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.”

 

Rentboy.com Offers Male Escort Services in New York

IMG_4246The terms of service on the website Rentboy.com 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.

“Rentboy.com 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, DaddysReviews.com, “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 cyberpimp@rentboy.com 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 Rentboy.com, 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 rentboy.com, 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.

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