Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Girls Gone Wild" Creator Busted for Exploiting Minors

JOE FRANCIS (Evan Agostini / Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that "Joe Francis and the Santa Monica-based company he built on soft-core "Girls Gone Wild" videos pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating federal laws designed to prevent the sexual exploitation of children and agreed to pay fines totaling $2.1 million."

These videos sold on late night cable feature young women, mostly college students on Spring Break holiday, drunk and enagaged in various sexually explicit positions and acts. Francis failed to keep accurate records proving the age of some of the girls featured in the videos.

From the article:
In legal statements filed Tuesday, the companies acknowledged that throughout 2002 and part of 2003, it filmed, produced, and distributed sexually explicit materials in violation of record- keeping and labeling laws. Those laws require producers not only to maintain proof of age and identification for performers, but also to carry labels on their videos saying where those documents can be found.

"We regret that this occurred and will make sure that no other minors are used in 'Girls Gone Wild' films," Francis said in his court statement.

Since 1998, Francis has built a business around spring-break revelry and youthful hedonism. The company has released dozens of "Girls Gone Wild" films featuring real footage of young women, often intoxicated, bouncing around bars and beaches and flashing their breasts for the cameras.

A portion of the evidence used by the Justice Department investigation that resulted in Tuesday's guilty pleas came from a separate case filed in Panama City in 2003. The state attorney's office filed a 77-count complaint in Florida circuit court that alleged that Francis and his crew took a 16-year-old girl and four 17-year-old girls to a motel and paid them to engage in sexual conduct with one another in a shower in front of his cameras. He also paid two of the girls $50 each to engage in sexual actions with him, according to the complaint. Authorities seized film footage, Francis' Ferrari and his personal jet.

Francis pleaded not guilty to all charges. After a judge last month suppressed all the evidence, saying it was illegally obtained, Dyer said he would seek to have the case dismissed. He said Tuesday's agreement would have no bearing on the state criminal case in Panama City.

Also pending is a civil case alleging child abuse and sexual exploitation, which was filed against Francis, his crew and his company by the parents of the young women in Panama City.

Based on evidence seized in Panama City, federal investigators stepped in and obtained a search warrant for Mantra Films' Santa Monica office. The FBI has confirmed that it conducted a search of Francis' offices in September 2005.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Opium Trade in Afghanistan Linked to Human Trafficking

Geneva: Lisa Schlein reports for VOA News that: The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration says there is a connection between the illegal trade of drugs in Afghanistan and human trafficking. IOM is holding a three-day workshop in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to make government officials more aware of the problem and the need for them to take action.

In her report, Schlein notes that:
"According to the 2006 State Department Report on Trafficking in Persons, Afghanistan is a source country for women and children.

The IOM says children are trafficked within the country to work as beggars or as bonded labor in the brick kiln and carpet making industries. It says women and girls are kidnapped or sold for forced marriages. They are pushed into prostitution and sometimes used to settle debts or to resolve conflicts.

Internationally, IOM says Afghan women and girls are being trafficked primarily to Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia."

What Causes Men to Buy Sex?

From a column in Edmonton's Vue Weekly, Murray Sinclair tackles the question "What causes men to buy sex?" And he finds, startlingly but not surprisingly, that the reason is less about sex about more about control and voilence:
In Sergeant Jim Morrissey's experience, sex isn't the main factor behind men buying prostitutes, even though there's obviously a sexual act involved.

"It's more about power ... about control and violence," said the detective with Edmonton Police Service's vice section.

While a man being violent to his wife, girlfriend or even a woman he picked up at the bar may be reported to the police, that chance of law enforcement becoming involved is significantly lower when a sex trade worker is assaulted, but understanding the root causes of why men buy sex is relevant to the issue of prostitution, with street activity reportedly increasing in the city.

"We’ve had more [offences] this summer than at this time last year," Morrissey confirmed.

Kate Quinn, executive director of the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton (PAAFE), is also familiar with the violent streak shown by johns. At least once a week, the prostitutes to whom she speaks suffer "bad dates" or violent acts committed by men who have bought sex.

"There were two bad dates last night," she said when interviewed in late August, noting that men sometimes use very derogatory language against the sex trade workers they are with, suggesting that they see women as objects, and think they can be physically and verbally abusive because they're paying. As well as providing quick, anonymous sex with no commitment or attachment, she said men buy to achieve "a sense of power."

"They're buying someone to make them do what they want them to do," she continued. "It's hard to find a common denominator, but there are a number of men [who buy sex] who are violent and abusive. Violence is part of prostitution."

