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As much as a third of Western prostitution workers are Romanian

On April 22nd, 2015, Bucharest hosted, at the Parliament building, the international conference “Politicians and Civil Society against human trafficking”. The event participants on behalf of Western European civil society organizations warned that legalizing prostitution has made impossible to combat human trafficking. They also said that no more than 10% of sex workers are doing this on their own free will, stressing that this idea is an ideological assumption of the sex liberation movement and it is simply not true. They also announced statistics according to which as much as a third of sex workers in big Western cities are Romanian. Here is a presentation made by an organization who wished to remain anonymous in order not to compromise its reaching-out mission.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some thoughts, ideas and suggestions.  Our organization is an initiative for people in prostitution, in a capital in Western Europe.

I want to start with a quote. It is taken from the book Paid for by Rachel Moran, a former prostitution and now journalist:

Women in prostitution do not wake up one morning and choose prostitution. It is chosen for them by poverty, social disadvantages, past sexual abuse and pimps, loverboys who take advantage of their vulnerabilities and the men who buy them for sex of prostitution.

Our organization does streetwork, goes indoor to bars, nightclubs, brothels and studios. Every week we meet between 60 and 80 and sometimes even more women and also some men who are working in prostitution. Just before Easter we had extra outreaches and met about 768 persons in two weeks, 266 of them were from Romania, which makes 34%. Our estimation is that only around 30% of them have a Roma-background. These numbers from our Easter outreach confirm our previous observation that around one third of the women working in prostitution are from your country, Romania, and most of them are between the ages of 18 and 25.

We have a drop-in center and offer counseling and psycho-social assistance. We refer those who do not have any health insurance to medical care and we offer German classes. Our focus is to support the ones who want to leave prostitution as well as to rescue the ones who are victims of human trafficking. We network with two shelters in Vienna and with shelters in different countries of origin. We do public relations and work in prevention. The NGO is part of an EU-Civil Society Plattform against Trafficking in Human Beings and is also member of a Platform against human trafficking in our country.

We do lobby work and want to be a voice for the voiceless. Over the past years we have done a lot of research with the focus of gaining a better understanding of the people working in prostitution.

There are many cases where it is very clear that we deal with human trafficking – but the grey zone is much bigger and there are many cases that are not very obvious at first sight.

“Why does she stay with him?” This question we are asking ourselves over and over again. One day I walked over to Lavinia after having witnessed many times how awful the man who watched her day and night treated her. She had to work nearly the whole day, it didn´t matter whether it was raining or snowing, often she wasn´t even allowed to take a break for eating or smoking. I told her directly: “This guy is your pimp!”   I will never forget the sad look in her eyes when she answered: “Yes, but I first gave him permission!” They have two children together and he forced her into prostitution by threatening to kidnap their daughter and to then leave her abandoned on the streets. At home in Romania he has his official family, wife and children. Fortunately, Lavinia was able to escape later and the police from our country and Romania worked together and could even rescue her daughter.

Another girl, Roxana, told us, that her parents never liked her boyfriend. They started their relationship when she was 17. At the day of her 18th birthday he brought her to Western Europe. He had prepared everything and from then on she had to work on the streets. “Every evening I cry,” she told us,” I only do this job, so that we can buy a house in Romania one day. His brothers are bad, they offend their girl-friends when they don´t earn enough money, but he is so nice.”

Just some weeks ago we met Dorina, who begged us for help. She is from a very poor village from the Eastern part of Romania and has two children. Her husband is handicapped and has no work. One day a woman from her village told her about working in prostitution in our city. She decided to go and work there only for a short time. But – a couple took her into their apartment, took her papers, threatened her and she had to give them all the money she earned. Later, after we were able to rescue her and bring her to a safe place, she told us “This was worse than a prison, I wouldn´t wish this for my worst enemy. But now I´m free!” She was lucky, not everyone is!

Every once in a while a young woman opens up to us and says truthfully that her so called boyfriend doesn´t keep his promises, that she is not allowed to call her parents, that he takes all the money for himself and only feeds her with hope for a change etc. Usually though, next time we meet only one week later, she shows up with beautiful golden jewelry and suddenly he is “so nice” again.

The woman thinks it is her fault, that she works in prostitution and is always pretending to the men, that she likes what she is doing. But in reality she is fighting with guilt and shame, feelings of disgust, fear of violence all the time. It is an ugly job, not even worth to be called a job. Researchers have come to the conclusion, that more than 85% of the women working in prostitution have suffered sexual abuse in childhood. They come from dysfunctional family backgrounds and poverty and feminization of poverty are further enforcements that trap a person in prostitution. Very often when we are out in the middle of the night or we visit women in a filthy brothel or club, we lget to ook at the wonderful pictures of their children. Many of them have children, one, two or three. And they care for them! They even sacrifice themselves for their children or their own mothers who need an operation. In many cases the family doesn´t even know, what she is working. But- where are the fathers? Where are they? They are not paying alimony!

Modern-day slavery and pimping is a system of manipulation and exploitation. It often involves psychological violence more than physical violence. It is all about exploitation and it is all about an industry that only exists because of the demand. We have some clients who were even sold by family-members. Anna from Bulgaria had a horrible childhood and was often beaten so much, that she had to go to hospital. Her mother sold her to a Roma pimp, when she was 17. Another young girl, Maria was betrayed by her sister and sold into prostitution at the age of 16. Many women drink a lot of alcohol or take drugs, otherwise they are not able to survive this “job”.

The system of prostitution is evil. There are different levels of authority and control. Often when we are out on the streets we watch the expensive cars parking close by. Often when we talk to a newcomer only after two minutes her phone rings and someone asks who we are. Although nearly every woman is in company with a guy, we found out that at the same time there is someone behind and claims protection money, sometimes 1000,00€ a month. In small studios and clubs the women has to pay half of her income to the owner, it is a 50/50 arrangement. In brothels the women have to pay between 300 and 800€ a week to rent the little room where they receive their clients.

There is a great need for prevention! It is not only about training-programs and creating job-opportunities but also about education. How much worth does a female person have? Are men allowed to buy women? Are men allowed to act out their perverted sexual phantasies on vulnerable young beautiful women? It is an issue of gender-inequality!

One question is this: Is Prostitution a job like every other?

I still remember Loredana. There was so much sadness in her eyes when I first met her in a brothel at a time, when people from Romania were not allowed to work as an employee. “I was allowed to come into your country, but this is the only thing, I´m allowed to do?!” This is still the same with asylum-seekers, as long as they are in the process they are not allowed to work only as self-employed, often the procedure lasts for years. And in our country prostitution is a self-employed job.

In Western Europe we have two different mainstreams, one is defending prostitution as a normal job, the other is against prostitution and wants to follow the Swedish example where the law sentences the buyers.

I want to challenge us all to have a look to the facts –

It could be your daughter – it could be your sister…

I want to finish with another quote from the book “Transforming Trauma” by Anna Salter: A pimp was asked what are the criteria for him to “choose” a woman:

Beauty – yes. Sexual experience -you can teach that faster than you think. The most important aspect is compliance. And how do you achieve that? You get compliance, when you find a woman who has had sex with her father, her uncles and her brothers, – you know, with someone who they love and are afraid to lose, so that they are afraid to stand up for themselves. Then you just have to be a little bit nicer to the women than they were, but also more dangerous. They will do anything to make you happy.

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Franța: Solicitarea de „servicii sexuale” va fi sancționată cu amenzi usturătoare. De ce s-au întors feministele contra prostituției?

luxembourgprostitutionÎn luna aprilie, legislativul francez a adoptat o nouă lege care privește lupta contra prostituției și traficului de persoane, prin care se interzice solicitarea/cumpărarea de servicii sexuale, nu însă și oferirea/vânzarea lor. Clienții prostituatelor vor fi amendați sever și obligați la urmarea unor cursuri despre răul pe care îl provoacă traficul de sex.

Legea, votată cu 64-12 în Adunarea Națională, camera inferioară a Parlamentului francez, este una dintre cele mai dure din Europa și a fost promisă încă din campania electorală din 2012 de actualul președinte F. Hollande și de Partidul Socialist.

Prostituția este tolerată în Franța, dar bordelurile și proxenetismul sunt ilegale, iar oferirea de servicii sexuale ale unor minore este circumstanță agravantă la infracțiuni.

Spre deosebire de vechea lege din 2003, care interzicea oferirea pasivă de servicii sexuale pe stradă, noua lege mută atenția pe „clienții” prostituatelor, căutând astfel să atragă atenția asupra faptului că în marea majoritate a cazurilor, prostituatele sunt victime.

Amenda pentru solicitarea de servicii sexuale va merge de la 1500 euro la 3750 de euro (în caz de recidivă).

Legea va ușura ieșirea din prostituție a prostituatelor străine, multe din ele aflate ilegal în Franța, cărora li se va putea oferi un permis temporar de ședere cu condiția renunțării al prostituție.

Suporterii noii legi argumentează că se va putea astfel lupta mai ușor contra rețelelor de traficanți de persoane. Circa 85% dintre prostituate sunt victime ale traficului, conform declarațiilor parlamentarului socialist Maud Olivier, inițiatorul principal al proiectului legii, făcute pentru Associated Press.

Sindicatul francez al „lucrătoarelor sexuale”, Strass, îl contrazice vehement, unele dintre membrele sale afirmând că sunt prostituate de bunăvoie și astfel doresc să-și trăiască viața, iar unele dintre grupurile de drepturile omului neagă că noua lege va fi de ajutor în eradicarea flagelului prostituției.

Însă Mouvement du Nid (Mișcarea Cuibului), un important grup feminist care avocațiază abolirea prostituției și oferă ajutor material și servicii juridice și medicale femeilor care doresc să iasă din prostituție, a apărat detaliat și cu pasiune propunerea legislativă.

Comentariul nostru (www.antiprostitutie.ro):

În ce privește abordarea (reglementarea legală) prostituției, există, istoric, mai multe perspective.

Abordarea ultra-permisivă, în favoarea „legalizării” acesteia, a fost favorizată vreme de decenii în unele țări liberale precum Suedia, Norvegia și Olanda. Între timp, s-au putut studia din perspectivă sociologică și măsura statistic efectele acestui tip de reglementare, iar concluziile sunt că ea are consecințe dezastruoase, contrare celor preconizate: crește traficul de persoane, crește violența contra femeilor prostituate dar și contra femeii în general, iar infracțiunile asociate prostituției în zonele unde aceasta se practică (traficul de droguri și de arme) cunosc o creștere explozivă. În consecință, unele țări, din cele oricum nu foarte numeroase, care „legalizaseră” prostituția fie și-au modificat legislația drastic (Suedia, Islanda, Norvegia, Canada) fie au restrâns pe cât posibil zonele „dedicate” unor stabilimente de prostituție (Olanda). Vezi Evaluarea a 10 ani de politici privind prostituția în Suedia și Olanda.

Putem afirma deci că epoca „romantică” în care „lucrătoarea sexuală” (denumirea modernă a „prostituatei cu condicuță”) se autoafirma ca reprezentantă a aspirațiilor de egalitate și independență ale femeii a apus, făcând loc crudei realități: aceea că prostituția este exploatare și abuz și generează inegalitate și degenerare morală și socială.

Odată cu concluzia că prostituata este de fapt o victimă, abordarea s-a schimbat înspre măsuri de eradicare a prostituției, care se poate face în două feluri:

  • să se interzică femeilor vânzarea de servicii sexuale (amendă sau chiar sancțiuni penale);
  • să se interzică clienților solicitarea/cumpărarea de servicii sexuale.

