belly dancing. And a lot of it happens with the authorities looking the other way. Former special commissioner, Delhi police, N. Dilip Kumar, is forthright, “Organised crime cannot sustain its­elf without the complicity of enforcement agencies. An upright officer is attacked within the system if he or she creates hurdles.”  The system facilitates organised crime and works at all levels, from arranging visas to protection rackets.

Each day, there are any number of classif­ied ads in the leading dailies offering ‘Rus­sian massage’. The asking rate here could be anything from Rs 15,000 per hour in the afternoon to Rs 1,00,000 for the whole night. ‘Russian’ refers to anyone from the CIS region. One of the capital’s leading pimps is ‘Choudhury’, and he operates in south Delhi. Officially, he’s an instructor in a posh gymnasium and dabb­les in modelling. His most trusted ‘Russian’ is Diana, an Uzbek from Tashkent. She has many names, and lived in Delhi and Mumbai for three years before she left for Tashkent some time ago.  She’ll be back again soon.

Diana is in her early 30s and is typical of the kind of women who have taken over the flesh trade in the more affluent sections of Indian male society. She first arrived in Delhi with two cousins and a friend on tourist visas. They were part of a group of a dozen girls her age. They stayed in crowded Karol Bagh with a middle-aged woman from Tashkent who had Indian citizenship and was called Auntie. There are some 50 “aunties” in the capital today. They play friend and guide to these girls, luring them into prostitution. Many of these girls are here to earn money to pay off debts back home. Once they arrive, they hand over their passports to the auntie for ‘safe custody’ and she organises assignments. Like Diana, they go through a two-day orientation programme where they are told how to deal with Indian men. They are advised to say no to coercion or roughness. Even personal hygiene can be a strong enough consideration to refuse contact. They are given a safety kit, they carry pepper spray, premium condoms, and some carry a small knife as well. They move around the city in yellow-black cabs. The driver is a confida­nte, and they are usually accompanied by another man who waits in the car, in case of trouble. Their earnings are repatriated dir­ectly to their families back home. All their local needs are met by the auntie.

Diana realised the money paid to her family was a minuscule part of what she earns. So when she met Choudhury, she branched out. On her second visit, he helped her rent a house. Getting out of the organised cartel and dealing with an Indian pimp directly is lucrative, but it lacks security—Shakhnoza and Naaz paid with their lives. A large share of the earnings (60 per cent) now came to Diana, in addition to a monthly salary (Rs 15,000) and free digs. She made big money and was motivated to come back again and again. Tashkent now was just an annual sabbatical.

Clip_6Nowadays, Diana visits India with her boyfriend, Roger—a college dropout from Tashkent. They stay in an urban village in south Delhi in a small apartment. They want to secure their future by making some quick money; buy a house in Tashkent in the next two years. Roger, a lanky, bespectacled man with shoulder-length hair, and Diana make a great couple. Just that one is in the flesh trade, the other in the leather trade. On an average, she would meet two clients a day. On weekends, it’s as many as six meetings. She says she has so far ‘interacted’ with over 200 men here, intimately. A dozen are regular clients. One of them, a 37-year-old bachelor, is emotionally attached to her, has even offered to marry her. She told him about Roger. He was perple­xed, a prostitute in a relationship? “It’s impossible,” he told her. Roger never calls her when she’s at work. He considers her liaisons with other men a professional requirement. Diana put me in touch with two other girls, Svetlana, 24 and Ruby, 33. Dressed in tight black trousers, Svetlana first came to Delhi two years ago with her father; now Diana is her local family. Ruby lost her virginity at the age of 17 to a distant cousin. This went on for two years before they were caught in the act one night; she was banished to India.