Quinn added that the problem might be more widespread, as much of the violence goes unreported and "a lot [of johns] avoid arrest," mentioning the 28 prostitutes who have been murdered in the Edmonton area and noting that so far only one man has been jailed for any of these crimes. The johns encountered by Quinn and Morrissey come from all different ages, professions and socio-economic and racial backgrounds.

"It's a United Nations of misbehaviour," said the sergeant, who has caught aboriginal chiefs, lawyers, plumbers, salespeople and even fellow officers buying sex. "It could be any man."

One of Morrissey's most incredible stings was of a priest picking up a prostitute mere metres away from the front doors of his church. ("There's lots of religious people buying sex," he said.)

Morrissey also noted that johns tend to have problems similar to those faced by the prostitutes they solicit, including drug and alcohol addiction, poverty and mental health issues, and, like prostitutes, many Johns have grown up in abusive homes.

Up to 15 per cent of johns are pedophiles looking to have sex with underage girls who are "fresh," said Morrissey, using the industry term.

Quinn said some johns may be out of a relationship and looking for a way to address their sexual needs by buying prostitutes, but again power may come into play.

"When you pay for something, nobody can reject you," she said. "You don't have to put yourself out there (or) face rejection."

But Morrissey said many johns actually look relatively attractive, and probably would not have much problem picking up a woman at a bar for consensual sex. Relating buying sex to issues of power again, he speculates that some men may buy sex because they are unhappy with their personal relationships.

"It's the way they get a little bit of power back—it makes them feel good," Morrissey said. "But that’s someone's mom or daughter. It's sad—I'm very disappointed in my gender some days."

When asked what kind of measures could be used to curb prostitution, Morrissey points to the prostitution offender program, or "john school," an alternative measures program coordinated by PAAFE.

Eligible men caught buying sex who choose to participate in the day course learn about the health risks of buying sex and hear stories from people and communities victimized by the sex trade.

"It’s a tremendous success," said Morrissey, noting how sorry graduates feel about buying sex. "In one day, they learn that prostitution is not a victimless crime. If only we could educate all of our adolescent men and adults."

That said, talking about prostitution in school is difficult, as Morrissey discovered when a principal nixed his plans to talk about his vice section's work during a school visit, worried about how parents would react.

Child Trafficking in Zimbabwe Worse Than Thought

Harare, Zimbabwe: The Herald newspaper published this article on August 22, pointing out that while Zimbabwe has been included in many major studies focusing on cross-border trafficking of children and women, trafficking within the country has gone largely unchecked. The trafficking of children, most especially.

From Zimbabwe: Stop Trafficking in Women and Children by, Ropafadzo Mapimhidze:
Salome, an 18-year-old teenager from Epworth, recently revealed in an interview this week that she had been a sex slave since she was 13 years old.

A friend of her aunt who promised her a job at a food outlet brought in Salome, an orphan, from Murehwa, but her nightmare began three days after arriving at her house in Mbare.

"I was told on the third day to dress up in clothes she had bought. I was instructed to wear make-up and to join her at a local pub. When we got there at around 9pm I was made to drink alcohol and I was introduced to all sorts of men. That night I was forced to go with some man at her house where he raped me.

"That became the trend until I no longer went to the bar but instead clients would come to the house any time of the day and the money would be paid to the woman. I lived there like a prisoner and I never set foot in the city centre for the period I lived there.

"I was threatened not to tell anyone until I fell pregnant when I turned 15 and she chased me away in December last year. I then found myself on the streets.

"I was too scared to go back to my rural area because I had nothing to show for the few years that I had been working and so I am now living in Epworth with other teenage girls that have been through more or less the same ordeal. My baby died from pneumonia a few months after birth," Salome said.

When asked how they were surviving, she said they had resorted to full-time prostitution and that they walked the streets of Harare at night seeking clients.

Massage Parlor Ads in Washington Post

Washington Post columnist Deborah Powell takes on her own newspaper's advertising when she writes about the massage parlor ads run within, especially in the sports section. She notes that some of these parlors advertised in the WP were busted for sex trafficking rings.

From Sunday, August 27, "Time to Drop the Massage Parlor Ads":

The Post runs "massage parlor" advertising almost every day in the Sports section. The ads are small and discreet in content, but not always candid: The money for those ads doesn't come from masseuses trained in Swedish, shiatsu or deep-tissue massage. And men don't go there for back rubs.
Read the full column here.