În ciuda aparentei eficacități a legilor severe îndreptate contra prostituatelor, nici sancțiunile penale și nici amenzile nu au demonstrat că pot avea efectul scontat în reducerea fenomenului. Conform organizațiilor care încearcă să ajute femeile să scape din prostituție, situația dezastruoasă a celor traficate, sărace/lipsite de educație, care alcătuiesc marea majoritate a „ofertei”, nu se îmbunătățește în niciun fel prin împovărarea lor cu sancțiuni.

Începând cu anii 1990, câștigă teren tot mai mult în ultimele așa-numitul „model suedez”, pe care l-a adoptat acum și Franța: sancționarea doar a cererii de servicii sexuale, însoțită de măsuri de sprijin concret pentru femeile victime ale prostituției (acte și permise de ședere, protecție legală, cursuri de calificare, adăpost temporar etc).

Interesant este că prostituția pare fenomenul care divide astăzi cel mai puternic curentul feminist. Dacă o parte din feministe sunt încă favorabile „libertății” de a practica „meseria”, văzută cândva ca o cale către o himerică „egalitate cu bărbații” în ce privește câștigarea traiului și proprietatea asupra corpului, majoritatea, inclusiv organizațiile feministe majore, luptă cu îndârjire contra prostituției. A se vedea spre exemplu Prostituția și supremația masculină și Optsprezece mituri despre prostituție.

Așadar, timpul s-a dovedit un judecător drept. Au trecut doar 3-4 decenii de prostituție legală pentru ca feministele să realizeze ce este prostituția. Așteptăm cu speranță ca și în cazul avortului să se întâmple același lucru. Nu poate fi departe momentul în care o masă critică de femei va admite că avortul aduce nu eliberare, ci moarte și mizerie, și că acceptarea sa înseamnă nu egalitate, ci legitimarea exploatării celei mai crunte a femeii.

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Is Prostitution Just Another Job?

Chelsea Lane was a freshman at Reed, the esteemed liberal-arts college in Portland, Oregon, when she first became ­interested in sex work. Someone in her humanities class had a Tumblr about being a prostitute, prompting a lively debate among fellow students over whether they could ever sell their bodies. “I started reading sex workers’ blogs,” Lane explains. The women behind the blogs sounded confident, financially secure. “And within Reed, it was like, ‘That’s cool. That’s edgy.’ ”

Lane describes herself as “fat and hairy” and is so pale she almost glows. She grew up poor but “had a zero-trauma childhood” in a conservative Northern California town. “My parents were the most supportive,” she says. “They’ve been married for 35 years and still love each other. They did tell me I’m beautiful and awesome.’ ” But she still felt insecure about her body and about sex. “They’re your parents, so they don’t say, ‘You’re a beautiful sexual creature.’ Because that’s creepy and weird. There’s a disconnect between thinking I can do anything in life versus thinking I’m beautiful physically.” Lane, who had lost her virginity to another virgin at Reed in what she describes as “really disappointing and bad” sex, started contacting the sex-work bloggers, asking if curvy girls could be strippers. “I didn’t feel attractive or wanted, but these ladies told me that everybody has beauty and that there is someone out there who will appreciate it — who’ll even pay for it.”

The more she learned, the more appealing sex work became. She had visions of going to grad school and liked the idea of having wealthy men fund her education. Later in her freshman year, she posted a personal ad on a sugar-daddy website. She met her first client at a hotel. “The sex was really bad,” she says, “but he was a decent guy. He was in his mid-40s. He told me that I was the second person he’d ever slept with, other than his wife. He put the money in my purse. As soon as I got in my car, I counted and was like, ‘Holy ***, that’s $300!’ At this point, I’m 18 and working at Sears. I was excited.”

03. 18-sex-workers-1.w1024From there, sex quickly became a side job. She’d meet about ten clients a week, making $1,000 to $1,500. “The first several months of me escorting was like, ‘I relish their worshipping my body.’ It’s amazing. There have been two clients throughout my entire time that made me feel dirty, and that’s because it was obvious they didn’t see me as a person. But that was two out of hundreds.” And anyway, she says, “I can think of personal partners who treated me like that.”

She has her own Tumblr now. On her first anniversary of escorting, in February 2015, she wrote that, at 20 years old, she is less isolated, better paid, in contact with “wonderful” people, and “getting laid on the regular.” Her story has been added to the body of personal accounts that changed her own perception of sex workers years before. “They’re people,” she says she realized then. “Not sad drug addicts walking on the street.”

The stereotype of prostitutes as streetwalkers is indeed somewhat dated in the United States, where for decades an estimated 80 percent have done business indoors. More recently, the internet has fostered unprecedented acceptance of sex work among the public, as it did for Lane, with sex-workers-rights hashtags and grassroots social-media campaigns that make visible women who are working by choice. Sites like SeekingArrangement.com, which connect sugar “babies” with sugar daddies, technically forbid prostitution, but have also helped normalize sex work; currently around a million U.S. college students have accounts with the service, according to the company. In 2012, 38 percent of Americans thought sex work should be legalized; last year, amid growing support for legalized marijuana and increased personal freedom, that number went up to 44 percent.

The issue made news last summer, when Amnesty International, one of the world’s most prominent human-rights organizations,voted to campaign for the decriminalization of all aspects of sex work, from buying to selling. After two years of research and deliberation, it said, it had concluded that full decriminalization would better empower and protect sex workers. In response, more than 300 human-rights-organization representatives, writers, activists, and actresses including Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep signed a heavily footnoted letter arguing that full decriminalization would lead to an increase of involuntary sex slaves, “who are mostly women,” and “support a system of gender apartheid” in which resourceless females become objects of consumption. These opponents to decriminalization support the “Nordic model,” which punishes buyers, brothels, and pimps but not the sex workers themselves, a system pioneered by Sweden that has since been adopted in some form in Iceland, Norway, Northern Ireland, and Canada. The idea is to ultimately end the trade without harming the women, who are seen as its victims, by targeting the more powerful economic agents, namely men.

Of course, “it’s not just women” in the industry, points out Barb Brents, a professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “But so much of the anti-decriminalization argument is about the symbolism of protecting women.” In the open letter, men were mentioned only as consumers and peddlers. Brents chalks up the relative disinterest in male sex workers — with the notable exception of last year’s federal raid on Rentboy.com — to the “gendered norms of sex: Men are active and have a tireless sexual drive. Women are passive and don’t.” Savannah Sly, the president of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) USA, a national grassroots advocacy network, calls the “hysteria” around “women and girls, women and girls, women and girls” a strategy for justifying “the war on whores.”

The debate has highlighted a rift among feminists, pitting two deeply held beliefs against each other. One side argues that women should be free economic agents, capable of making choices in their own self-interest, empowered to own their sexuality and use their bodies however they choose. If Chelsea Lane wants to become a sex worker, why shouldn’t she be allowed to do it legally? Those on the other side believe that the Chelsea Lanes of the world are a tiny fraction of sex workers and that many who “choose” this life are not choosing freely or choosing at all. And, even for someone like Lane, how can that choice ever be untangled from society’s persistent cultural misogyny and inequality?

But for both sides, the issue boils down to whether decriminalization makes women safer. The little research that exists doesn’t definitively settle the dispute. Some studies show that legalization, as enacted by Germany and the Netherlands, is associated with higher rates of trafficking — people being coerced or conscripted into sex work against their will. Decriminalization advocates, along with some researchers, argue that this is due to onerous regulations that can unintentionally push sex work to underground markets. (In Nevada, where prostitution is “legal,” but only in strictly regulated brothels, there were nearly 4,000 arrests for prostitution in 2014.) Some studies have found that the decriminalization of selling, but not buying, sex has led to less street prostitution; other studies have not. There’s research that finds that criminalization leads to more abuse of sex workers and research that finds an overwhelming number of sex workers want out, are traumatized, and suffer from addiction. And other research that doesn’t.

One area where there seems to be a lot of consensus is in sex workers’ desire to be able to seek the protection of the law without fear of prosecution. A 2012 report by the U.N. cited research that found an “overwhelming majority of [female sex workers] interviewed wanted sex work to be legalized or decriminalized.” Many other current sex workers, from the Caribbean Sex Worker Coalition to swop to the 50,000 members of Calcutta’s Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, agree.
Chelsea Lane does, too. Lane was adamant that she didn’t want to contribute to the “white happy hooker” narrative: “So many people think sex work is only acceptable if you do it because it’s fun and empowering,” she says. “And I’ve seen this other set of dialogues, on Tumblr mostly, where sex workers are saying, ‘No, it’s a job like any other, and we don’t necessarily enjoy our jobs, but we still deserve safe working conditions.’ Personally, my self-esteem is soaring. Sex work really allowed me to grasp hold of my sexuality and to embrace myself.” But even if she weren’t so white and happy, she maintains, it would still be her right to do it. “I used to love Anne Hathaway. She’s still classy, but maybe I have like ten less respect points for her.”

This was, by and large, the response of sex workers all over the internet after the open letter to Amnesty International was published: We don’t need anyone else to speak for us—much less privileged actresses who are far removed from our experience. But advocates on the other side say there are plenty of sex workers who do need someone to speak up on their behalf, because they are marginalized and essentially voiceless. The argument is whether it’s condescending and paternalistic to let others decide what’s best for sex workers, or irresponsible not to.
Reagan is not a white happy hooker — she is not white, for one, and her feelings about sex work are complicated. “When I first started doing this, I was raped,” she says. “That’s what I mean when I say working in this industry is bad for your personal life. Because I was in the industry, I knew this could happen. I didn’t like it by any means, but it didn’t traumatize me the way that it probably should have.”

Reagan — who is not really named Reagan (her name has been changed, as have the names of almost everyone in this story) and who has “been 29 for like five years” — tells me this as she drives west across the state of North Carolina one Friday night after dark, toward the more rural areas where she prefers to work. In cities, “if you have an over­abundance [of workers], you have to fight for a price and market yourself in a different way or cheaper, and I’m not about cheap,” she says, barreling further away from her home in Charlotte. “Like with any other business, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you look for a need. There’s not a lot of black girls out here.” Most of the time, Reagan’s job is surprisingly mundane — identifying the markets, assessing rates, doing cost-benefit travel analyses. Her wardrobe is low-key: “I probably look like a schoolteacher,” she says.

The night she was raped, Reagan had gone by herself to meet a client. “It seemed like a nice area, and it was my first time there, and it was close to downtown.” She’d used Priceline to find the hotel. “I get there, and it’s a dump. I thought, I’ll just do this one appointment, and I’ll go to a better area. When the guy came, he robbed me at gunpoint, and then he decided he wanted a little action.”

04. 18-sex-workers-lede.w1024

Reagan was not aware of the decriminalization debate until I mentioned it to her, but despite her mixed feelings about sex work she believes it should be legal. Her opinion is influenced by what happened that night. “When I called the cops, they were just like, ‘Ah, okay.’ They didn’t do anything. I don’t dislike cops — they’re just doing their job — but if the law allowed them to be more accepting, maybe they could help more people. If I were ever to get raped again, I wouldn’t call the police. At all. For what? Because of the profession that I chose to work in, you are considered less than. It’s almost, ‘You asked for it because you work in this industry anyway. You’re already having sex with people — what’s the big deal?’ ”

Raised a Southern Baptist, Reagan “didn’t come up in the lifestyle,” and says she freely chose this line of work. “I probably have better degrees than a lot of people,” she says. “I do this part time, and I double my salary as a paralegal.” That’s why she does it. “I’m not saying there’s not a lot of drug addicts who do it and people who’ve been victimized. I know for a fact that lots of people who work in the sex industry were molested. I was not. For the most part, the girls on the internet have probably never walked the streets. That type of hustle I wouldn’t even understand. Either you really devalue who you are or you’ve really been beat up in life to hustle for $20.” That’s what the street workers, who local police say are almost exclusively substance-addicted trauma survivors, charge in the Blue Ridge Mountain town where she’s headed. Reagan charges ten times that, per hour. “When I first started, I charged $400. There’s no way in hell I’d screw somebody for $200. I don’t actually offer sex anymore, but I used to. Because I don’t offer sex” — she does erotic massage, domination, “touching” — “I’m okay with these rates now.”

