QotD: “Sex trafficking victims forced to work in illicit Texas bars, claims study”

More than 1,000 women and girls have been apparent victims of sex trafficking in illicit bars in the US that operate largely beyond the reach of law enforcement, according to the anti-slavery group Polaris.

Half of the trafficking cases in cantinas – a type of bar popular in Mexico and the American south-west – arose in Houston, Texas, a city near the Mexican border with a large Latino population, said Polaris in a study that tracked calls to its trafficking hotlines from over the past decade.

Cantinas, social gathering spots popular in Latino communities, may disguise the cost of commercial sex in very high drink prices. Women are forced to flirt and drink with patrons, the study’s author, Tessa Couture, said.

Cantinas may limit who enters and may not be open to the general public, the report said.

Hotlines run by Polaris received reports of 201 cases of sex and labour trafficking, involving 1,300 potential victims at cantinas and bars in 20 US states, between 2007 and 2016. More than half the victims were underage, said Polaris.

At one illicit cantina in Houston, some women were forced to have sex as often as 50 times a day, according to the study. The cantina owner, convicted of sex trafficking, conspiracy and other charges, was sentenced to life imprisonment earlier this year.

While cases of trafficking in brothels have been the subject of high-profile prosecutions, only a small number of prosecutions have focused on cantinas, mostly in Houston.

Cases can be hard to investigate and prosecute because traffickers and owners may hide their ownership of cantinas or alcohol licenses, and because victims are too scared to testify in court, afraid that traffickers will retaliate by hurting their families.

“Those organised crime networks reaching back into Mexico and Central America are very real. People know that there’s a very real possibility their families will be hurt,” Couture said.

Many traffickers are involved in drug cartels or gangs, and victims were often lured to the US with job offers or other false promises, Polaris said.

Both traffickers and victims in the illicit cantinas tended to be from Mexico or Central America, according to the study.

Typically, the women and girls are intimidated by threats and abuse or forced into deep debt. Most reported being kept isolated, confined and monitored by their traffickers, said Polaris. Of those who escaped, a third were helped by potential buyers of sex who discovered the victim’s circumstances, the report found.

Cantina-style cases were reported in California, Washington, New York and elsewhere. Polaris recommended increased training for law enforcement and service providers such as healthcare workers, better information sharing among law enforcement and government agencies, and more funding for investigations and prosecutions.


QotD: “Prosecutors want worldwide crackdown on online sex trafficking”

Prosecutors from around the world say the fight against sex trafficking is moving online as traffickers use popular websites to advertise sexual services.

They talked Friday about how they can crack down on the problem at an international sex trafficking summit in Waikiki that drew prosecutors from Asia, the US and Canada.

The challenges each nation faces are similar, and victims are often unwilling to cooperate with investigators because they have endured a history of abuse, said Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles County’s district attorney.

“Most of this is underground,” Lacey said. “It’s not like in the 80s and 90s where women were on the street. It’s all done by social media, cellphones, emails, text messages.”

Michael Ramos, president of the National District Attorneys Association, said he plans to push for legislation in the US to make it illegal to use websites to solicit illegal sex and to hold internet companies accountable for sex trafficking on their platforms.

“There should be some place that says you need to do a better job with the content that’s on your promotional site,” Ramos said. “It’s just so easy right now … Instead of having prostitutes out on the corner like they used to in a red light district, now they just go online, they hit a button, and it’s like ordering a pizza.”

Other law enforcement officers, such as Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, said websites that allow sex ads have helped officers catch traffickers by identifying locations where there is a problem.

Sonia Paquet, a Canadian prosecutor, talked about how prostitution is illegal but there is little enforcement. She said online reviews of establishments are out in the open, and she pulled up one on her phone.

“If we go on the internet site, we see the girls naked,” Paquet said. “They are from everywhere around the world.”

Prosecutors from the US, Canada, China, Japan, Palau, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand attended the summit.


QotD: “I once scoffed at sexual consent classes. Now I’m running them”

I went to my first sexual consent classes when I started university in 2014. Along with talks on fire safety and how you can’t live solely off crisps were sessions on the complexity of sexual consent. I laughed them off at the time – but now, I’m running them.