The girls have a fair idea what to expect from men just by looking at them. While Svetlana finds it diffic­ult to converse in English, Ruby is reasonably fluent. Their Hindi is quite bad, mostly restricted to curse words. Their regulars are mostly rich college brats. The white girls are a nice diversion for them. Svetlana lived for six months in Lajpat Nagar during her first stay in ’13. She would spend the aft­ernoons in a flat in Kalkaji where men would arrive after work to relax in the company of a white woman. Ruby would often join Svetlana. One of the houses is actually run by a Punjabi couple with two teenaged children. There are four rooms in the house, three bedrooms with attached showers. “The wife would do the collection, charges are Rs 1,500 per hour,” informs Choudhury. She’s a mercenary in a sense, he says, forcing the guests out by 3 pm, before her children got back from sch­ool. Swetlana says it’s a watch-the-clock activity there, the men are always stressed, distracted by their phones. She particularly remembers a tall, fair man with a pot belly; he would visit during extended lunch bre­aks every other week. “I would sit by his side while he loosened my dress. He would tap my breasts like dialling a number on a smartphone,” she remembers fondly. Most times he only wanted to talk about his problems, his separated wife, his only daughter—a budding writer who’s pursuing a degree in an Ivy League college in the US.

For women like Svetlana, the work is the same, only the location and country have changed. They originally operated in Dubai and moved to India when the UAE started to crack down on such activity. The murder of  Shakhnoza and Naaz has now added an unwanted dimension to this cosy underground club that has become an integral part of the Indian urban landscape.

The general type they meet are pleasant, not very demanding, always grateful. Their sexual passion is like a plateau, doesn’t soar to any heights, but lasts longer. As usual, they want the best value for money. They aren’t interested in building personal rapports. They’re punctual, stick to the time allotted, payment is prompt, tip well, take extra care, arrange for transportation, usually prefer a five-star hotel.

Punjabis are the worst. They are so happy to be in the company of a blo­nde that they’ll want all their friends to know about it. They are hairy, and very demanding; brash in bed, rash in dispensation. “Do something nice, something new,” they would instruct sitting on a couch sipping rum. A Sikh trader who lives in the capital’s posh Defence colony, called a friend to brag, “Guess who I am with?” He promised that the next time “the two brothers will do it together”. He even made Diana chat with his friend, prompting her to tell him, “I’m having the best time of my life.”

In general, Indian men are either emotio­nal fools or misogynists. The former are keen to talk about themselves, their life-his­tory, struggles and quests. Like sleeping with the white girl was like a dream come true, a reward for all the struggles in their lives. They are also inquisitive about Uzbek girls—asking them about their parents, sib­lings, family, lovers, religion etc. The latter don’t talk much. They order the girls around, do this or that, as if they own them. Usually passive, they want the women to do all the work. They treat them with disdain but love clicking selfies. Skin colour is an obsess­ion. A local businessman app­a­rently told Ruby, “I have enough money to hire you for the rest of your life. But you Russians are like  candy—too sweet—can’t have you everyday.”

Helping Prostitutes in Murshidabad in West Bengal

On some nights, you may glimpse a slender 61-year-old woman, clad in a plain cotton sari, her hair tied back in a tight bun, quietly reassuring women in the red light areas of Murshidabad district in West Bengal that all will be well. “You don’t have to do this,” she tells them. “I will help you get out of it—if that’s what you want.”

Clip_10 (2)Meet Khadija Banu, who has been fighting for the rights of poor divorcees­ from Muslim families whose husbands have abandoned them, pronouncing ‘talaq’ thrice.  It all started in 2008. “I was attending a women’s conference in the locality,” Khadija Banu recalls. “The women were speaking about their many problems. One woman, who had just been thrown out of her in-laws’ house with her baby girl, was sobbing inconsolably. She was really disoriented, confused and traumatised.” A few months later, Khadija Banu attended ano­ther conference in Pune and witnessed similar scenes there. She decided then that enough was enough, and started the Rokeya Nari Unnayan Samiti (RNUS).

At first she operated from her own house. “Most of these women are from poor families. As far as their families are concerned—especially their fathers and brothers—after they are married off, they no longer have any rights in the parental home. So they live on without dignity or respect,” she says. “Abused and beaten at their husband’s house, they rece­ive the same treatment when they seek refuge at their own houses. Being uned­ucated, they are unable to earn a living. Their plight is heartbreaking.”

Khadija Banu’s focus has been on teaching them skills that will bring them economic self-sufficiency. “Stitching, embroidery or knitting, which do not req­uire literacy and do not involve much investment, are the most effective ways of making them capable of earning,” she says.