Reagan stopped offering sex to clients to appease her boyfriend. They recently broke up, “but I think we’re working on it, so I chose to give up the sex part of it.” But she didn’t want to give up escorting entirely, even though it gets to her sometimes. “Some things don’t matter if it’s illegal or not; it’s about the ethics. I’m probably the most ethical prostitute who ever was. I didn’t want to know if [clients] were married. I made them take off their ring — I don’t wanna know because I feel bad. There are days when I think,Jesus, is all I can offer in life sex? I wasn’t raised that way. So what the hell brought that across my mind? It’s very degrading.” Reagan’s clients don’t make her feel that way; it’s the message she gets from everyone else. “It’s taught from a very young age in America that this is not acceptable behavior.”

A month before this conversation, Reagan was arrested. This, she says, is the worst thing that’s happened to her as a sex worker. “It traumatizes me more to walk into a man’s hotel room and think he’s a cop than that he’s gonna rape me. I’m more concerned about a criminal record. I almost have a panic attack every time I walk into someone’s hotel room.” She worries that if she ever left her job as a paralegal — or if her employer found out about the arrest and fired her — she wouldn’t be able to get another straight job. “It’ll never go away. I definitely hurt myself, in a sense. I sacrificed some of the other things I wanted to do later in life. I’ll never be able to work for a company. I’ll have to build my own.”

Tonight, in western North Carolina, Reagan has “some things” scheduled. After a two-hour drive, she pulls up to a hotel, where she has a reservation. “I don’t intend on working in this industry much longer,” she says, walking through the hotel parking lot. “I’m working on a group home for children, and also a car lot.”

For Anna, a 22-year-old who recently moved to New York, decriminalization is a practical matter. She started a limited-liability company pretending to be a graphic designer, “because I needed a way to pay taxes. I feel really guilty evading taxes; I make a really good living. Paying taxes is also good for your future.” This way, she says, “I have an income history,” which will be important “if I want to buy property down the road or apply for credit cards.”

Anna is petite, with fine hair and delicate features and a high, whispery voice. She started working in the industry three years ago. “I listened to Dan Savage’s podcast in high school, and I remember him talking about sex work and sugar babies. So that’s how I got the idea.” Her parents were wealthy but square. “If I hadn’t been listening to those podcasts” — Sex Nerd Sandra was another favorite — “I wouldn’t have started. They exposed me to a lot of stuff and kind of made me more comfortable with sex in general.” When she moved out of her parents’ home for college, she put an ad on Backpage. “I started for fun, to make money on the side.”

” I listened to Dan Savage’s podcast in high school, and I remember him talking about sex work and sugar babies. So that’s how I got the idea.” 

Her parents found out, though, cut her off, and stopped speaking to her. “That’s when I transitioned to doing it as a source of income. I couldn’t pay tuition.” She ended up dropping out of school anyway, working full time, and she still doesn’t have any contact with her parents. “We had a pretty close relationship,” she says, sounding resigned. “It was a big deal. It was hard then, but I’ve definitely gotten over it.”

It was one of Anna’s clients who helped her professionalize her operation, suggesting she meet with another woman he patronized who could help her make a website, improve her pictures, and start making way more money. “He knew I was really young and didn’t know what I was doing,” she says. “I wasn’t charging very much at all, and this girl helped me raise my rates—more than doubled them.” Now she charges a $500-an-hour minimum.

For the most part, Anna likes her job. “I’ve gotten really used to it, so it almost seems much less scary than doing other things.” The biggest frustration she cites is one shared by many online businesses: “I’m frustrated with the review system,” she says. Websites like the Erotic Review let clients write their version of an encounter — like a sex workers’ version of Yelp. “I feel like one bad review could ruin your business, so that’s been stressful.”

Other than the family difficulties, Anna’s stresses seem not too different from any young person freelancing or starting a small business. She doesn’t talk about legal troubles or violent clients, abuse or addiction, nor does she have any existential issues with the work she does. “Ninety-nine percent of everyone is really sweet. I’ve only had to ask someone to leave once, because the guy was really drunk. I didn’t feel threatened. I was just a little bit scared.” Eventually, she tells me, she’ll quit escorting and use her saved up earnings to go to beauty school. “If I had unlimited money, I might work toward getting my bachelor’s degree. I wouldn’t say [being a beautician] is my dream job. It’s just feasible for me to do when I get out of escorting.” She’s not desperate to get out, though. “Overall it’s not been bad, or I wouldn’t have been doing it.”

Cherie Jimenez says that she used to say that, too. That she was fine. The 65-year-old spent some 20 years on and off in the sex trade, and to sex workers who say they’re fine, she says, “maybe for now you’re fine.” If many active sex workers support full decriminalization, this former sex worker, like plenty of others, has much more negative feelings about the industry. “It almost destroyed me,” she says. And that was then. She thinks the sex trade’s problems are only getting worse.

Jimenez, who now runs the Eva Center, a sex-work exit program in Boston, is not talking about Anna’s small-business concerns. The internet may have made it easier for sex workers to operate like independent entrepreneurs, but it also seems to have increased clients’ demands. “Men want more,” Jimenez says. “Men’s and young boys’ introduction to intimacy is gonzo porn, where you play out the fantasy of brutalizing women.” The women who come through her program tell her that the industry “is more violent because pornography is more violent. [Johns] want extra ***, or they don’t wanna do it safely.”

In addition to her work at the Eva Center, Jimenez is a member of SPACE (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) International, which advocates for the Nordic model, with the ultimate goal of the total abolition of the sex trade. “We have to get to where men are not buying people to get off,” she says. “It’s just a harmful practice.” She concedes that the perspective she has from running an exit ­program is “skewed.” The women who come to her are in absolute crisis to get out of the business, but she maintains that in general, “to use your body, to sell your body — it does something to you. Not very many people come out of it whole and in a very healthy way. Even under the best circumstances. How many young women do I talk to who have trouble having relationships?” She says the women in her program will ask her if she’s married. She says they want to know if they can experience love.

“The further you get away from mainstream life — catch a few [arrest] cases, you have no employment skills, you don’t know how to be in the world — the harder it is to get away and feel like you can do something else.” Though she was 20 and sober when she started, she eventually became a daily heroin user. “Horrific things do happen,” she says. The homicide rate for prostitution vastly outpaces any other profession’s in the U.S. The industry is especially dangerous for transgender women. Many of the staggering number of trans women who were murdered in the U.S. last year were sex workers.

Plus, there’s the struggle of “after a while just being a commodity and being a body and trying to hold onto yourself,” Jimenez says. In the case of her clients, their efforts to get out are often complicated by addiction and isolation. “They have no viable skills, they have no one to support them,” no home, no education, no résumé; about half of them have been through the system, aged out of group homes. Even with the support of the Eva Center, many of her clients take years to get a straight job.

Sex workers with, say, “master’s degrees — they know that they can do something else. Most of us don’t have that.” (But even for them, Jimenez doesn’t buy the notion of harmlessness: “Those women, do they want their children in this?”) According to the International Labor Organization, 4.5 million people worldwide work in forced sexual labor. But Jimenez says the line between being a consenting sex worker and being trafficked is not always clear. Those with boyfriends who pimp them out or beat them, or who have pimps who give them quotas, are they really consenting?

“You can’t end the trafficking piece without addressing it as a whole thing, as a sex trade. Decriminalization, which is what Amnesty is calling for, would make this an open market,” Jimenez says. “So these women that I meet, it would be legal for them to become completely exploited. The sex-workers people” — by which she means decriminalization advocates within the industry — “say, ‘You reduce us all to victims.’ And I get that. But what is it to have a good life? And be healthy and productive and contribute and have access to things? We don’t have equal access” to opportunity and education, she says. “That’s what Amnesty should be fighting for.”

Abolitionists, says Jill Brenneman, “equate everything to sex trafficking.”

That is something that Brenneman, now 49, knows about firsthand. Kidnapped and sold as a sex slave when she was just 15, she was held in a basement and raped by a revolving clientele of sadists for three years until her captor was arrested. One gang rape during that period damaged her vocal cords so severely that her voice still comes out hoarse. She later became a spokesperson for anti-trafficking organizations, ones that happened to be vehemently anti-decriminalization.

Then, in her 40s, she found herself unemployed, laid off from her career as a flight attendant, and she decided to become an escort. “What happened to me as a teenager and what happened as an adult is completely different,” she says.

It was “not really” a hard decision, she says. “I needed the money, and if anything, I went from having very little money to having more than enough immediately. I could go to the grocery store and get whatever I wanted. I could go to Starbucks every day if I wanted to. I didn’t really mind it. It is a performance. You have a set playlist, and I would literally breathe with the song. For the crescendo I would fake an orgasm.”

Some of her acquaintances couldn’t believe that she chose to become an escort, and there were moments when she couldn’t believe she was doing it either. “It sometimes triggered back to the experience as a teenager, but for the most part I really compartmentalized it pretty well.”

Brenneman describes herself as “a very strong proponent of decriminalization,” as long as the paid sex is “between consenting adults.” For one, she thinks the resources that go into arresting sex workers would be better spent pursuing traffickers like her enslaver, who was arrested on unrelated charges — she was discovered and freed by chance. And like Reagan, she thinks that if sex work weren’t illegal, she could have gone to the police when a client got violent. Once, when Brenneman was working for an escorting agency, “they sent me on a bad outcall to a federal air marshal. Soon as I got there, I saw his graduation stuff on the wall, and I was like, ‘Oh, no; they sent me to a cop.’ ” She says he asked for anal sex. “That wasn’t part of the deal. After 15 minutes, he said he was going to get a drink and came back with handcuffs and a trash bag and forced it.” She had to go to the hospital because he gave her a concussion. The need for protection from law enforcement is a frequent argument of decriminalization proponents. In one survey of New York City sex workers, 27 percent reported police had used violence against them.

Aside from Jimenez, Brenneman was the oldest woman I talked to. She had the distance of having been out of the game for a few years and had had some truly terrible experiences while escorting. I also learned during the course of our conversation that she’s dying. She has a rare blood disease; in May 2014, she was given a year to live. I asked her if she had any regrets.

“I do, I do,” she said. “The first two years, I didn’t charge enough.”

Can we, should we, let sex workers speak for themselves? No matter how young? Or how disadvantaged? Or what they’ve been through?

“Who’s to say a sex worker’s life isn’t fine?” says Jimenez. “I was there once. I can say that.” But more than a dozen current and former sex workers I interviewed, some of them selected randomly off the internet, were in favor of decriminalization. I contacted Jimenez specifically because I knew she was against it and no one else had made the argument.

Skylar, a 20-year-old New Yorker, technically fits Jimenez’s description of women who do not exactly choose sex work. She was orphaned at a young age by drug-addicted parents and became a sex worker because she couldn’t figure out another way to get money for food. She had a boss, whom most people would consider a pimp, and she had no control over clients — or services, if she wanted to get paid. Also, she was a child, with children of her own.

“I was about 15,” she says. “My foster mother was giving me $5 a day, just enough to get to and from school, not to get lunch.” The decision to do sex work “came from not being able to do things with my kids, wanting to buy things but not being able to.” Skylar had had her first child at 13. When she was 14, a friend of a friend asked her if she wanted to work at dancing parties thrown by a guy she knew. “She introduced me to the guy, who is now incarcerated because he was trying to solicit 12-year-olds online, and when I got there, he was like, ‘Yeah, well, we do dancing parties, but if you want to make extra money, you’ll do x, y, and z.’ So he took my body measurements and took pictures and they ultimately decided that I was a good candidate for full-service escorting.”

