Courtney Wild was archetypal prey for Jeffrey Epstein. Petite, blonde and blue-eyed, she grew up with a struggling single mother on a Florida trailer park. At a party, aged 14, another girl asked her if she wanted to make $200 giving an older guy a massage.
Inside a stupendous Palm Beach mansion, the overawed Courtney massaged someone she believed was a wealthy brain surgeon. Then he told her to strip, fondled her while he ejaculated, and handed her a wad of notes. She hated every second, but the money was life-changing. She anaesthetised herself with alcohol and cannabis and returned. He raped her and paid her more.
Soon she learnt she could escape his attentions — and double her money — by recruiting new, younger girls. By 16, she was working regularly for him, able to afford her own apartment.
Thus, on an industrial scale, morning, noon and night, for years, Epstein was serviced with vulnerable children. They were transported on his private jet, some from abroad, in a sex trafficking pyramid scheme. Famous names flit in and out of this book — Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, Bill Gates, plus several of America’s biggest business and legal names. It is not suggested that they knew what Epstein was doing but they are all tainted by his friendship.
Epstein, incidentally, kept 20 phone numbers for Trump in his so-called Black Book, including one marked “emergency contact”.
It’s hard to grasp quite how sordid Epstein was. Troubled girls from poor, broken homes believed he would make them famous models; some were infatuated with him. If they agreed to his demands, they thought they would escape their miserable lives, dreams would come true. Some did thrive, but the majority ended up damaged and drug-addicted, even dead. “He victimised people he thought nobody would ever listen to, and he was right,” Courtney said.
The person ultimately responsible for bringing Epstein down and finding justice for these children wasn’t a big name from one of America’s elite newspapers. It was a local woman who listened. Julie K Brown was a tough, award-winning investigative reporter on a provincial paper, the Miami Herald, who had her own troubles: she struggled to bring up two children as a single parent, relied on payday loans and lived in fear of redundancy.
Perversion of Justice is the story of how Brown, under-resourced, often unsupported and at considerable personal risk, exposed the way the American legal system let Epstein off the hook. There should have been a reckoning in 2005, when two dogged Florida police officers pursued him for abusing a 14-year-old girl. The FBI identified a further 36 children. But Epstein was a big donor to the Democrats with formidable connections and a bottomless bank account. He bribed, intimidated and paid off the victims, and in a stitch- up between state and federal lawmakers was treated with unheard-of leniency. In 2008 he got 13 months for two charges of soliciting minors and spent much of the sentence on extensive “work release” (of which more later). The US attorney for the Southern District of Florida who accepted his plea deal was Alexander Acosta, later appointed by Trump as labor secretary.
And so the scandal might have remained buried, had it not been for Brown. In 2018, after years of poring over court documents and crossing the country coaxing victims and police officers to speak, her explosive revelations were published by the Miami Herald in a series of videos and articles.
Epstein was arrested a few months later on federal charges for sex trafficking in Florida and New York, and found dead in jail soon after, in August 2019. Much more of his depravity is now known. Within days Acosta had resigned from his post at the White House. Epstein’s associate Ghislaine Maxwell is on remand awaiting trial and a raft of powerful men may not be sleeping easily.
Brown’s book bears testament to the extraordinarily porous relationship between American law and politics, and the endemic corruption. It’s also an age-old heartwarmer about the little person taking down the mighty. The divide in America, she says, is not between left and right, it’s between those with power and those without. Epstein’s philosophy, like that of other wealthy men, was if you had enough money and knew the right people, you could get away with anything.
Brown discovered media organisations who had filmed victims’ stories, but chosen not to broadcast them. Their words, she says, mattered less than the words of the man in the boardroom with dollars at stake. What happened with Harvey Weinstein repeated with Epstein.
The financier threw his money around like bait, bribing or extorting almost everyone involved, flouting the justice system in every possible way. In 2005 neither state nor federal prosecutors put a stop to his intimidation, thereby sabotaging their own cases. Lawyers for the girls were convinced the government and the defendant were working against the victims.
Brown found evidence that Epstein continued to access under-age girls while on “work release” during his brief 2008 sentence. Threesomes in fact, two girls at a time, while the sheriff’s deputies stood outside the door.
By 2011 he had reshaped himself as a maverick science philanthropist, flying geniuses around the world and hosting conferences to save the planet. He adapted a submarine so Stephen Hawking, a guest on his notorious Caribbean island, could go underwater for the first time. He sprayed money at causes to save the world, cure disease, fund AI and rescue humanity. Modestly, he planned a baby ranch at his New Mexico compound, seeding the human race with his own DNA. He was obsessed with cryonics — the freezing of humans to preserve life — and told people he wanted his head and penis frozen.
Ah, that penis. In a mysterious incident shortly before his death, he was found unconscious in his cell in New York, a windowless room, infested with insects and rats, with standing water on the floor. Had his fellow inmate, a corrupt cop, tried to kill him, or had the cop, as he claimed, prevented Epstein killing himself? “For reasons unexplained,” Brown writes scathingly, “the authorities had bunked a hulking accused killer with a 66-year-old nerd with an egg-shaped penis who happened to be the nation’s most famous child molester.”
Brown reveals evidence showing it is unlikely that Epstein, once in solitary, killed himself by hanging. What happened to the prison tapes? Why did both guards fall asleep? Why was the scene tidied up so quickly? And how would a man who employed staff to do everything for him, to the point of lacing his shoes, know how to hang himself so effectively he broke three bones in his neck? His death suited many people.