The classes didn’t get the warmest reception. One boy mockingly printed off “official sexual consent permission forms”, which he handed round to everyone. When we talked in the sessions about what we’d do if someone tried to stop during sex, responses included “I’d call her a bitch,” and “I physically can’t stop having sex once I’ve started”.

Those classes taught me more than I’d expected. That sex isn’t necessarily the smooth, wordless encounter we are constantly fed in films. That consent is retractable – proving that someone has consented at some point doesn’t prove they weren’t raped. Even discussing what I already knew wasn’t pointless; having an honest conversation about sex the first time I met my university friends made me feel safer and more at ease. Plus it was a pretty cool way to break the ice.


The 45-minute sessions are not patronising “Orwellian” lectures, as Spectator journalist Brendan O’Neill has described them, but informal discussion groups run by student volunteers. Attendees are given a list of scenarios to talk through which describe situations in which consent is a grey area. One might involve a sexual encounter where someone is continually pushing you away; another where someone is extremely drunk. Eventually, the students come to a definition of consent as active and ongoing.

And already, the sessions have left a positive mark on student life. The workshops introduce incoming freshers to people they can go to when they need help or advice.

Some of the culture you’re exposed to at university can be difficult to speak out against – particularly for people who are disempowered due to gender, ethnicity, disability or sexuality. At my institution, there are drinking society events where the girls go round lifting up their tops while the boys cheer louder if they have “nicer tits”. I’m sure they are some people’s idea of a great night out. But in the intimidating climate of the first couple of terms at university, it’s nice to know there’s another option.

The classes also support victims, helping them to recognise what has happened rather than having to deal with the shame, guilt and feelings of emptiness alone. One girl approached me after we ran a session on rape and said that she had had an experience the previous summer which she had blamed herself for. Only now did she identify it as a crime – and she’d resolved to contact the police.

A 2013 survey released by the ONS estimates that one in five women aged 16 to 59 experience sexual violence after the age of 16, with 90% of assailants being someone the victim knows. And yet, only 6% of reported rape cases end in conviction.


Talking about consent as part of the freshers’ induction curriculum allows us to locate the debate in our culture – as a topic we all have the duty and power to tackle – instead of treating every case as a tragic exception.

To an extent, the sceptics are right about the limitations of the initiative. They are right that most people become sexually active before arriving at university – education about sexual consent should begin much earlier.

They are also right that classes alone can’t solve the deeply rooted causes of sexual coercion in our society. But maybe, in talking about it openly, we can help to elevate it to a status which it is still being denied: that of being recognised as a problem.


QotD: “The Momentum crew are less good at explaining who will do the work of caring in the future because they have zilch in the way of gender politics beyond loving sex workers”

The Momentum crew are less good at explaining who will do the work of caring in the future because they have zilch in the way of gender politics beyond loving sex workers.

Suzanne Moore, Labour needs to address the issues of the present before it becomes the Retro party

QotD: “New fears for 1,000 lone children in Calais refugee camp – French authorities hope Britain will honour pledges and rescue minors when the bulldozers move in”

Up to 1,000 unaccompanied minors will be left to fend for themselves when the so-called jungle camp for refugees in Calais is bulldozed next month. The French authorities have made no plans to rehouse the children, the Observer has learned, because it is hoping to force Britain to honour a promise to help child refugees.

The French interior ministry has informed charities and aid organisations that it intends to destroy the camp in less than four weeks.

Almost 400 unaccompanied youngsters in the camp, some of whom have relatives in the UK, have already been identified as having a legal right to come to Britain.

In May, David Cameron announced that Britain would accept as many as 3,000 unaccompanied minors. James Brokenshire, immigration minister at the time, said Britain had “a moral duty to help”.

However, Home Office figures reveal that by mid-September, only 30 children had arrived under the scheme. The Home Office did not respond to queries over whether it intended to help lone child refugees once the Calais camp was destroyed.

On Monday President François Hollande is expected to visit Calais and confirm that the refugee camp will be demolished. Details emerged last week when refugee organisations were told that alternative accommodation elsewhere in France would be supplied for 9,000 adults and families.

However, because of a supposed lack of emergency capacity for unaccompanied minors, at least 850 children will be made homeless.