Skylar knows this reads like a cautionary tale, yet she doesn’t consider herself a victim, and she didn’t consider herself a child at the time. “Young women who have survived trafficking, that doesn’t fit my experiences,” she says. “At 15, I wasn’t a 15-year-old. More like a 21-year-old. My circumstances after having a child were totally different from average 15-year-olds’. It’s a certain level of responsibility that you have to have. Although being a sex worker probably wasn’t my No. 1 pick at 15 years old, that’s what was open to me. That was the only option I had because, what, Payless is going to hire a 15-year-old who’s going through school and has a kid?”

Skylar didn’t think of the man who was running the business as a pimp, either. They had their disagreements — “he didn’t like the fact that I didn’t want to engage with him when I was in school” — but he wasn’t abusive, she says, and he never took money from her. “The guys went through a website to select girls. So he got paid from them visiting the website, and then once I was sent to the clients, the client was responsible for paying me.”

That’s where problems would arise sometimes. Clients would refuse to pay the agreed-on amount, or they’d leave because she would try to place limits on what they could do. Two out of five clients would leave, she says, because she didn’t seem young enough. “I was only 15 at that time, but I looked a lot older. I had babies by then, so I had stretch marks.”

Skylar quit escorting for a while, after she found a high school that had a jobs program. But by the time she graduated, she had three kids to take care of, so she went into business on her own. Now, she sets the boundaries when she enters a client’s room. “Be aggressive with them,” she says. “Because if you’re not aggressive with clients, they’ll just think they can take advantage of you. The moment you let them step up on even the littlest boundary, then it’s like they think that they can overpower you. The power should always be in yourself.”

She takes as many precautions as she can. At first contact on the phone, she listens to clients’ voices to see “if they’re saying things that are weird” or give her “that feeling” in the pit of her stomach. Before agreeing to meet them, she Googles their addresses and looks at their houses. (Anna also requires the info on clients’ driver’s licenses, or two references from other “reputable providers.”) She makes sure a friend knows where she is. For the first meeting, “I have a driver, so when I say, ‘Okay, your session is 45 minutes,’ then I will open the window and show them that the car is parked right outside their house. That’s the way of putting them into the mind-set that people care about me.”

“When I get into the apartment that I want, when I have cars, when I can do anything and everything for my children that I want on my own, that will be my end date. “

She considers herself very lucky. “I’ve never really walked into a situation that was super, super terrible,” she says. “I don’t wanna make it seem like I know for sure that this person is safe, because safety is, like, not real.”

After high school, Skylar enrolled in college, but she got arrested right before orientation. She was jailed overnight and assigned to a program for sexually exploited children — she was 17 at the time. Attendance was required for getting the arrest off her record, and it conflicted with her class schedule. “I had to drop out of school to finish the program,” she says. “Being arrested and being put into this particular program that was designed to help me actually damaged the life course I had set for myself.”

Escorting is still not Skylar’s No. 1 pick for a job. “I’d much rather make great money helping my community and changing laws and changing people’s lives than dealing with my clients,” she says. “I hate clients. They suck. I don’t care about their life, I don’t care about their daughters, I don’t care about their wives — I don’t care,” and she hates having to pretend to. “It’s a lot of emotional labor.”

For now, she works in community organizing but continues escorting to pay the bills. “When I get into the apartment that I want, when I have cars, when I can do anything and everything for my children that I want on my own,” she says, “that will be my end date.”

In the meantime, she keeps her client list small. “I do not feel like it’s safe to advertise on Craigslist or Backpage anymore. That’s pretty much all cops, and legit I can’t get arrested again.” Besides, her current clients already know her and want her. “No matter how young I am, some clients are like, ‘Oh, you’re not foreign, you’re not from Japan, you’re not European — you’re black. You’re regular,’ ” says Skylar, who is half African-American and half Puerto Rican. She says her rates are “average” — she’s charged as low as $80 for a service, though her highest and preferred fee is $200 per hour. “Prices,” she says, “are about privilege.”

These days, Chelsea Lane works in the Bay Area and charges $400 an hour and $2,000 a night. She has a slick website with professional photos. She’s attending a nearby college and works at a corporate firm in addition to seeing clients. Doing both makes her “busy, busy, busy all the time.” She’d drop the day job, but, she says, “I don’t want to have a gap on my résumé.” Financially, she doesn’t need both incomes. “My salary more than pays for living expenses. Escorting income is to reach my savings goals: tuition, law-school tuition, and travel.” Plus, she enjoys it.

She does notice a difference in her private life. “When I have sex with personal partners, it’s robotic at first. When I’m with a client, I am super enthusiastic and loving it most of the time. But with a personal partner, I realize I don’t have to do those steps, or if I don’t like something, I can say that.”

It’s been most disruptive to her relationship with her parents, whom she came out to in January 2015. “They were devastated. They consider themselves hippies, but they’re weirdly conservative in so many ways. They think sex is something super special, and that’s not how I see it at all.” At one point, she stopped speaking with them for a month or two. “But my mom was like, ‘I’m your mother, *** it; we’re gonna have a relationship.’ ” Now, she doesn’t talk to them about her work. “They’ve convinced themselves I’ve stopped. They don’t want to talk about it at all. I wish I could continue to educate them.”

Lane hopes to become a lawyer and represent other sex workers. “I despise the stigma attached with my work, though the upside to that is that I’ve found I’m really passionate about sex-work-rights activism,” she says. She thinks she’ll probably have to stop before law school. “If I’m a lawyer, there’s some ethical questions,” given the current laws. But if she could, if the laws were to change, she would like to keep escorting, if for no other reason than to push herself to meet people. “I see myself doing it for the rest of my life.”

Source: nymag.com

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To Reduce Human Trafficking, Fight Corruption and Improve Economic Freedom

January was National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness month, a time set aside to reflect on the way forward in global efforts to combat trafficking in persons, and this month the 22nd annual edition of The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom was published. It is an opportune moment to highlight one of the best ways to eliminate the pernicious scourge of trafficking: adopting policies that promote economic freedom.

The Correlation Between Economic Freedom and Human Trafficking

The U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report measures countries’ compliance with minimum standards for combatting TIP and ranks countries from best to worst in four categories: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier 3.

Of the 18 countries on Tier 3 in the 2015 TIP report, all but two were considered “Repressed” or “Mostly Unfree”—the lowest categories in the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom.[1] The two exceptions, Thailand and Kuwait, are considered only “Moderately Free.” Economically repressed countries on Tier 3 include North Korea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Iran, to name a few.

In contrast, countries designated Tier 1 in the TIP report predominantly rank as “Free” or “Mostly Free” in the Index. The implication is clear: Countries that promote economic freedom are more likely to be effective in combatting trafficking in persons.

A close examination of human trafficking and the principles of economic freedom—especially strong rule of law—reveals the robust connections between these two desirable societal outcomes.

Stronger Rule of Law Reduces Human Trafficking

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Kids Are Renewable Resources

**ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITON, APRIL 4-5**Anita Cannibal, a prostitute working at the Chicken Ranch brothel, is silhouetted as she rests in her bedroom in Pahrump, Nev., Tuesday, March 31, 2009. For more than 30 years customers have been patronizing the working girls of Nevada's legal brothels, though the state has not collected a dollar in taxes since prostitution was legalized in rural counties. Now with the state facing a more than a $2 billion shortfall in revenue, a Nevada lawmaker wants to bolster the budget, one sex act at a time. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

**ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITON, APRIL 4-5**Anita Cannibal, a prostitute working at the Chicken Ranch brothel, is silhouetted as she rests in her bedroom in Pahrump, Nev., Tuesday, March 31, 2009. For more than 30 years customers have been patronizing the working girls of Nevada’s legal brothels, though the state has not collected a dollar in taxes since prostitution was legalized in rural counties. Now with the state facing a more than a $2 billion shortfall in revenue, a Nevada lawmaker wants to bolster the budget, one sex act at a time. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)RENO, Nev.—The number of women selling sex along Fourth Street’s string of dilapidated motels here used to be so high that fights broke out among pimps over who controlled each block.

As the city tries to fix its image as a poor-man’s Vegas and technology makes it easier to buy and sell sex online, much of the local sex market has gone underground. The shift hasn’t diminished prostitution, but it has made it harder for law enforcement and victim advocates to address. “Online social media has formed a beautiful platform for trafficking,” says Kelly Ranasinghe, a senior program attorney with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and one of the leaders of its child sex-trafficking arm. “It’s getting much more clever and harder to prosecute.”

Melissa Holland, the founder and director of Awaken, a Reno group working to end sex trafficking, says the organization is encountering more girls looking to get out of the life. Whether that’s the result of an increase in trafficking or awareness is unclear, but Awaken helped 65 girls in 2014 get therapy, secure housing, find work, and enroll in school. In 2015, that number was 85. Nationally, the advocacy group Polaris says it saw a 24 percent increase in trafficking victims reaching out between 2014 and 2015. “We’ve not seen a decrease,” Holland says during an interview in a cozy sitting room above her office dotted with bright pillows, designed as a welcoming space for women seeking help.

While the women Holland works with are generally between the ages of 18 and 24, studies suggest that sex-trafficking victims are getting younger. Hard statistics are hard to come by on an industry whose main players are experts at evading authorities, but the general consensus among experts is that children, overwhelmingly girls, now enter the world of sex trafficking between 12 and 14, younger by several years in just the last decade (The Washington Post has noted that several of the reports and organizations that use this age range cite a 2001 report that the paper suggests is dubious and outdated. The paper points to a separate study that suggests 15 may be the average age of entry, but there is no conclusive evidence). Most come from poor, dysfunctional families, and many are recruited out of the foster system or shelters by men who promise love and stability. “A lot of young girls respond to that,” Ranasinghe says. “It’s quasi-romantic, quasi-parental.”

Sarah (not her real name) knows exactly how men lure in young girls and women. The now-29-year-old grew up as part of a happy, middle-class family in Reno, but her parents divorced when she was 18, and the former swimmer turned to heroin and meth to dull the pain. She bounced from the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego, working part-time jobs to pay for the habit, before eventually landing back in Reno. “Things are just different here,” she says during a conversation in the Awaken sitting room. She occasionally gazes out the window toward a pair of strip clubs in the distance where she still spots girls who are trapped. “You don’t have to put up a face,” she adds, referring to the fact that there was no need to hide her drug usage.

She was living in motels week to week and working a little, but none of her friends had jobs, and soon it seemed like the only options were selling drugs or sex. “You paid for your life on a daily basis,” she says. So when a friendly, well-dressed man from Stockton, California, met her at a casino downtown and said, “Let me take you away,” she agreed.

Her handler would drive Sarah to convenience stores in town, where her clients were mostly Indian men who liked that she is also Indian. Her pimp, who was Mexican, never slept with her or beat her but gave her away to his brother who “fell in love with me,” she said.  “When it comes to matters of the heart, that’s my brother,” he told her by way of explanation. Sarah would ultimately work for several more pimps, each more violent than the last, and occasionally on her own—using the now-shuttered RedBook to find clients—before she was arrested for selling meth. After a year in prison that was “worse than the streets,” Sarah reconnected with her mother, stopped using drugs, and enrolled in college, where she is still a student.

But advocates say such positive outcomes are rare. Judge Egan Walker, a district judge in Reno who handles child sex-trafficking cases says he fears the number of children who return to the sex industry is high. Their pimps, however twisted, are often their only source of emotional support, and victims, especially young girls, can be reluctant to say anything negative. They also don’t have the ability to process the trauma they’ve experienced, and behave aggressively toward judges who sometimes have very little training in how to handle such cases.

