Reports in this Sunday’s Observer after the sentensing of Bogdan and Marius Nejloveanu for sex trafficking offenses.
Campaigners against sex trafficking call today for a major crackdown on the thousands of brothels in Britain amid accusations that government indifference to the issue is encouraging pimps to target the UK.
[Abigail Stepnitz, national co-ordinator for the Poppy Project] said: “The focus on trafficking has been to remove immigration offenders or to prosecute organised criminal networks. From our experience the focus has not neccessarily been on addressing the presence of brothels that create an environment where trafficking can thrive. That has never been the focus.”
Fears are growing among campaigners that ministers appear intent on downgrading trafficking as a priority, a charge denied by the government. In addition, they accuse ministers of attempting to sideline the issue by removing trafficking from the government’s violence against women and girls strategy.
Marinela, 17, was terrified. Trafficked from Romania, she had been coerced into prostitution by a pimp who beat her with numbing regularity. Now there was something new to fear. “I didn’t even know where I was going,” she says now. “I couldn’t trust anyone, I had no idea of the law. I was so scared.”
The sex crimes unit of Greater Manchester police arrested her for prostitution-related offences, but at least Marinela was safe behind bars. Her first day in custody was the first since her arrival in England six months earlier that she had not been forced to have sex. She had been raped by different men 50 times a week on average, often violent, drunken strangers. And if she was released from prison, Marinela was convinced she would be murdered by the gang who trafficked her.
Victims are notoriously reluctant to describe their experience because of the shame, fear and stress. It is even rarer for such women to agree to be identified. Motivated by a courageous desire to expose this sordid, violent world, Marinela has revealed the full horror of her ordeal in an account that should reopen the debate about how Britain deals with its sex industry.
Weeks into her ordeal, Marinela relented. Nejloveanu presented her with a lurid set of garish underwear and she was taken to a nearby brothel masquerading as a sauna. She could not speak a word of English. When the first “client” booked her she wanted to say “no” but could not. She wanted to explain her predicament, tell the man that she was trafficked. Instead she cried, hoping that the man would take pity on her. He did not. None of them did.
Daily shifts lasted 12 hours, 10pm to 10am, seven days a week. Sometimes she would be obliged to have sex 12 times with different men. She says it was normal for her trafficked peers to have sex with 10 men a day.
Punters paid £40 a session, of which half went to Nejloveanu and half to the sauna or massage parlour where she was imprisoned.
Those who ran the saunas were instructed not to let Marinela go outside, often for days at a time.
Nejloveanu’s girlfriend would simply plough through the local papers’ classified section and ring up massage parlours and saunas asking if they required girls. “She was ringing to see if they had any ‘jobs’ there. Are there any jobs available? Jobs meant brothels.” Marinela, along with the two other Romanian girls, was transferred around the West Midlands, to places such as Lisa’s Sauna in east Birmingham, where “a lot of girls worked,” according to Marinela, and which remains open.
The point is, this is how brothels, which are, according to sex industry supporters/apologists, supposed to be ‘safe’, operate – they demand 12 hour shifts, they don’t ask any questions, they actively help traffickers and pimps control the women and girls they are abusing.
A legalised brothel may only be able to demand an eight hour shift, as if having unwanted sex with eight men a day as opposed to 12 would make it all ok. They might refuse to do business with any dodgy pimps, but then find there’s no longer a supply of ‘girls’ available.
There’s also the ever-laughable claim that the johns will help police the system. 70 men a week for six months equals 1680 men (of course there will be some ‘repeat customers’, but women are moved around specifically because men want ‘fresh faces’); so that’s easily over 1000 men who didn’t give a shit, who must have been able on some level to see that they were having coercive sex with an emaciated, battered teenager with little or no English, and just did not care. The handful (and it really is less than five) cases of ‘savior’ johns a year always gets played up by sex industry advocates, but the idea that these men can help protect vulnerable women is a joke.
There is a stats piece at the end of the article that I’m going to quote in full, to avoid accusations of selective quoting on my part.
The police say that approx. half the migrants working in off-street prostitution in the UK are from Eastern Europe, of those half are classified as trafficked or ‘vulnerable’, with ‘only’ 400 meeting the police’s legal definition of trafficking.