Her organisation has also made representations to the central government that personal laws that allow a Muslim man to have more than one wife should be changed. It has also demanded that laws recognising divorce through triple pronouncement of ‘talaq’ must go. “We want these laws scrapped,” Khadija Banu tells Outlook.

She says she is driven by two things. “I have an ideol­ogy,” she says. (She is a committed leftist and was actively involved in student politics.) “And I cannot live for myself alone.” Her work, she says, has the full backing of her husband Swapan Ghoshal, whom she fell in love with while they were both students.

According to Khadija Banu, trafficking of women and children is rampant in Murshidabad district. “They end up in the hands of traffickers and are forced into prostitution. My aim is to prevent this,” she says. “But with the survivors, it’s complicated, for they are doubly rejected by soci­ety. That’s why I go to the red light districts and try to talk to those have been trapped in prostitution and encourage them to return to mainstream life.”

It’s a very difficult transformation to make, but there are some who have been successful. A few are even willing to speak on record. Jyotsna Khatoon says she was married off at 13 and her husband sent her back home with a triple talaq. A second husband threw her out similarly. She now lives with Khadija Banu. Then there is Bilkish Khatoon. “She is educated,” says her mentor. “But she was beaten at her husband’s house and thrown out with her child. She was suicidal. I sent her to work with an NGO. Now she lives with dignity.”

From small beginnings, RNUS has managed to acquire a one-storey building. It serves both as a shelter for destitute women and their children and as a training centre to make them self-sufficient.

Governments Should Not Criminalize Sex Workers

1Amnesty International in its general meeting held on August 11, 2015 passed a resolution concerning “sex workers” which has led to immense controversy. The critics are urging Amnesty International to suspend the resolution and instead adopt the “Nordic model”, which punishes the client but not the sex worker, to properly defend the human rights of vulnerable women.

The critics say that commercial sex is not a career choice because of its exploited nature. Prostitution robs women of their sexual and economic rights and takes away their dignity. Associated issues of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, and sexually transmitted disease pay a heavy price on women’s health, often force them to sink into debt, and make them more vulnerable and at risk.

Sex work involves many complex and interlocking issues behind the sex trade and the industry. All need to look beyond workers’ rights and examine the inherent exploitation and oppression of sex work. Looking at supply and demand for sex in countries around the world, most providers are women and most customers are men. Since most women are selling and most men are buying, this is a form of exploitation of women.

Most women go into prostitution because they are vulnerable or sometimes they sell their bodies simply to survive. Governments should not criminalize sex workers but help them escape their poor living conditions. Sex workers should be decriminalized, but clients and brothel owners should be punished by the law (as in the Swedish or Nordic model). But Amnesty International supports “total decriminalization”, which means customers, pimps and brothel owners will all be decriminalized. Amnesty International even says it is “not opposed to legalization”. This is unacceptable.

The experiences of the Netherlands and Germany demonstrate that legalizing sex work increases human trafficking and does not give female sex workers reasonable working conditions or guarantees. Furthermore, human trafficking crimes are more acute in undemocratic, corrupt and economically disadvantaged countries. Amnesty International has long advocated for human rights, and fully understands how states violate human rights in the name of enforcing the law, but when it comes to legalizing the sex industry, Amnesty International has full confidence in the ability of states to enforce the law. We find this unbelievable.

The Nordic model should be supported which makes it “illegal to buy sex services but not to sell them”, strictly punishes third party profit-making activities, and promotes women-friendly welfare and employment policies. Sex workers should be offered a variety of alternatives to prostitution which violates women’s rights. This model has not only been applied in Nordic countries but also in Northern Ireland and Canada.

Buying Sex Should Not Be Legal

by Rachel Moran

302561_281516648527296_253132828032345_1214669_198904711_nIn Dublin, in August 2015, Amnesty International’s international council endorsed a new policy calling for the decriminalization of the global sex trade. Its proponents argue that decriminalizing prostitution is the best way of protecting “the human rights of sex workers,” though the policy would apply equally to pimps, brothel-keepers and johns.

Amnesty’s stated aim is to remove the stigma from prostituted women, so that they will be less vulnerable to abuse by criminals operating in the shadows. The group is also calling on governments “to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.”