Most, like Sarah, are picked up for other offenses, and identified later as trafficking victims. The children in Walker’s courtroom are disproportionately children of color. Holland says slightly less than half of the women she works with are white, a few are Latino, and most are black. Most are not on-track to graduate from high school and have few job skills, which allows pimps to stay in control. “It’s awful to say and awful to talk about,” the judge says, “but these kids are renewable resources.” Pimps move victims from city to city to create a sense of delirium and dependence, and threaten to hurt friends and family members if victims try to leave.

“You paid for your life on a daily basis.”

So curbing trafficking is a difficult prospect, complicated by the fact that local casinos and hotels gain customers from the practice. “The casinos rely on it,” Sarah says. “You don’t get in trouble on the casino floor if you’re looking good doing it.” When it comes to child victims, Nevada stands out as one of the worst states. In 2014, 87 children were arrested for  prostitution, according to federal data. Nearby Arizona, with a population more than twice as large as Nevada’s, arrested just six children for similar activities.

Yet a shift in public opinion on the issue appears to be taking place. Since 2000, the United States, which has historically criminalized prostitution, including when it involves children, has passed several laws aimed at helping victims and punishing traffickers. Nearly 40 states, including Nevada, passed anti-trafficking laws between 2013 and 2014, and more than 10 states, at the Department of Justice’s urging, have passed laws preventing minors from being prosecuted for selling sex. Yet more than half of states in America continue to allow child sex-trafficking victims to be charged for selling sex, and 300,000 American children are considered at risk of sexual exploitation. Even when victims are identified, getting them the help they need involves piecing together a patchwork of agencies that can involve the foster system, schools, and nonprofits. “Unless everyone works together, there are vulnerabilities the traffickers can exploit,” Ranasinghe says.

Some states have created specialized dockets, particularly for sex-trafficking cases involving children. Nevada approved a measure last year that allows district courts to toss out prostitution convictions where the defendants are also victims of trafficking. A judge in Kansas has started wearing casual clothes instead of robes to reduce fear among victims, while another in Florida relies on therapy dogs. But penalties for purchasing sex remain relatively small in many states, and pimps are retreating from public view behind apps and websites. Seriously reducing sex trafficking would require an unprecedented coordinated effort by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of entities that, right now, are often at odds with each other. Perhaps the most significant obstacle is the fact that there are no good numbers on where the problem exists in the first place.

Source: theatlantic.com

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Out of sight letter from Baghdad

On a Saturday night in late May, I sat in the back seat of a taxi as it drove through a shantytown in Baghdad. We were not far from Firdos Square, where, in April of 2003, invading American troops famously toppled a large statue of Saddam Hussein. A highway passed overhead, its traffic thudding, and Baghdad’s tallest building, the Cristal Grand Ishtar Hotel—still widely known as the Sheraton, although the hotel chain withdrew from Iraq in 1990—rose in the distance. A forty-year-old woman whom I’ll call Layla sat in the front passenger seat; she wore a black abaya, and strands of dyed-black hair fell out from under her head scarf. Her husband, Mohammad, drove.

We were headed toward a dimly lit cinder-block shack. Children darted in and out of the shadows, and a pregnant woman in a long-sleeved, turquoise ankle-length dress stepped out to see who was approaching. She was a pimp, Layla said. In 2012, Iraq passed its first law specifically against human trafficking, but the law is routinely ignored, and sexual crimes, including rape and forced prostitution, are common, women’s-rights groups say. Statistics are hard to come by, but in 2011, according to the latest Ministry of Planning report, a survey found that more than nine per cent of respondents between the ages of fifteen and fifty-four said they had been subjected to sexual violence. The real number is likely much higher, given the shame attached to reporting such crimes in a society where a family’s honor is often tied to the chastity of its women. The victims of these crimes are often considered outcasts and can be killed for “dishonoring” their family or their community.

Since 2006, Layla, a rape victim and former prostitute, has been secretly mapping Iraq’s underworld of sex trafficking and prostitution. Through her network of contacts in the sex trade, she gathers information about who is selling whom and for how much, where the victims are from, and where they are prostituted and trafficked. She passes the information, through intermediaries, to Iraqi authorities, who usually fail to act on it. Still, her work has helped to convict several pimps, including some who kidnapped children. That Saturday night, I accompanied Layla and Mohammad on a tour of some of the places that she investigates, on the condition that I change her name, minimize details that might identify her, and not name her intermediaries.

The work is extremely dangerous. The pimps whom Layla encounters are women, but behind them is a tangled hierarchy of armed men: corrupt police, militias that profit from the sex trade, and militias that brutally oppose it. On the morning of July 13, 2014, the bullet-ridden bodies of twenty-eight women and five men were retrieved from two apartments, said to be brothels, in a building complex in Zayouna, a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. I saw the bodies a few hours later, at the city morgue, laid out on the floor. Morgue workers blamed the religious militias, singling out the pro-Iranian Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, one of the many armed outfits proliferating in Iraq. Other groups of suspected prostitutes have been found shot dead, but the Zayouna incident was the largest killing in recent years, and it prompted at least fifteen neighborhood pimps whom Layla knew to flee with their girls to Iraqi Kurdistan. Layla often visits apartments like the ones in Zayouna, posing as a retired pimp. As a cover, she sells the madams abayas that are intricately embroidered with colored crystals and diamantés; they serve to identify women as pimps, rather than prostitutes, at night clubs.

As we drew near the cinder-block shack, Layla leaned out of the window and waved. “Darling!” she shouted, then turned to Mohammad and whispered, “Be careful what you say.” The taxi came to a stop, Layla got out, and the two women greeted each other warmly. Layla had known this woman since before the invasion, when they’d both been prostitutes working and living in the area. Layla introduced me as a cousin who was briefly staying with her, and said that she was looking for another madam. The pregnant woman told her that the woman had moved her brothel, and said where. She asked Layla if she had come across a woman from Basra, in the south, named Em Ali; Layla said she knew her.

“She is doing very well with all her girls,” the woman said. “You should see the cars that come and take her girls. I sold Arwaj to her—five million dinars,” the equivalent of about forty-two hundred dollars. “Do you think that was a good price?”

“No, that was a mistake,” Layla said. “You shouldn’t have sold her. She could have been a source of regular income for you.”

Arwaj, a teen-age runaway, had been lured with the promise of safety and shelter, then held captive. The woman said that the girl had been unruly and screamed all the time.

“She was a virgin,” Layla said.

“Not anymore,” the woman replied. She had locked Arwaj in the shack with a man for three days, selling her virginity, then she sold her to Em Ali.

Mohammad offered to steal the girl back for the woman, as a ruse to find her, and asked where the brothel was. The woman didn’t know.

As we drove away in the taxi, Layla said, “This is our work. That’s how I have to talk to them to get the information I need.” She added, “If they find out what I really do, I will be killed, without any doubt, because behind every pimp are militiamen and corrupt police.” The trafficking situation was the worst it had been in recent years, she said. “Every four or five men now are calling themselves a militia. They can do whatever they want.”

Mohammad said that the country’s woes—“the theft, crime, killing, terrorism”—were all tied to the sex trade. He explained the mind-set of the men involved: “If I get used to this life style, I need to drink, to pay for girls, for rooms, for tips, for trips. That costs money, and I’ll do whatever I need to get paid.”

Iraq was once at the forefront of women’s rights in the Middle East. In 1959, the country passed Law No. 188, also known as the Personal Status Law, which restricted polygamy, outlawed child marriage and forced marriages, and improved women’s rights in divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Equal rights were enshrined in the Baath-drafted 1970 constitution, and women’s literacy rates, education, and participation in the workforce were all actively promoted through generous welfare policies, such as free childcare. That momentum was reversed by successive wars—with Iran, from 1980 to 1988, and then the 1990 Gulf War and thirteen subsequent years of international economic sanctions. Female civil servants lost their jobs in disproportionate numbers, and welfare was slashed. As part of Saddam Hussein’s “faith campaign,” which began in the early nineteen-nineties, women accused of prostitution were beheaded, according to Amnesty International. Crimes against women only increased in the chaos that ensued after the U.S.-led invasion.

In 2005, Iraq’s new constitution mandated that a quarter of the members of parliament be women, but Saddam’s fall brought to power conservative religious clerics and parliamentarians who favored laws that would give clerics more control over personal matters. In October of 2013, Hassan al-Shammari, the Justice Minister and a member of the Islamist Fadhila (Virtue) Party, introduced a bill that contained two hundred and fifty-four articles based on the Jaafari school of Shiite religious jurisprudence. The bill, which would apply to Iraq’s Shiite majority, proposed legalizing marriage for girls as young as nine, entitling a husband to nonconsensual sex with his wife, and preventing a woman from leaving her home without her husband’s permission. Article 126 stated that a husband was not required to financially support his wife if she was either too young or too old to sexually satisfy him.

Despite strong opposition from rights groups and a few clerics, the bill was approved by the Council of Ministers in February of 2014 and forwarded to parliament, which failed to vote on it before a new house was ushered in, in April. The Fadhila Party’s spiritual leader, Mohammad Yaqoobi, a white-turbaned, white-bearded marja, or religious authority, described women who opposed the bill as outcasts. The real blame, he said, lay with clerics who, in encouraging these women, were “opening the door of evil.” Mohammad Jawad al-Khalisi, another marja, told me in his office in the Shiite Baghdad suburb of Kadhimiya that men like Yaqoobi were ignorant and “do not understand their religion.”

Hanaa Edwar, a prominent women’s-rights advocate, said that the Jaafari bill made a mockery of the 2005 constitution. Edwar, a diminutive woman with a gray pixie haircut, co-founded several organizations that address women’s rights, including Al-Amal Association, in 1992. “If you don’t have power to decide matters related to your children or your pregnancy, how can you contribute to decision-making in your nation, on its future?” she said. The bill “considered women as just sexual tools for men, for their pleasure.” The draft law remains dormant, but Edwar described it as “a time bomb.”

The lawlessness overtaking Iraq poses a more immediate threat to the nation’s women and girls, especially those without the support of their families. Since June, 2014, the Islamic State has seized much of the country’s northwest, including the cities of Mosul, Ramadi, and Fallujah. The Sunni extremists have beheaded their male enemies and sexually enslaved some female captives, including several thousand women and girls from the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi minority, in northern Iraq. In the October, 2014, issue of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s English-language magazine, the group boasted that “the enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers.”

New militias have sprung up to counter the Sunni extremists, and existing ones have expanded. Human Rights Watch, following its 2015 World Report, accused some Shiite militias of engaging in “unfettered abuses against civilians,” including summary executions, torture, and the forced displacement of thousands from their homes. After twelve years of conflict, there are more than three and a half million internally displaced Iraqis, as many as two million war widows, and a million or more orphans. The U.S. State Department noted, in its 2015 “Trafficking in Persons” report, that the vulnerability of women and children to trafficking had “gravely increased” in the past year, and that security and law-enforcement officials, as well as criminal gangs, were involved in sexual slavery.

“I never imagined that we would reach this level of chaos, this degree of complete disintegration of the state,” Edwar told me. “You don’t see that there is rule of law, that there are national institutions. You just see militias, gangsters. There is no respect for diversity, for human rights in this country.”

In 2004, Iraq created a State Ministry for Women’s Affairs, but it was largely a ceremonial body. An engineer named Bayan Nouri assumed the post of minister in October of 2014. When I met Nouri in May, she was working on the eleventh floor of a parliamentary office building, in Baghdad’s International Zone. A soft-spoken woman in her fifties, she wore a long, belted overcoat and a hijab that was pinned under her neck. She said that, if it weren’t for the current war against the Islamic State, the situation for Iraqi women would be “better, over all, than before 2003.” Nouri expressed concern about the Islamic State’s kidnapping of the Yazidis, but she dismissed the claim that sexual violence was increasing: “They say it is present, but this isn’t obvious, it’s limited. It existed during Saddam’s time, too, but the media doesn’t talk about that.”

