Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cambodia: The Truth Behind the Smiles (N. Kristof)

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA -- Western men who visit red-light districts in poor countries often find themselves surrounded by coquettish teenage girls laughingly tugging them toward the brothels. The men assume that the girls are there voluntarily, and in some cases they are right.

But anyone inclined to take the girls’ smiles at face value should talk to Sina Vann (at left), who was once one of those smiling girls.

Sina is Vietnamese but was kidnapped at the age of 13 and taken to Cambodia, where she was drugged. She said she woke up naked and bloody on a bed with a white man — she doesn’t know his nationality — who had purchased her virginity.

After that, she was locked on the upper floors of a nice hotel and offered to Western men and wealthy Cambodians. She said she was beaten ferociously to force her to smile and act seductive.

“My first phrase in Khmer,” the Cambodian language, “was, ‘I want to sleep with you,’ ” she said. “My first phrase in English was” — well, it’s unprintable.

Sina mostly followed instructions and smiled alluringly at men because she would have been beaten if men didn’t choose her. But sometimes she was in such pain that she resisted, and then she said she would be dragged down to a torture chamber in the basement.

“Many of the brothels have these torture chambers,” she said. “They are underground because then the girls’ screams are muffled.”

As in many brothels, the torture of choice was electric shocks. Sina would be tied down, doused in water and then prodded with wires running from the 220-volt wall outlet. The jolt causes intense pain, sometimes evacuation of the bladder and bowel — and even unconsciousness...


Sunday, December 28, 2008

India: Modern Face of Slavery

Meena Tirki, 17, left her village with the promise of a new life in East Delhi,
but was soon being abused

DELHI, INDIA -- She came to Delhi dreaming of a new start, of escape from a life of poverty and hardship. Yet when she arrived, Sushma Kumari quickly realised she had been tricked.

Far from being trained in the skills of acupuncture, for two years she was forced to work as an unpaid domestic help in the home of the "doctor" supposed to be teaching her. She toiled from 5am to midnight, seven days a week. She was abused and mistreated. Almost certainly she was brought to Delhi by a professional trafficker; what is beyond doubt is that once she got here she lived the life of slave.

For a woman who has the right to burn with anger, Sushma talks in little more than a whisper. "I really wanted to go home but I was not allowed to talk to my father," she says. "I felt desperate, cheated."

The story of Sushma is a journey to the dark side of the new India, away from the tales of soaring economic growth and gleaming fashion malls, of Western-style coffee-shops filled with a newly wealthy class. The two are surely connected; chief among the reasons for the growing demand for young, poor women from places like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and other desperately poor states to come to toil in India's growing metropolitan centres, is that a new generation of professional women entering the workforce no longer have the time or inclination for household chores. Human traffickers fill the gap...


Africa: Goldman-Sachs Educates Women in Emerging Nations

Female business students in Lagos in class this year with the support of Goldman Sachs, which is based in New York.
(Marc Bryan-Brown)

LAGOS - Finding time away from building a new business is never easy, but Ngozi Okoli-Owube gladly set aside her daily schedule this year to go back to school to learn marketing, accounting and managerial skills that she never had the time to master.

For five months, Okoli-Owube, 31, alternated her work establishing a preschool for learning-disabled children in Lagos with weeklong stints at the Lagos Business School, joining a class of two dozen women to earn a certificate in entrepreneurial management.

"I have a university degree, but I did not have the training in how to run a business," said Okoli-Owube, who had been struggling to get enough students to enroll at her "Start Right" school. "I have to learn to keep the books, how to market and to get advice from women who've come out the other side."

So when she saw a local newspaper advertisement last spring for 10,000 Women, a global entrepreneurship program run by Goldman Sachs, she and about 100 other women jumped at the chance to apply.

The welfare of girls and women has long been on the agenda of international agencies. The World Bank, for example, this year announced steps to increase support for women entrepreneurs by channeling some $100 million in commercial credit lines to them by 2012...


CA: Child Domestic Slavery Spreads to US

AP – Shyima Hall, 19, discusses her domestic enslavement Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, in Beaumont, Calif.

IRVINE, CALIFORNIA --Late at night, the neighbors saw a little girl at the kitchen sink of the house next door. They watched through their window as the child rinsed plates under the open faucet. She wasn't much taller than the counter and the soapy water swallowed her slender arms.

To put the dishes away, she climbed on a chair.

But she was not the daughter of the couple next door doing chores. She was their maid.

Shyima was 10 when a wealthy Egyptian couple brought her from a poor village in northern Egypt to work in their California home. She awoke before dawn and often worked past midnight to iron their clothes, mop the marble floors and dust the family's crystal. She earned $45 a month working up to 20 hours a day. She had no breaks during the day and no days off.