Josie Naughton of the charity Help Refugees said: “We are particularly concerned for the safety of the unaccompanied children and ask the authorities to ensure they are protected and accounted for. We also urge the UK government to make good on its pledge, as there is little time to act.”

Jess Egan of the Refugee Youth Service, which runs a safe area in the camp for many unaccompanied minors, expressed outrage at the development. “It’s really worrying – horrendous – that nothing has been put in place to help these children,” she said.

Emily Carrigan, who has been working at the unofficial women and children’s centre in the camp for nine months, said: “We’ve been told that there is accommodation provided, but not for unaccompanied minors, because they [the French] hope the UK will help.

“Who knows what will happen to them? They will scatter everyone, and we won’t be able to track them. They’ll disappear.”

The dismantling of parts of the camp earlier this year caused so much panic among unaccompanied children that many of them disappeared. One charity, Care4Calais, said that after an area of the site was cleared, 129 unaccompanied minors had vanished.

Charlie Whitbread of Care4Calais said he was looking to set up a system to track down lone child refugees after the camp was demolished.

“The plan is to remain active and help the small camps that will spring up across northern France afterwards,” he said.


QotD: ‘The Beauty Myth’


Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

(found at the Bewilderness)

QotD: Victims of commercial sexual exploitation as young as 16 who were taken to Ibiza for the tourist sex trade then beaten with brooms and sticks if they didn’t bring in €1,000 a day have been rescued by police

[Victims of commercial sexual exploitation] as young as 16 who were taken to Ibiza for the tourist sex trade then beaten with brooms and sticks if they didn’t bring in €1,000 a day have been rescued by police.

The victims, who were lured to the Spanish mainland with fake promises of jobs, were forced to work 14 hours a day.

One of the women, police have revealed, was just 16 years of age.

All 21 are Nigerian and were working in the exclusive districts of Ibiza.

A major operation carried out by the Spanish police in association with the Office of Criminal Investigation in Germany and Europol has led to the arrest of 24 suspects.

‘The network captured very young victims among the lower classes of the major Nigerian cities, deceiving them with false job offers in Spain.

‘Once in our country, they were forced into prostitution in marathon days, being beaten if they did not earn the money demanded by the gang,’ said a police spokesman.

Investigators said Ibiza was chosen for the summer because of the high influx of tourists, with the gang totalling controlling the streets of the exclusive areas.

They were kept in one apartment and only allowed out occasionally to buy food or to keep an appointment with a client.

‘If they didn’t earn 1,000 euros a day, they would be forced to kneel for hours and beaten with sticks and brooms,’ said the spokesman.

Police found that 17 women were forced to share one apartment of just 30 square metres, with three to four girls sleeping in one single bed.

The vulnerable women were given employment offers ‘too good to refuse’ in view of their poor circumstances but once captured, were unable to escape.

They were subjected to voodoo rituals and sworn to loyalty contracts under the threat of family members being killed.

The women were smuggled into Europe on boats and planes and were only told their job offer was false when they arrived in Spain.

They were then told they would have to pay up to 50,000 pounds to be freed and could do so through prostitution.

Those arrested included two women said to be the ringleaders who had ‘years of experience’ in recruiting vulnerable girls.

Police said they took elaborate steps to avoid detection, often moving the women from house to house.

One of the gang was arrested in Germany where he had tried to hide and five others were found to be members of the 1960s cult called ‘Supreme Eiye Confraternity’.

The money earned from prostitution was sent to Nigeria via Madrid where a bar was used as the front.

Seven properties were raided in Spain and Germany and 20 bank accounts blocked.

The Daily Mail again, sorry.

QotD: Italian court orders child rapist to buy books on women’s dignity

A court in Rome has handed down an unusual penalty to the [rapist] of [a child victim of commercial sexual exploitation] and ordered him to buy her 30 books on the theme of women’s dignity.

In addition to a two-year jail sentence, the unnamed man, 35, will be required to give the 15-year-old victim a list of famous novels.

These include books by Virginia Woolf, Anne Frank’s diary and the poems of Emily Dickinson, as well as two feminist-themed films.

Judge Paola Di Nicola’s ruling follows an investigation launched in 2013 into a Rome-based [child sexual exploitation] ring that pimped two girls aged 14 and 15 in the upmarket Parioli suburb of the Italian capital.