Nouri’s ministry had twenty employees, who helped to map out policies, programs, and strategies for other ministries to implement, but it had no budget. “Obviously, if we don’t have money or the authority to implement things, it’s catastrophic, it’s a challenge ahead of us,” Nouri said. She and her three predecessors had asked the cabinet and parliament to upgrade the status of the ministry in order to secure a budget. Instead, in August, as part of a government downsizing, the ministry was abolished, along with the Human Rights Ministry, and several others were merged. A former ministry spokesperson told me that Nouri has retired from politics.

Lyla grew up in a city in southern Iraq, in a family of seven daughters and two sons. In 1991, when she was fifteen, her brothers were arrested by Saddam’s troops, after a brief Shiite uprising. When she went to the prison to plead for their release, she was spotted by a major—she still remembers his name—who said that he would spare them from execution in exchange for her virginity. When she returned home, her mother and brothers refused to believe that she had been raped. Ashamed, hurt, and angry, she left home for the anonymity of Baghdad and turned to prostitution to survive.

She was pimped in Kamaliyah, a rough, predominantly Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. She married briefly but continued working for herself. In 2003, she was a prostitute in Dora, a neighborhood in the southern part of the city, when the U.S. military arrived in Baghdad. In 2006, she and four other prostitutes were detained by an American patrol on suspicion of being militia informants, because different men were seen coming and going from their apartment. After two weeks in an American detention facility, they were transferred to Iraqi police, who put them in the Kadhimiya women’s prison, where Layla spent the next six months. She was released without charge, but her experience in prison persuaded her “to stop being a prostitute who is part of this world of violence and crime.” She became determined to help girls and women like her.

In 2009, Layla met and married Mohammad, who worked as a taxi-driver and, after the Islamic State took over Mosul, joined a Shiite militia as a volunteer. When they married, she refused to wear a white dress, feeling that she didn’t deserve to. He often offers to buy her one and to hold the ceremony again, but she declines.

“I was comfortable enough to tell him my story, all of it,” Layla said, as we rode in the taxi. “I told him, ‘Will you still accept me?’ He told me, ‘The past isn’t important to me—’ ”

“—the future is,” Mohammad said, finishing her sentence.

Mohammad is a tall, gentle man, with a neatly trimmed brown mustache. He and Layla usually spend Thursday nights, the start of the weekend in Iraq, at night clubs, talking with pimps and the girls they prostitute. But for several weeks the threat of raids by militiamen had kept them away. A month earlier, Layla had been at a club called Memories, in the heart of the capital, when a group of militiamen entered and fired off a number of rounds, killing several prostitutes and capturing others. Layla, who fled through the kitchen, watched as young women were dragged by their hair into cars. Six are still missing, she said.

“Sex fuels militias, because it is a source of money,” Layla told me. “There are two options facing pimps—either they work with the militias or the militias kill them.” Mohammad, fearing for Layla’s safety, usually accompanies her into the clubs, posing as a customer who is her friend. Prostitution is also conducted out of private apartments; Layla visits these alone. I asked Layla and Mohammad how many prostitution dens they frequent, “If I were to show you every one, you wouldn’t be able to see them all in twenty-four hours,” Mohammad said.

As we drove around Baghdad, Layla and Mohammad pointed out dozens of brothels. Many had boarded-up or blacked-out windows, Arabic music blaring from within, and police vans parked outside. Layla rattled off the prices for girls of various ages. The most expensive were “rosebuds,” thirteen or fourteen years old, at three hundred to four hundred dollars a night. Those between twenty and thirty years old ranged from eighty-four to a hundred and sixty-eight dollars a night, and as little as forty dollars for a brief sexual encounter.

We turned off Al-Nidhal Street, in central Baghdad, into an alley jammed with traffic, car horns blaring, and stopped in front of a club. Its front door was an open archway bathed in dark-red and green light. As we sat in the taxi, two young girls—sisters, Mohammad said—rushed out of the club. The older one was fourteen, he said; she wore heavy makeup, a tight red dress, and a thin, pistachio-colored veil over her hair and upper body. The younger girl was nine, her olive skin plastered with face powder several shades too light for her complexion. Bright-red lipstick extended almost clownishly beyond the contours of her lips.

Layla yelled out to the girls, “Come, come here! Where is your mother?” They approached the car, hugged and kissed Layla, and said hello to Mohammad. “Where are you running to?” Mohammad asked. They pointed to a nearby building that held several brothels. “Our house is over there,” the older girl said. They chatted for a few moments before scurrying away. Their mother was a pimp, Layla said, who prostituted the fourteen-year-old and her two older daughters. The younger girl’s job, Mohammad added, was “to draw in the customers from the street, to stand at the door and invite people in.”

Mohammad and Layla hesitated when I asked if I could enter the club. Inside, I would be as vulnerable as any other woman there to the men who show up. “Any girl they see at a night club, they grab and take,” Layla said. “Even if you go in with a policeman, somebody higher than him—a militiaman or somebody—will take you if he wants.” Layla asked Mohammad, “How many have we seen them just take? I don’t want her to go in. If men from Asa’ib come in . . . ” Mohammad agreed, and we drove away.

Two days later, I visited Abu Muntathar, the spokesman for Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. The group’s headquarters is a complex of walled villas in Jadriya, a neighborhood tucked into a loop of the winding Tigris River. Most of the men in the compound were dressed in dusty, mismatched military camouflage and lounged around clutching Kalashnikovs. Abu Muntathar, who is forty-four, wore a crisp white-collared shirt, a navy pin-striped suit, and polished pointy black shoes.

Asa’ib formed in 2006 as a breakaway faction of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Asa’ib is engaged in several key battles against the Islamic State outside the capital, and it has a reputation for combatting al-munkar—activities, including consuming alcohol and engaging in extramarital sex, that are deemed counter to Islam—but Abu Muntathar denied that this was so. “Personal freedoms are permitted for Iraqis,” he said. “Whoever wants to go to a night club or to drink alcohol, we have nothing to do with them. Today, the name of Asa’ib terrifies many, so some people say they are Asa’ib when they are not. If I walk down the street, nobody knows if I am really Asa’ib or not.”

He said that the group was trying to root out impersonators, and that it had detained some, although he wouldn’t say how many or what they were doing. The group’s television station, Al-Ahad, broadcasts two phone numbers for people to call if they have been threatened by men claiming to be members of the militia. The numbers are flashed intermittently at the bottom of the screen. When I asked about the Zayouna killings, Abu Muntathar denied that his group was involved. “Where is the evidence that says we were?” he said. “You can’t just accuse somebody without evidence. Show me the evidence that it was us. It’s not true.”

Layla’s work takes her all over Iraq, but there’s one area in Baghdad, called Bataween, that is so rough that she won’t enter it. “I’ve drawn a red line around it,” she told me. Bataween was once an upscale, predominantly Jewish neighborhood, with elegant, intricately carved brick buildings and Juliet balconies, but the creation of Israel, in 1948, and the turmoil that followed prompted an exodus of Jewish communities from Iraq and across the Middle East. The façades have crumbled, and the neighborhood is now considered one of the most crime-ridden in the city and an epicenter of prostitution. Still, in the heart of Bataween, and unknown to residents, is a safe house run by the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. The O.W.F.I., which is based in Baghdad, has a staff of thirty-five and receives financial support from MADRE, an international women’s-rights group.

The O.W.F.I. runs eight safe houses across the country and is looking to open one for Yazidi women, in the north; it is the only organization outside Iraqi Kurdistan to operate such facilities. The Bataween safe house, a squalid two-bedroom apartment, serves as a sanctuary for victims of sexual abuse and for women who have nowhere else to go. Since it opened, in September of 2014, more than a dozen women have stayed there.

The apartment belongs to a young woman with dark skin, a broad smile, and a squeaky voice; I’ll call her Amira. In 2005, when she was about thirteen, her mother died, leaving her to care for her two younger brothers. (Her father was divorced from her mother and she was estranged from her stepfather.) Amira did the only thing that she thought would protect her: after the traditional forty-day mourning period, she married one of her stepfather’s friends, a man in his forties, on the condition that he also take in her two brothers. Soon after, during the Iraq war, Amira, several months pregnant, was walking to the store with neighbors, when a car drove past and its occupants shot and killed the men accompanying her. She was taken to the Kadhimiya women’s prison. “The neighbors said I set the men up to be killed by a death squad, because I am Shiite and they were Sunni,” she said.

Amira remained in prison for two years, during which time she gave birth to a daughter, Mariam, and divorced her husband. (She voluntarily granted him custody of Mariam.) A judge finally heard her case and dismissed it. While in prison, she met Dalal Rubaye, a grandmother who works for the O.W.F.I., and was distributing clothes and other items to the inmates. “She used to say that they would help anybody who needs it,” Amira said. “When I was freed, I went to find her, and she took me in.” Since 2009, no one from the O.W.F.I. has been permitted by Iraqi authorities to enter the women’s prison. Rubaye continues to push for permission, and is told each time that the visits are indefinitely postponed.

I first met Amira in 2008, shortly after her release from prison, in an O.W.F.I. safe house in Baghdad. She smiled when I reminded her recently of our first encounter, when she was quiet and shy. “I used to be afraid of everything, of everyone. Now I’m not,” she said. “I am proud that I have helped—that one day, whatever happens, somebody might say, ‘There used to be a girl called Amira who helped women.’ ”

The location of the shelter is such a closely guarded secret that only a few O.W.F.I. employees know where it is. It is not officially called a shelter; Iraqi authorities forbid nongovernmental organizations to operate shelters outside Iraqi Kurdistan. (A domestic-violence bill that is currently before parliament includes provisions for shelters, as does the 2012 anti-trafficking law, but no state-run shelter has opened.)

Amira leaves her front door ajar until ten o’clock or so every night. She stepped over a permanent puddle of water at the threshold and led me up uneven concrete stairs into her apartment. The main room was dimly lit, with several tattered red armchairs; a noisy air-conditioning unit filled the one window. Amira has a five-year-old son, who sat on the floor eating roasted pumpkin seeds. She divorced the boy’s father, her second husband, although she’s not sure when; she can’t read or write and often muddles dates.

Girls hear about Amira’s apartment through the O.W.F.I. or from Amira and other activists who carefully approach them on the streets and let them know that there’s a safe place if they need it. I stayed there for several days in May, and there were four residents, including Nisrine, a lithe twenty-two-year-old with hair cut short like a boy’s. Her mother had brought her in, because she couldn’t look after her and was worried that the girl’s stepfather would molest her. The three other girls were sisters. (I have changed their names.) Noor, the eldest, was twenty-one, with two children in diapers. She had arrived at the shelter two months earlier, penniless, after her marriage ended. Sabrine, the youngest sister, who was fourteen, came with her. She had been living with a physically abusive stepfather who, she said, forced her to beg on the streets and would beat her if she didn’t make at least twenty Iraqi dinars, or about seventeen dollars, a day. “Sometimes I’d sleep in the streets instead of coming home, because I was scared of him,” Sabrine said.

The third sister, Maya, who was eighteen, had arrived at Amira’s two weeks earlier. She kept her head down, rarely spoke, and flinched when approached; when another person walked into the room, she seemed to disappear into herself. Only Noor knew what had happened to her. “If you open this subject, you cut her open,” she told me.

When Maya was ten, she voluntarily entered a state-run orphanage in Baghdad, telling the administrators that her parents were dead. Five years later, her mother found her and took her back home. “My mother’s man would watch her when she showered,” Noor said. “He would sexually molest her.” A month later, Maya moved into Noor’s one-room rental in Bataween, but it wasn’t long before a pimp approached her with the offer of free food, shelter, and stability. “She ended up taken by the people behind the red door,” Noor said. “They sold her.”