The trafficking of children for domestic labor in the U.S. is an extension of an illegal but common practice in Africa. Families in remote villages send their daughters to work in cities for extra money and the opportunity to escape a dead-end life. Some girls work for free on the understanding that they will at least be better fed in the home of their employer.

The custom has led to the spread of trafficking, as well-to-do Africans accustomed to employing children immigrate to the U.S. Around one-third of the estimated 10,000 forced laborers in the United States are servants trapped behind the curtains of suburban homes, according to a study by the National Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley and Free the Slaves, a nonprofit group. No one can say how many are children, especially since their work can so easily be masked as chores...


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Czech Rep: Financial Crisis Tames Demand for Prostitution

A prostitute in Dubi, the Czech Republic, waited for clients. The town’s conservative mayor thanked the downturn for “helping to keep sex tourists away.”

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - On a recent night at Big Sister, which calls itself the world’s biggest Internet brothel, a middle-aged man selected a prostitute by pressing an electronic menu on a flat-screen TV to review the age, hair color, weight and languages spoken by the women on offer.

Once he had chosen an 18-year-old brunette, he put on a mandatory terry-cloth robe and proceeded to one of the brothel’s luridly lighted theme rooms: an Alpine suite decorated with foam rubber mountains covered with fake snow.

Nearby, in the brothel’s cramped control room, two young technicians worked dozens of hidden cameras that would film the man’s performance and stream it, live, onto Big Sister’s Web site.

Customers can have sex free of charge at Big Sister, in return for signing a release form allowing the brothel to film their sexual exploits.

But even with this financial incentive, Carl Borowitz, 26, Big Sister’s marketing manager, a Moravian computer engineer, lamented that the global financial crisis had diminished the number of sex tourists coming to Prague.

“Sex is a steady demand, because everyone needs it, and it used to be taboo, which made a service like ours all the more attractive,” said Mr. Borowitz, who looks more like Harry Potter than Larry Flynt. “But the problem today is that there is too much competition and our clients don’t have as much disposable income as before.”

In the Czech Republic, where prostitution operates in a legal gray zone, the sex industry is big business, generating more than $500 million in annual revenues, 60 percent of which is derived from foreign visitors, according to Mag Consulting, a Prague-based research firm that studies the industry.

Big Sister is not the only brothel suffering the effects of a battered global economy. While the world’s oldest profession may also be one of its most recession-proof businesses, brothel owners in Europe and the United States say the global financial crisis is hurting a once lucrative industry...


Monday, December 8, 2008

EU: Danish Sex Workers Angry Over EU Proposal

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT - A new regulation being put up for proposal by the European Parliament would forbid any MEP from staying at a hotel that maintains contacts with prostitutes. The Sex Workers Interest Organisation (SIO) in Denmark has condemned the move by the EU, saying that it stigmatizes prostitutes.

The SIO has called on all European sex workers to boycott any politician who supports the policy at next year’s European Parliament elections. According to the Politiken newspaper, SIO’s reaction was a response to the actions of Soren Sondergaard of the People’s Movement Against the EU and Karen Riis-Jorgensen of the ruling Liberal Party, who both raised the issue with the Parliament’s chairman.

One sex worker named Sue told Politiken: “The hotels are where we work. We can’t do it in backyards or in cars. The proposal will force many out into the streets.” But the threat of a boycott by European sex workers appears to have little effect on MEPs, or Sondergaard, who claims to have 37 Nordic politicians backing him in the European Parliament.

Sondergaard defended his position by saying that his proposal is neither for nor against prostitution; but that he is primarily concerned about protecting the women. “If you’re just a little bit internationally founded and don’t just sit around fiddling with your navel, you’d know that lots of women are kept as slaves and have no free choice in what they do. If the Sex Workers Organisation can’t see that, they’re a really bad union,” Politiken quoted the left-wing Sondergaard as saying...


Dubai: Sex Double Standards

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES -Last summer, at a lavish party thrown by the company I was working for in Dubai, the guests were warned we would burn in hell unless we obeyed our boss. Alcohol was not involved: the directors had flown in a respected cleric from Iraq to deliver a moral message to employees. The core of his rhetoric involved a one-way trip into a pit of fire, and he meant it all quite literally.

The lecture was typical of the sort of moral and religious views that are colliding headlong with the modern world in the United Arab Emirates – a problem highlighted by the very public trial of two Britons who allegedly had sex on a beach. The laws and morals widely applied in the UAE (the country's stances on homosexuality and cohabiting couples are particularly backward; the position on public indecency less so) are simply not compatible with the country's population, 90% of which is foreign, many of whom are lured to the kingdom by tax-free wages and sun – two ingredients for having a very good time.