The teenagers were lured into the world of [commercial sexual exploitation] with cash which they used to ‘buy new clothes and the latest mobile phones’, reports said, citing investigators.

In the 2014 trial of the [child sexual exploitation] ring’s mastermind, who was jailed for nine years, a judge said the girls were ‘children who got carried away with the debauchery, without restraint, so they could easily earn money’.

A copy of the latest court ruling was not available on Friday.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper wrote: ‘But the decision suggests that the judge favoured a remedy that would help the young girl to understand the real “damage” that she had suffered was damage to her dignity as a woman.’

Adriana Cavarero, whose ‘Notwithstanding Plato’ was among the books that the judge ordered the accused to buy for the girl, told the newspaper it would be better if the judge had read the works to the convicted man.

She said: ‘Adolescence is not the time for reflection, what he did was much worse: an adult who, knowingly, paid for sex with a minor.’

Am posting this for information only, not approval. Also, it’s the Daily Mail, so I’m not even going to bother trying to complain about their use of the term ‘sex work’ in relation to a raped child.

The first comment (as of reading) is pretty accurate:

Are you kidding me? Yeah throw all that at the victim? Should have given them 30 years in prison for rape of a child rather than throwing a ton of books at her – like she’s going to be spending her recovery reading rather than surviving! Make him pay for 30 years of therapy and a safe place for her to live and the antidepressants she will likely need…books emphasising how much was stolen from her is hardly appropriate!

QotD: “Police criticised as organised gangs gain control of sex industry”

Organised crime is far more involved in running Britain’s sex trade than previously thought, with more than three-quarters of brothels found to have links to criminal gangs, according to pioneering research. It claims that [prostitutes]’ movements were controlled by brothels in a third of cases and criticises police for failing to tackle the criminals who control much of the off-street sex industry.

Published by an independent thinktank, the Police Foundation, the study is the first of its kind to document the links between organised crime and prostitution in a comprehensive way.

Using police data, researchers examined 65 known brothels in Bristol over two years, a figure which is a fraction of the true total, and interviewed more than 100 officials from the police and supporting agencies.

The report criticises the failure of local police to protect vulnerable [prostitutes], quoting one source saying that organised crime in the sex trade is “too hard [to tackle] for the amount of harm it causes”, while admitting that operations against brothel owners are rare.

The findings come shortly after the conviction of Christopher Halliwell for the murder in 2003 of 20-year-old Becky Godden, a Swindon [victim of commercial sexual exploitation], a development that has prompted debate about the ability of the police to provide sufficient protection to [prostitutes].

The cost of tackling trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK is estimated to be £890m a year, but the study highlights a near absence of proactive police strategies. “Occasional welfare checks were completed at brothels by a local police team and partners, but sex workers rarely came forward,” it states.

“Consequently, there were few calls to respond to and little information to direct more proactive policing efforts.” It says that police welfare checks at brothels are “sporadic and not core business for any local agency”.

Researchers say police, whose organised crime work is primarily focused on theft and drug-related offenders, did not apply a rigorous approach to the issue. “While one or two officers had attempted to scan online ads for the threat of exploitation, this was not done systematically or regularly,” the report states.

[prostitutes] most vulnerable to trafficking are those at “pop-up brothels”, which constitute up to a fifth of the number identified and move location frequently. Almost half of the [prostitutes] identified in Bristol are Romanian.

The combined failure of any agency to take full responsibility for exploitation in the off-street sex trade, the Police Foundation claims, is leaving many [prostitutes] isolated and vulnerable to exploitation by organised criminals.

“The relative impunity with which pimps and traffickers operate, combined with the almost total exclusion of many off-street [prostitutes] – particularly foreign nationals – from mainstream society, requires a radical reconsideration of what the police and other relevant agencies should be doing,” the report adds.

Overall, the Police Foundation recommends a radical overhaul of local police approaches to organised crime in the sex trade. It urges the police, working with other local agencies, to do more to help victims of exploitation to come forward and offer more protection when they do.

The study also outlines a need for police forces to gather more robust intelligence: “The police and other local agencies need to do more to identify the hidden victims exploited in the off-street sex market and facilitate investigations for which no victim comes forward.”