The brothel with the red door is a few streets from Amira’s shelter. Written above the door is a Shiite religious inscription, “Ya Hussein,” which invokes the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson in Karbala, Iraq, one of the defining episodes of Shiite history. Noor said that Maya was sold to a brothel in Basra, three hundred and forty miles away, for two million Iraqi dinars—about seventeen hundred dollars—where she was locked in a room with five other girls. Two weeks before my visit, she had been sold for a full night to a man outside the brothel. She waited until he fell asleep, then escaped, borrowed a phone, and called Noor, who told her to come to Bataween by bus. “She was scared because they all know each other, the red-door people and the people in Basra, but she made it here,” Noor said.

Since Maya escaped, her pimp has called Noor several times to demand the return of the money she paid for Maya. The pimps don’t know that the sisters are in an apartment just a few streets away. They also don’t know what Noor or Sabrine looks like. Noor said that she was not afraid of them, even though she said they have connections to the police. Once, she filed a police report against the brothel, which prompted a call from Maya’s pimp. “She told me, ‘We know you went to the station and what you said. Do you think they didn’t tell us?’ Everything I told the police, the woman repeated to me. I told her, ‘Fine, if the police won’t help, I’ll go to the militias.’ That scared her.”

The anti-trafficking department of the Iraqi police force is situated in a small office within the vast maze of concrete blast walls, topped with coiled razor wire, that divide and subdivide Baghdad’s Interior Ministry complex. Since the department opened, in 2012, it has investigated sixty-eight cases of trafficking, most involving foreign-labor exploitation and the illicit organ trade. Captain Haider Naim told me that only five cases involved sex trafficking or prostitution, but he conceded that the figure wasn’t reflective of the size of the problem. Naim, who is thirty-five, is one of five officers in the department; two of them are posted in hospitals to supervise the paperwork for organ transplants.

The department does not have any patrol cars or any officers out on the beat, but several committees meet regularly, and there is a free hot-line number—533—that Naim said was designed to accept reports of trafficking. When I asked a friend to try the number from a cell phone and a landline, it didn’t work. I told Naim that human-rights activists and nongovernmental organizations seemed to be attacking the problem of sex trafficking more actively than his department was. He noted that the department’s director, a brigadier general, had been transferred to Anbar province after Ramadi fell to the Islamic State. “We are doing what we can,” he said. “But, you know, the sudden emergencies . . .”

Naim wouldn’t say where most of the trafficking was occurring, because it would mean admitting the department’s many inadequacies. “I could tell you this area and that area,” he said. “And then I’ll hear, ‘Why didn’t you combat it there? Why didn’t you post people there?’ We don’t have the ability to put people in these places. If we did, we would have eliminated these crimes. We would have dismantled them. We don’t have the means.”

Layla maintains a small network of tipsters whom she pays for information. One afternoon, while we were sipping sugary tea at the home of a mutual friend, she got a call from an acquaintance in Sadr City, an impoverished, mostly Shiite suburb of northeastern Baghdad. A woman had been dragged from her home and shot dead in the street. Layla quickly headed to the scene, insisting that I stay behind, because she didn’t know if the situation was safe. The victim was the third woman who had been murdered that week, Layla heard.

From neighbors, Layla learned that the woman had been killed by a man belonging to a militia, although it wasn’t clear which one. Nearby brothel owners told her that the woman was a pimp, and that one of her girls had informed a militiaman about her activities. “Sometimes I think it can’t be stopped,” Layla told me a few days later. When she sees victims, she said, “I feel like my insides are ripped open. I am hurt witnessing this.” Still, she would continue her work. “I am now confident and strong,” she said. “I know that I am a person, not an animal. My wound, my deep wound, is also my strength, because it makes me help others, to be around these pimps, to take them on. Those who bear scars must help the wounded.”

Source: newyorker.com

Știri si opinii

Amnesty International ar vrea ca prostituția să fie „drept al omului”

Fara indoiala, prostitutia este sclavia vremurilor moderne. Din pacate, importanta organizatie Amnesty International se afla de partea gresita a istoriei, avand in vedere solicitarea sa recenta de legalizare a acestei practici.

Prostitutia e o practica imorala care injoseste femeile si barbatii. Ca atare nu poate fi un „drept al omului”, in sensul in care legislatia internationala defineste acest termen. Ceea ce nu impiedica Amnesty International sa o promoveze cu zel. Intre 7 si 11 august, notoria organizatie internationala si-a tinut la Dublin reuniunea internationala in cursul careia a adoptat o rezolutie solicitand statelor lumii sa legifereze “dezincriminarea muncii sexuale” – “sex work”, un eufemism pentru prostitutie.

Pozitiile Amnesty International privind prostitutia accentueaza transformarea intr-o organizatie care promoveaza practici imorale si daunatoare. Pina astazi, insa, nu am dedicat un comentariu special exceselor si abuzurilor in care Amnesty insista. Oricum, criteriile folosite de board-ul organizatiei pentru evaluarea gradului de libertate al tarilor lumii devin tot mai bizare de la an la an. AI promoveaza avortul, „casatoriile” homosexuale si dezincriminarea relatiilor homosexuale. Dupa legalizarea „casatoriilor” unisex in Irlanda in mai, Amnesty a lansat o propunere de legalizare a avortului prin intermediul unui raport de peste 100 de pagini. Iar acum, promoveaza prostitutia ca o forma de expresie a “libertatii sexuale”.

Amnesty International nu mai este ce a fost cu decenii in urma, cind inca isi avea rostul iar obiectivele sale erau bine definite si apolitice. Acum, insa, sunt difuze si partinitoare. Amnesty a fost fondata pentru monitorizarea si promovarea la nivel international a drepturilor fundamentale ale omului, asa cum ele sunt inscrise in Declaratia Universala a Drepturilor Omului (1948). Rapoartele anuale erau primite cu mult respect de alte organizatii internationale si guverne, care considerau ca Amnesty detinea o importanta expertiza in domeniul drepturilor omului, iar informatiile furnizate erau larg acceptate. Intre timp, Amnesty si-a mutat centrul de interes, pentru a-si justifica bugetul urias. In ultimele decenii, abuzurile asupra drepturilor omului au cunoscut o descrestere semnificativa la nivel global, cauzata de prabusirea comunismului in Europa de Est si Uniunea Sovietica, colapsul dictaturilor militare din America de Sud, eliminarea segregatiei rasiale in Africa de Sud (sistemul de apartheid), sfarsitul dictaturilor Europei Mediteraneene (Spania si Portugalia), prabusirea sistemului colonial si globalizarea. Au fost si alti factori, dar se poate spune ca, in general, situatia drepturilor omului la nivel global s-a imbunatatit. In ultimele decenii, se observa incalcari ale drepturilor omului mai degraba din partea unor grupuri private decat a statelor si guvernelor. Exemple evidente in acest sens sunt traficul de fiinte umane si globalizarea practicilor imorale, cum ar fi prostitutia – sclavia moderna.

„Să plătești o prostituată înseamnă să finanțezi traficul de ființe umane.” Campanie antiprostituție în Luxemburg
„Să plătești o prostituată înseamnă să finanțezi traficul de ființe umane.” Campanie antiprostituție în Luxemburg

Amnesty International si revolutia sexuala

Revolutia sexuala a afectat si ea, in rau, perspectiva Amnesty International.

Nivelul de libertate al unei tari e definit, cum spuneam mai sus, si de legislatia privind sexualitatea si moralitatea. Iar cind Amnesty International isi alatura vocea celei a organismelor internationale precum ONU, presiunea asupra tarilor mici si ramase fidele principiilor morale traditionale e imensa. Acesta este cazul avortului, pe care Amnesty il considera „un drept al omului” sub sloganul seducator “my body my rights” (“trupul meu, drepturile mele”).

Iar acum, prostitutia. Unul dintre subiectele tratate la reuniunea de la Dublin a fost dezincriminarea prostitutiei, numita, in termeni ambigui, „industria sexului” („sex industry”). Amnesty isi cladeste pozitia pe notiunea ca “expresivitatea sexuala” e o nevoie fundamentala; in conformitate cu ideologia drepturilor omului care domina gandirea occidentala, orice nevoie devine un drept. E o doctrina folosita si de homosexuali pentru a se apara impotriva celor care critica manifestarile obscene si vulgare prilejuite de marsurile homosexuale, de exemplu, nuditatea si orgiile sexuale savarsite in public.

O extensie a acestei gandiri este ca persoanele cu dizabilitati au si ele dreptul sa-si exprime sexualitatea si ca autoritatile au obligatia sa le faciliteze accesul la relatii sexuale! Unele tari deja faciliteaza acest “drept” finantindu-l din fondurile publice. Olanda, de exemplu, plateste prostituate ca sa viziteze barbatii cu dizabilitati o data pe luna pentru a intretine relatii sexuale cu ei. La fel, un danez suferind de dizabilitate a pretins, intr-un articol publicat de BBC, ca are dreptul sa i se aduca acasa, pe cheltuiala statului, o prostituata. La fel, in Marea Britanie exista un fond public special alocat pentru persoanele cu dizabilitati ca acestea sa viziteze „casele de toleranta”. Un caz cu totul iesit din comun a fost al unui tinar de 21 de ani, dizabil, caruia guvernul britanic i-a finantat o calatorie la Amsterdam pentru a intretine relatii intime cu o prostituata.

Gurile rele spun ca in spatele initiativei lui Amnesty stau promotorii prostitutiei. Nu ar fi exclus, considerind ca, la urma urmelor, la nivel global prostitutia genereaza 99 de miliarde de dolari anual!

Hollywood-ul si femnistele infrunta Amnesty International

Alarmate, cateva actrite de la Hollywood au adresat, pe 22 iulie, o scrisoare catre Amnesty International. Scrisoarea e neobisnuit de critica si a fost semnata de sute de personalitati si organizatii neguvernamentale din toata lumea. Ea atentioneaza ca legalizarea prostitutiei si relaxarea regulamentelor privind prostitutia au rezultat in cresterea fara precedent a numarului de persoane traficate pentru sex. Un exemplu e Germania, unde in 2002 guvernul a relaxat regulamentele care controlau industria prostitutiei. Relaxarea nu a dus, asa cum se afirmase inainte, la protejarea femeilor si prostituatelor; dimpotriva, rezultatul a fost o explozie fara precedent a numarului caselor de toleranta, care a atras dupa sine o crestere semnificativa a traficului de femei. Majoritatea fetelor vin din Europa de Est, Africa, Asia si America Latina. Mass media germana s-a lansat agresiv impotriva prostitutiei, etichetind Germania “Bordelul Europei”. Situatia a devenit atit de ingrijoratoare, incat in 2014 un grup de experti germani au cerut guvernului sa abroge legile din 2002, notind efectele negative psihologice si traumele fizice ale fetelor care se prostitueaza ori sunt traficate pentru sex.

O explozie in numarul femeilor traficate pentru prostitutie a fost observat si in Olanda, unde prostitutia este legala din 2000. Pina la 90% dintre femeile traficate pentru sex in Olanda sunt din Europa de Est, Africa si Asia.

Fara o industrie vie a sexului, afirma scrisoarea actritelor din Hollywood, nu ar exista trafic de fiinte umane pentru sex (“Without a vibrant sex industry, there would be no sex trafficking”).

De exemplu, anual in India intre 2 si 3 milioane de femei si fete sunt exploatate sexual. Intr-un limbaj mai putin politicos, asta inseamna ca in India se prostitueaza anual intre 2 si 3 milioane de femei si fete tinere. Infanticidul fetelor nenascute a redus numarul de femei disponibile pentru a deveni sotii numarului excedentar de barbati. Aceasta a rezultat in prostitutie si trafic de femei la niste proportii uriase.