Of course, local laws need to be heeded, even if you disagree with them. But the local media's depiction of the British pair as morally bankrupt and their subsequent letting-off by the Dubai appeal court judge – they will merely be deported – poses the awkward question of how far such moral values can (and should) be imposed on a population that has a very different demographic from that of the leaders who establish and enforce the law. The UAE relies on foreign workers to run the country and its industries but, according to Dubai's moral code, most shouldn't even be in the country (or at least in jail) if they're living with a girlfriend or boyfriend or have made a public display of affection towards someone of the opposite sex. (Unless you're two Arab male friends, in which case it is quite usual to walk along the street holding hands. That one threw me for a while.)

Walk down the Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai's main thoroughfare, and you'll find prostitutes, many of them Thai, touting for business in the early hours. Further away from the main city centre, Russian prostitutes entertain a rich clientele in clubs. This goes on in every major city in the world, but Dubai ruthlessly clamps down on certain behaviour – minor public indecency for example – while completely ignoring blatant corruption of other laws, as embodied by the sex workers on the streets. One hand punishes those who break certain aspects of their moral code; the other massages and encourages those who are doing something far more harmful...


Britain: Sex for Sale - The Truth About Sex for Sale in Britain

In the UK there are some 80,000 sex workers, a figure that is said to include 4,000 women and children trafficked into the country to work as sex slaves

LONDON, ENGLAND - Who are the key players in Britain's 21st-century sex industry? "Not me," you're thinking. But the term "sex industry" is a catch-all for such a multifarious collection of sex-associated objects and activities, that there is scarcely an adult in Britain whose life it doesn't touch in some way.

The sex industry encompasses anything that joins sex and commerce, be that a plastic toy bought from Ann Summers, a copy of Playboy, dialling a premium-rate number for phone sex, or paying a tenner for a hand job down a back alley, not to mention erotic fiction, porn films, stag-night strippers and lap-dancing clubs.

In terms of prostitution, the stories we tend to hear are the most tragic – such as the murders of five prostitutes in Ipswich in 2006; a horrific story, but a quantum leap, thank God, from the experiences of most women who sell their bodies for a living – from those working in saunas, massage parlours and brothels to escorts and companions who can earn six-figure incomes.

One in 10 British men has visited a prostitute. Yes, that's 10 per cent. And who is servicing them? Around 80,000 sex workers, a figure that is said to include 4,000 women and children trafficked into the country to work as sex slaves. Our laws on paid sex, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith declared, are long overdue for a rethink...


UK: Home Office Plan for Tackling Prostitution

UNITED KINGDOM - This November 2008 report outlines the results of a six-month review into methods for dealing with prostitution. The Home Office launched this review to explore what further action could be taken to reduce demand.

Tackling the demand for prostitution is an integral element of the government's coordinated prostitution strategy, and the UK action plan on tackling human trafficking.


Uganda: MP Praises New Trafficking Bill

UGANDA - The chairperson of the parliamentary Forum for Children Ruth Tuma has praised the new bill on child trafficking saying that it will help reduce the practice in the country which has caused enormous suffering to children and women.

The recent UN report indicated that women and children are trafficked out of the country to developed countries like USA, UK and Canada and neighboring countries like Sudan, Kenya for sex and child labor.

Speaking at parliament today, Tuma said that the bill has been long overdue and it will help to ensure the safety of women and children.

She appealed to the government to start sensitizing people on the dangers of the practice at the grass root level so as to increase their vigilance in reporting cases of people involved in such bad practices.

The bill was tabled this week in parliament. If passed it will now make it hard for people to sell other people especially children and women for sex and child labor.

In Karamoja children and women have been openly sold in cow markets to people who want to use them as sex workers and child laborers.

This follows intense lobbying by child and women activists who have been appealing for a proper legislation to ensure the elimination of the practice.


Botswana: Phikwe Suffocating Under Volcanic Sex Trade

SELEBI-PHIKWE, BOTSWANA - The sun has set and in the distant horizon, a spectacular glow provides a breathtaking view. Weary figures trudge along Botswana Road while vehicles roar past. The day has gone, as darkness replaces sunlight. The evening has set; a normal evening on a brisk Friday as the month winds away.

As darkness slowly engulfs the area, the number of figures heading into town dwindles significantly. Actually, it is reduced to a trickle. However, some figures pace up and down the street. The motive is not clear as they slowly become a permanent feature on this road.