The Amnesty vote comes in the context of a prolonged international debate about how to deal with prostitution and protect the interests of so-called sex workers. It is a debate in which I have a personal stake — and I believe Amnesty is making a historic mistake.

I entered the sex trade — as most do — before I was even a woman. At age 14, I was placed in the care of the state after my father committed suicide and because my mother suffered from mental illness.

Within a year, I was on the streets with no home, education or job skills. All I had was my body. At 15, I met a young man who thought it would be a good idea for me to prostitute myself. As “fresh meat,” I was a commodity in high demand.

For seven years, I was bought and sold. On the streets, that could be 10 times in a night. It’s hard to describe the full effect of the psychological coercion, and how deeply it eroded my confidence. By my late teens, I was using cocaine to dull the pain.

I cringe when I hear the words “sex work.” Selling my body wasn’t a livelihood. There was no resemblance to ordinary employment in the ritual degradation of strangers’ using my body to satiate their urges. I was doubly exploited — by those who pimped me and those who bought me.

I know there are some advocates who argue that women in prostitution sell sex as consenting adults. But those who do are a relatively privileged minority — primarily white, middle-class, Western women in escort agencies — not remotely representative of the global majority. Their right to sell doesn’t trump my right and others’ not to be sold in a trade that preys on women already marginalized by class and race.

The effort to decriminalize the sex trade worldwide is not a progressive movement. Implementing this policy will simply calcify into law men’s entitlement to buy sex, while decriminalizing pimping will protect no one but the pimps.

In the United States, prostitution is thought to be worth at least $14 billion a year. Most of that money doesn’t go to girls like my teenage self. Worldwide, human trafficking is the second largest enterprise of organized crime, behind drug cartels but on a par with gunrunning.

In countries that have decriminalized the sex trade, legal has attracted illegal. With popular support, the authorities in Amsterdam have closed down much of the city’s famous red light district — because it had become a magnet for criminal activity.

In Germany, where prostitution was legalized in 2002, the industry has exploded. It is estimated that one million men pay to use 450,000 girls and women every day. Sex tourists are pouring in, supporting “mega-brothels” up to 12 stories high.

In New Zealand, where prostitution was decriminalized in 2003, young women in brothels have told me that men now demand more than ever for less than ever. And because the trade is socially sanctioned, there is no incentive for the government to provide exit strategies for those who want to get out of it. These women are trapped.

There is an alternative: an approach, which originated in Sweden, that has now been adopted by other countries such as Norway, Iceland and Canada and is sometimes called the “Nordic model.”

The concept is simple: Make selling sex legal but buying it illegal — so that women can get help without being arrested, harassed or worse, and the criminal law is used to deter the buyers, because they fuel the market. There are numerous techniques, including hotel sting operations, placing fake ads to inhibit johns, and mailing court summonses to home addresses, where accused men’s spouses can see them.

Since Sweden passed its law, the number of men who say they have bought sex has plummeted. (At 7.5 percent, it’s roughly half the rate reported by American men.) In contrast, after neighboring Denmark decriminalized prostitution outright, the trade increased by 40 percent within a seven-year period.

Contrary to stereotype, the average john is not a loner or a loser. In America, a significant proportion of buyers who purchase sex frequentlyhave an annual income above $120,000 and are married. Most have college degrees, and many have children. Why not let fines from these privileged men pay for young women’s counseling, education and housing? It is they who have credit cards and choices, not the prostituted women and girls.

Amnesty International proposes a sex trade free from “force, fraud or coercion,” but I know from what I’ve lived and witnessed that prostitution cannot be disentangled from coercion. I believe the majority of Amnesty delegates who voted in Dublin wished to help women and girls in prostitution and mistakenly allowed themselves to be sold the notion that decriminalizing pimps and johns would somehow achieve that aim. But in the name of human rights, what they voted for was to decriminalizeviolations of those rights, on a global scale.

The recommendation goes before the board for a final decision this autumn. Many of Amnesty’s leaders and members realize that their organization’s credibility and integrity are on the line. It’s not too late to stop this disastrous policy before it harms women and children worldwide.

Rachel Mora­n is the founder of Space International, which advocates the abolition of the sex trade, and the author of the memoir “Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution.” 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.


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