Vanzarea si cumpararea de servicii sexuale, adauga scrisoarea, nu pot fi concepute ca drept al omului. Serviciile sexuale inseamna exploatarea femeilor de catre barbati si duc la inegalitate intre sexe (“prostitution as a cause and consequence of gender inequality”). Scrisoarea face referinta si la o rezolutie adoptata de Parlamentul European in 2014, care cere statelor membre sa dezincrimineze vanzarea de servicii sexuale si sa penalizeze cumpararea lor. Adica femeile care se prostitueaza sa nu fie penalizate, dar barbatii care le cumpara serviciile sa fie.


Amnesty International si globalizarea

Rezolutia adoptata Amnesty International este ingrijoratoare si din alt punct de vedere. AI beneficiaza de bugete uriase, au un numar imens de membri si filiale in multe tari ale lumii, in general are o mare infuenta si putere si uneori tinde sa aduca atingere suveranitatii, substituindu-se parlamentelor nationale. AI si altele organizatii de acelasi tip sunt acele „organizatii de guvernare globala” despre care scria Jonathan GS Koppel in cartea sa World Rule: Accountability, Legitimacy, and the Design of Global Governance (2010). Koppel atrage atentia asupra pericolelor pe care acestea le prezinta pentru democratie si guvernarea suverana. Regulile si politicile nationale tind sa fie adoptate mai putin de cei alesi democratic si mai mult prin presiunea externa exercitata de grupuri transnationale, pe care nimeni nu le alege si care nu reprezinta pe nimeni.

In final, va recomandam un articol pe tema „Amnesty International si prostitutia” la Mercatornet.com, precum si raportul “Conexiunile dintre pornografie, prostitutie si trafic de fiinte umane” de Melissa Fairley, ale carui concluzii sunt relevante:

  • aproape jumatate dintre prostituate au avut cel putin o incercare de suicid
  • 80% din prostituate declara ca au fost agresate de „pesti” sau clienti
  • aproape 70% dintre prostituate au inceput sa se prostitueze inainte de 17 ani, iar in SUA, varsta medie a intrarii in prostituei este 12 ani.
Știri si opinii

To protect women and minors, prohibit prostitution…

…But use the law to drive down demand, say experts in public health and culture.

A vote at Amnesty International’s decision-making forum earlier this month has committed the human rights organization to promoting the full decriminalization of prostitution – a step, it claims, that will protect “sex workers” human rights and prevent trafficking and the exploitation of minors.

While such weighty authorities as the World Health Organisation and other UN agencies agree with Amnesty, women’s rights and anti-trafficking groups vehemently disagree. They say that coercion and abuse are inherent in prostitution and they want to see it abolished, following the approach of a Swedish law which prosecutes those who buy sex but not those who sell, the latter being helped to exit prostitution.

What is the best approach to this individual and social problem? For an independent view MercatorNet asked experts at the University of Navarre’s Institute for Culture and Society, who published their own report on the issue last year as part of the project Education of Human Affectivity and Sexuality. In the following interview Dr Jokin de Irala and Dr Cristina Lopez answer our questions.

From what perspective does your report approach the issue of prostitution?

In our report we approach the issue of prostitution from different perspectives. It is difficult to address prostitution without taking into account the social vulnerability of women and minors who are mostly victims of human trafficking, issues pertaining to criminal law, equality between males and females, or the need to educate both victims of exploitation and the so-called “clients”, who can be unaware of the human drama behind prostitution.

We also consider how affective and sexual education centered on preparing youth for love, rather than promoting so called “safe sex” programs, also plays an important role in the prevention of prostitution. We are aware that an array of influential and international organizations, global authorities as well as powerful and diffuse associations and/or donor agencies that, collectively, we call the “Sex Education Establishment”, are keen to promote the decriminalization of prostitution. They use the argument that this is the best way of preventing trafficking and problems such as the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STI´s). These institutions create policy guidelines and fund initiatives worldwide to carry out their strategic priorities. Sometimes called “best practices”, these priority interventions are presented as neutral, factual information but their track record is often questionable. For this reason we also believe it is essential to approach prostitution using evidence based criteria, whenever possible.

What is the best solution to the problems of prostitution – some form of legalisation to limit the harms, or complete prohibition? 

The debate about prostitution is usually approached from these two perspectives. The first argues that legalization of the “commercial sex” would end human trafficking for that purpose, while the second proposes that the most effective measure against human trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation is the outlawing of prostitution.

Those who defend the first approach argue that we should distinguish between prostitution (also called “voluntary exchange of sex for money”) and trafficking and that both activities are not necessarily related. According to this approach, banning prostitution is state interference in private affairs, and even a factor that worsens the living conditions of persons who prostitute themselves. They also argue that the State should not criminalize “the entire sector” because of a minority that commits abuses. In summary, this perspective tends to not relate prostitution with the abuse of persons and therefore argues that prohibition is inappropriate.

The second approach, abolition, is based on the finding that prostitution and human trafficking are both directly and intrinsically related, and not due to the prohibition of prostitution. According to the International Labour Organization, there are 2.4 million people victims of trafficking: 98% are women and half are minors. Also, the Office of the United Nations on Drugs and Crime states that 79% of human trafficking is for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Prostitution is considered the most important and profitable type of sex trade. In a study on prostitution and trafficking in nine countries (developed and developing), Melissa Farley finds that between 70% and 90% of prostitutes suffer physical violence; between 60% and 75% of them have been raped in the environment of prostitution, and 89% of the prostitutes in those countries want to leave prostitution.

If abolition is the goal, which type of law seems most effective? 

Sweden has laws prohibiting the “purchase” of sexual services, considered as “a criminal offense”. This law criminalizes the person who pays for the “service”, not the one who provides “her/his body”, because it is part of a prevention program of violence against women, and because its objective is to help more people to leave prostitution. Studies show that such laws do not cause increases in rape or violence against women. Moreover, it reduces street prostitution, and up to 90% of affected women have managed to leave this activity thanks to the help facilitated by the law.

It is important to remember that laws prohibiting prostitution seek, ultimately, to protect equality, protect women and minors and prevent serious abuses of human rights. We must remember a basic principle: the global business of prostitution thrives because of the “clients” seeking “sexual services” and the “inexpensive” victims who are exploited. Therefore, it is crucial to strongly act at this initial point of the demand: “points of sale” of “sexual services”.

The Lancet says that “decriminalisation of sex work would have the greatest effect on the course of HIV epidemics across all settings, averting 33–46% of HIV infections in the next decade.” – How do you respond to that claim? 

Well, we believe that those who make such claims would do better to describe what evidence they have to prove them. As noted above, international experiences of “intelligent” forms of prohibition such as Swedish law have a higher public health achievement compared to other experiences such as the legalization in Germany. Swedish law focuses on the criminalization of clients and the empowerment of women and minors that could be victims of human trafficking.

The reduction of HIV epidemics argued in the Lancet article assumes the achievement of more hygiene, and condom use, in a setting where prostitution would be legal, but two issues have to be taken into account. Firstly, it is well known that clients and commercial sex workers rarely have an equal status in that “commercial transaction” and thus condom use would still ultimately depend on what “clients” want. Secondly, the large epidemics of HIV infection in areas such as those in Sub Saharan Africa have not solved their problems thanks to condom promotion. The largest reductions of HIV transmission have resulted more from the reduction of the number of sexual partners.

We are afraid “commercial sex” businesses “need” a large number of clients rather than a reduced number. Since condoms are not 100% effective in avoiding STI’s, the phenomenon of “risk compensation” will surely be the cause of new infections in spite of the legalization of prostitution.

Germany is one country which has opted for legalisation, treating prostitution as “work” but regulating the conditions under which it is practised. How is that working out? 

In Germany, prostitution is legal since 2002 and “sex workers” have access to retirement benefits because they pay social security contributions. However, studies show that the legalization has failed to reduce the cases of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, and that hygiene and other conditions of these “workers” have not improved as expected.

For prohibition to work, what sorts of social policies and other initiatives are necessary?

Obviously, it is always necessary to consider bans in an international and global context of measures, taking into account to all the complex aspects related to the problem of human trafficking. For example: by combating the demand from customers and pimps (adapting prohibitionist laws to international needs, enforcing them, prosecuting those who traffic within criminal networks, identifying facilitators and exploiters); by reducing the “supply” (achieving the goal that no one perceives the “need” to engage in prostitution, promoting assertiveness, resilience and other life skills in young people, and finally by rehabilitating and reintegrating victims); as well, by strengthening communities (increasing their economic opportunities, encouraging equality between men and women, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration of professionals and improving the training of advocates of the law). And in this context of “global action”, the affective and sexual education of youth is crucial.

Both the Lancet and Amnesty International, among others, refer to prostitution as “sex work” and suggest that it can exist as a freely chosen service to meet the needs of particular people.  – Is it just traditional morality that stands in the way of this “profession” or is there something in the realm of human values that makes it unacceptable? 

It does not seem reasonable to believe that “a client” can be always totally sure of engaging in sex with a person that is not a minor, or that this person “offers his/her services” without being pressured or abused to engage in this activity. To distinguish between a “commercial transaction” that is free from pressure and abuse is complicated in practice when the one that pays for commercial sex does not go much further than that sexual act that was paid for.

Experts such as Joanna Niemi (professor of Law at Helsinki University) affirm that the use of terms such as “commercial sex”, “sexual service”, “provider”, “client” are used by some with the intention to increase respect towards the people involved. However she is worried by the unwanted collateral effects of the use of such terms. She is concerned because such terms ultimately facilitate human trafficking. It is more difficult to perceive an abuse if we speak of “economic transactions to pay for a service”. The terms lead us to interpret what is happening in brothels as “leisure and sexual consumption”. The “client”, usually a male, does not necessarily identify himself as an abuser and he can easily be unaware that the persons who are “providing a service” are in fact doing that against their will, due to economic or other pressures, or even that they are minors.

How can prostitution be abolished in societies which allow pornography to flourish? What is the educational task here? 

Pornography is a real social problem, with a clear impact on public health as more and more young people are developing problematic and addictive uses of pornography. Furthermore there is also a link between pornography and sexual abuse of women and minors. Pornography can be considered a trigger and/or fuel of the problem of the “perceived need” of prostitution that we mentioned previously.

We mentioned affective and sexual education of youth as part of the global action against prostitution. Some proposals, for example those from the sex education establishment worldwide, are centered on safe sex messages or on biological aspects of human sexuality. However, our affectivity, or emotional responsiveness, is part of our sexuality. Therefore, character education should precede education concerning the more biological aspects of sexuality. Some programs also teach the biological aspects of sexuality but concentrate more on preparing youth to become loving adults as opposed to “sexual experts” that constantly have condoms in mind.

The more biologically-centered approaches to sex education seldom help youth to be real and empowered masters of their own sexuality; they rather lead them into emotional and affective dependencies, with possessive ideas concerning romantic relationships. This in turn increases the frequency of abusive relationships and, when “needed”, the use of prostitution.

Jokin de Irala MD, MPH, PhD, is the former Vice Dean of the School of Medicine of the University of Navarre. He has a Master of Public Health (University of Dundee) and doctorates in Medicine (University of Navarre) and Biostatistics and Epidemiology (University of Massachusetts). He is the Senior researcher of the project Education of Affectivity and Human Sexuality from the Institute of Culture and Society of the University of Navarre. 

Cristina Lopez-del Burgo MD, PhD, is Associate Professor of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Navarre, Spain. She has also specialized in Family and Community Medicine.

Source: mercatornet.com