This is from the Observer, which, I am happy to say, no longer calls raped children workers, but is still ok calling raped adults workers, and, in the full article, quotes the IUSW without offering the alternative view of the Nordic model.

I am writing to the Observer readers editor (he at least replied to my emails before, the Guardian readers editor never has).

Dear Stephen,

I was disappointed to read an article in the Observer today (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/24/organised-crime-behind-uk-sex-trade) on the sex trade that used the term ‘sex worker’ to describe women in prostitution controlled by criminal gangs. You have already agreed that it is not appropriate to call a raped child a ‘worker’, so it should be equally inappropriate to call a raped adult a ‘worker’.

I was also disappointed to see the article quote the IUSW uncritically, without offering any alternative viewpoint on the legal status of the sex industry. The IUSW is not a legitimate union, as it allows bosses to join (see this article here: https://www.byline.com/project/3/article/4).

It is bad journalism to only offer one side of an argument, the Nordic (abolitionist) model has been successful in Sweden since 1999 (https://nordicmodelnow.org/what-is-the-nordic-model/), and should at least be mentioned along side other legal approaches to prostitution.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Kind regards,


QotD: “Keith Vaz’s defenders have backed his call for privacy”

Privacy, like power and money, is one of those unevenly distributed commodities. And as with power and money, if you want to lay claim to privacy, having a penis is a great place to start. Even when a man’s personal conduct is in direct conflict with his public duties, he can still try to plead his entitlement to a “private life”. That’s the line Keith Vaz’s defenders have taken since Sunday, when the Sunday Mirror published allegations that the Labour MP for Leicester East paid two men for sex and that he did this while chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which is currently conducting an inquiry into the laws on prostitution. The same day Vaz was exposed, the Sunday Times published a list of “childless politicians” who were, inevitably, women: if you’re female, scrutiny is permissible all the way into your uterus, however little it has to do with your work.

The commons committee that Vaz chaired launched its inquiry into prostitution in January stating in its terms of reference: “In particular, the inquiry assesses whether the balance in the burden of criminality should shift to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.” In other words, Vaz was involved in an inquiry to decide whether people who pay for sex should be criminalised. The committee’s interim report, published in June, declared that it was “not yet persuaded” that criminalising punters would be “effective”, despite evidence of the policy’s success in Sweden and Norway.

Regardless of how much direct influence Vaz had over the committee’s findings, this is an obvious conflict of interest. It’s plainly not appropriate for an MP to make recommendations about a potential law when his own undisclosed conduct would put him on the wrong side of it. Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk — suspended from the Labour Party after his own explicit texts to a 17-year-old girl were revealed — has implored the public to offer “compassion” to Vaz, saying that he’s broken no laws.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s first response was similarly to point out that Vaz “hasn’t committed any crime that I know of” and to minimise the allegations as “a private matter”. Vaz’s own committee has recommended that no “burden of criminality” should fall on those who pay for sex, which is precisely why this story is not a “private matter”. But then, Corbyn himself has previously argued that decriminalising the sex industry is the “civilised” approach, on the assumption that all the harms of prostitution can be pinned on the laws against it.

And then there’s Peter Tatchell, whose campaigning work for gay rights frequently involved “outing” closeted individuals who made homophobic public statements, and yet who told BBC Radio 4’s Today this morning that he “found it very difficult to see any public interest justification for that intrusion into Keith Vaz’s privacy. As far as I can see, he has not broken any law or caused anyone any harm, and there’s no allegation of hypocrisy.” According to Tatchell, a hypocrite is someone who acts against their own unstated interests — those who use the guise of disinterest to publicly facilitate what they privately indulge get a pass, it seems.

During her oral evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in May, former sex worker Paris Lees tried to embarrass the Conservative MP James Berry by demanding to know if he had “ever been in a position where you felt that you needed to sell your body for sex”. The aim, presumably, was to expose him as a privileged man with no right to pronounce on the subject. Vaz, as chair, declared that his colleague did not have to respond. The committee chose the side of men’s privacy too when it set itself against the sex buyer law — men, despite being both the market that drives demand for prostitution and the main threat to sex workers’ welfare, are discreetly unmentioned in the interim report’s conclusion. In that privacy, the pleasure, the safety and the consent of those in prostitution has been purchased away.

Sarah Ditum