Of course, sex industry apologists are going to jump on this, it’s only 400 women after all! And half the women from Eastern Europe are willing! There’s no definition given for what ‘willing’ actually means, the definition given for ‘vulnerable’ is “that they spoke little English, were overly reliant on their “controllers” and faced other barriers preventing them from exiting prostitution.” So, then, are the ‘willing’ women those who have been there long enough to pick up some English and become institutionalised so that they don’t need to be so tightly controlled by their pimps? As the Poppy Project points out, the police methodology involves “officers entering brothels and asking women if they had been trafficked”.
The most comprehensive inquiry into sex trafficking and off-street prostitution in the UK identified 17,000 migrants working in brothels.
Of these, about half – 9,000 – were from eastern Europe, of which police believe 400 had been trafficked.
The report, completed last year by the Association of Chief Police Officers after an investigation named Operation Acumen, found a further 4,128 women from eastern Europe, which they categorised as “vulnerable”. The classification included women whose experience the police concluded fell below the threshold of trafficking but were vulnerable to sexual exploitation in that they spoke little English, were overly reliant on their “controllers” and faced other barriers preventing them from exiting prostitution.
The police investigation detected another 5,000 women from eastern Europe working in brothels who were willing to work as prostitutes and could not be considered trafficked or vulnerable.
Campaigners, however, say the police’s definition of “vulnerable” included many victims of trafficking and that their inquiry significantly underestimates the problem. The Poppy Project argues that many women find it difficult to disclose issues such as rape and that the police’s methodology, which involved officers entering brothels and asking women if they had been trafficked, was unlikely to glean accurate information.
The definition of trafficking has long been controversial. The most favoured defines it as involving the use of force, fraud, deception or coercion to transport a victim into an exploitative context.
The sex industry is, by its very nature, exploitative, it couldn’t exist in any form without extreme economic inequality, and it couldn’t exist in its current form, the form that hundreds of thousands of men choose to engage with, with out extreme violent coercion.
While we’re on the subject, this report on the break up of a trafficking ring involving girls from Nigeria (and yes, the report also mentions other ‘willing’ women being pimped out), again really emphasises how little the johns give a shit – observe the size of the operation, compare the description of the trafficked Nigerian girls with the adverts that were places offering ‘escorts’ (the johns were paying ‘escort’ level prices too).
Among the prostitutes were six trafficked girls and young women, aged from 15 to 21, some of whom had been terrified into working for fear of breaking a “juju” oath they were forced to take during voodoo ceremonies in Nigeria.
They worked 12 to 15 hours a day, were regularly moved from brothel to brothel, and supplied with “necessities” – condoms, creams and lingerie. Food was brought to them. The going rate was €160 (£140) for half an hour, but they had to pay their money into Toma Carroll’s bank account.
Live chickens were killed and the victims made to eat the raw hearts. Fingernail clippings and pubic hair cuttings were taken, and retained, to “instill the fear of God in them” and show they could be “metaphysically” reached wherever they were. Often the girls were naked, and one was cut all over her body with blades, said investigators.
Phone records showed 300 calls a day were made or received. “That gives you some idea of the scale”, said Tony Fitzpatrick of SOCA Wales. They also found drafted advertisements, one reading: “African Nandi, very petite tanned chocolate delight, petite slim size 8, 34C but leggy flexible kinky, Nandi enjoys nudism and exploring her body and yours making the sessions fun and intimate.”
In one year Carroll, a father of four originally from County Carlow, spent £28,580 on newspaper advertising alone. From 2002 increasing amounts of money were deposited into his daughter’s bank account. In 2006 €111,000 were deposited, in 2007 €1.13m and in 2008 €500,000 had been deposited by September.
You have to wonder how so many men can be so blind, how they can manage not to tell the difference between a terrified child with cuts all over her body and a ‘fun flexible kinky nudist’.
It’s too easy to say that men are fundamentally incapable of seeing, I refuse to accept that half the human race are actually incapable of being human (the fact that some men can see, and that some women can’t shows that this is not true). Patriarchy brutalises men so that they are incapable of empathising.
Pornography plays a role in this; we know pornography is used to ‘train’ women into prostitution, and that men increasingly see pornography as sex, so if both the john and the woman he’s assaulting are following the ‘porn script’ the john won’t be able to see that anything’s wrong.