A closer look unmasks young female figures, their conversation hardly inspires hope. An approaching vehicle seemingly brings hope to the scantily dressed figures. To some who walk this 'innocent' road, it is just a passing vehicle, but to the desperate figures, the sound of a vehicle brings with it hope. This is probably where the next meal will come from.

The women who ply their trade on this street are hungry. Driven by a desire to escape grinding poverty, the young women are forced to give away their bodies. Commercial sex or prostitution is widely regarded as the world's oldest profession. Despite the advent of the deadly HIV/AIDS pandemic, commercial sex continues to thrive the world over...


Ireland: Trafficked Girl Can Avail of Protection in Nigeria

IRELAND - In the case of a Nigerian girl trafficked into Ireland for the purpose of prostitution, it was open to a member of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal to decide, based on the material before him, that state protection would be available to her were she to return to Nigeria, and therefore to reject her application for refugee status.

The case was first brought on behalf of the girl by a social worker, as the girl was under 18. She was in the care of the HSE following a Garda raid on a house in Sligo where she was found with two other girls and taken into care. She has since reached the age of 18 and was pursuing the case herself.

Following her displacement from her home village to Lagos, she met a woman who said she would help her find work outside Nigeria. This woman brought her to a shrine where a ritual was performed and she had to swear not to run away.

The boyfriend of this woman brought her to Ireland via Frankfurt, London and Belfast. She was told she would have to work as a prostitute to earn €60,000, and that she would be killed if she tried to escape. She met two other Nigerian girls in the house in Sligo, and three days later they were all rescued by the Garda raid. Two of them were placed in HSE care in Chester House, and the third elsewhere.

CCTV footage shows that some time later three unidentified Nigerian woman came to Chester House looking for the girls. The applicant remained in her room but the other girl disappeared, as did the third girl, who later turned up in a brothel in the UK.

An application was made in November 2006 for asylum on behalf of the applicant, who cited her fear of violence in her home village and her fear of the shrine in Lagos as grounds for her application. Evidence was given on her behalf by a member of the Garda Síochána and a social worker. The officer in the Office of Refugee Applications Commissioner made several negative findings in relation to her credibility, and refugee status was refused...


UK: Penalising the Punters

The Bunny Ranch in Reno, Nevada

A sign for a brothel in Nevada, the only US state to have legalised prostitution. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

UNITED KINGDOM - When I meet the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, on Wednesday afternoon, she is at the centre of frenzied press attention. She has just announced planned legislation to target those who buy sex from trafficked women, and though she has been talking about the subject all day, she shows no signs of flagging. She tells me she is "very proud" to have taken this step. I ask what motivated it. "I thought it was important to continue to look at the way in which we tackle prostitution," she says, "and we had not, until this point, looked at the impact demand has made on the sex industry." She explains that demand is one of the main reasons so many women are involved in the sex industry, including those who have been trafficked here to service the market. "We need to send out a message to men and to society in general, that most women do not choose to be in prostitution, whereas the buyers have free choice."

The proposals follow a six-month governmental review of the demand side of the sex trade. It should soon be a criminal offence to pay for sex with someone who is controlled for another person's gain - and it will be no defence for buyers to claim that they were unaware that a person was trafficked, pimped, or debt-bonded to their drug dealer or landlord. Kerb crawlers will also be penalised more than they have been: police currently have few powers to deal with a kerb crawler on a first offence, but the expected new law will remove the need to prove repeat violations. Police will also be given powers to close premises associated with sexual exploitation.

An estimated 80,000 women are involved in street, escort and brothel prostitution in the UK. According to government statistics, 4,000 women and children have been trafficked into prostitution in the UK at any one time, but the police suggest the real figure is far higher - studies have found that at least 70% of women working in UK brothels are trafficked from places such as Africa, Asia and eastern Europe. The fact is that a thriving sex industry, left to operate largely without government or police interference, is naturally a green light for traffickers keen to make easy profits in a welcoming environment.


Florida: Women Trafficked For Sex Freed

MIAMI, FLORIDA - In coordinated South Florida raids, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested at least four suspected sex traffickers and rescued nine victims who had been forced into prostitution in several brothels, federal authorities said on Friday.

Officials said the arrests were in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Officials said the women were kidnapped in Mexico and put in various brothels across South Florida to service as many as 100 clients per week.

In a statement, authorities identified the four suspects as Arturo Rojas-Gonzalez, Elodia Capilla-Diego, Fidel Gutierrez-Gonzalez and Rosalio Valdez-Nava.

According to criminal complaints, ICE conducted an investigation into more than a dozen brothels and stash houses where immigrant women were forced into prostitution.

The FBI estimates that well over 100,000 children and young women are trafficked in America today. They range in age from 9 to 19, with the average age being 11.