Others will write fuller, more polished accounts of the Epstein scandal. But Perversion of Justice is a gritty, honest and quietly magnificent statement about one woman’s bravery, the hard graft of investigative journalism and the vital ability of a free press to do what the legal authorities conspicuously wouldn’t: bring one of America’s most wicked men to justice. I see a movie in it.
By March 2021 at least 175 women had filed complaints about Epstein and more than $67 million had been paid to his victims. Meanwhile, in her book’s acknowledgments, Brown credits her landlady for not kicking her out when she couldn’t pay the rent. The one thing this book lacks is an index, but — little known fact — often authors have to fund these themselves. Under the circumstances, Julie K Brown is forgiven.
County lines gangs have been exploiting young women by passing them round dealers as “gift girls” as a reward for making profits, according to a new study seen by The Times.
Young women and girls have also been victims of online grooming and increasingly severe and sexual violence, the report from the University of Nottingham found.
Policing County Lines: Impact of Covid-19 was based on interviews with frontline services dealing with the impact of county lines drug dealing.
County lines refers to the use of a phone line in a city that acts as a call centre managing deliveries — usually of crack and heroin — to the surrounding counties. The exploitation of young and vulnerable people by the gangs has made the tactic a policing priority.
According to the report: “One youth worker referred to the use of ‘gift girls’, describing the sexual exploitation of females by county lines actors where victims are sexually exploited and passed around the wider network as a reward.”
Another told the report’s authors that “pop-up brothels” run by organised crime groups and using young British girls had emerged as a phenomenon during the pandemic.
“Online grooming featured consistently among those we spoke to, particularly involving females who were being coerced into taking and sharing explicit images of themselves,” the report went on. “While it was unclear whether this was linked to sexual or criminal exploitation, rising cases of self-harm in young females were attributed to this form of online activity.”
Young people were also being used to steal cars as the gangs moved away from using public transport. The study looked at hospital admissions and found an increase in the number of injuries treated in A&E as a result of road traffic accidents, police car chases and vehicles being used as weapons.
The report stated that injuries “sustained by female victims in relation to county lines activity were becoming more severe and sexual in nature”.
Another worker told the study that there had been an increase in the number of males aged 21 and under attending A&E in the south of the country who had been the victim of rape by heterosexual males in a gang context.
The injuries have also become worse in young men, with “fingernails pulled off, hair pulled out”, one source told the report, adding that young people being stabbed five or six times was “kind of an average amount”.
In the end, Valérie Bacot could take it no longer. For almost four decades, her husband, Daniel Polette, had been a malign presence that dominated her life: he molested her when she was 12, made her pregnant at 17 and then trapped her in an abusive relationship, during which she bore him three more children.
Now in the ultimate humiliation, he was pimping her out for sex in the back of their battered Peugeot people-carrier in the woods near their home in Saône-et-Loire, in central France, getting his kicks from watching through a chink in the curtain in its rear window.
In March 2016, after an encounter with a particularly brutal client, Bacot claims to have grabbed the loaded pistol that Polette kept next to the driver’s seat and, closing her eyes, shot him.
Daniel Polette first began to show an unhealthy interest in Bacot when she was a young child
“There was a loud noise; the flash, the smell,” she said in an interview with Le Parisien last week. “I got out of the car, opened the door, he fell. I thought only of saving myself because I was sure he was going to kill me.”
But he was dead. When Bacot told her elder children she had killed their father, they hugged her. Two of her sons, together with her daughter’s boyfriend, then helped her bury his remains in the forest. “I packed the earth down like crazy with my hands. I was too afraid he would come out to kill us,” she recalled.
Next month Bacot, 40, goes on trial for murder in a case that has turned a spotlight on conjugal violence in France — and on the few victims who dare to fight back.
By this weekend more than 384,000 people had signed a petition demanding Bacot’s freedom. A television interview with her drew an audience of 4.5 million and a book in which she tells her life story went to the top of the bestseller list after its release last week.
“I was struck by Valérie’s strength, her courage and her intelligence. I really wanted to help her to tell this story,” said Clémence de Blasi, a journalist who ghostwrote the book, Tout le monde savait (Everyone Knew), having met Bacot after her release in October 2018 pending her trial.
In talking to Bacot’s children and others around her, de Blasi realised what a powerful hold Polette had over his wife. “He was watching her permanently, day and night,” she told me. “He was someone who was extremely dangerous and ready to do anything.”
It was Bacot’s mother who first brought Polette into her daughter’s life. After breaking up with her husband, she had a series of casual relationships before meeting the lorry driver in 1992 and inviting him to live in their home in the village of La Clayette, 60 miles north of Lyons.
Polette soon began to show an unhealthy interest in the young girl, who had just turned 12, going into the bathroom while she was washing and insisting on rubbing her with cream. Bacot’s mother tried to keep his activities quiet but word eventually reached the local authorities, and in 1995 Polette was arrested and convicted of sex offences against a minor.
Bizarrely, however, on his release after 33 months in jail, he was allowed to return to the home in La Clayette and was soon abusing Bacot again and raping her. After she became pregnant in 1998, she moved with him into a little house in Baudemont, a neighbouring village of a few hundred people, where, despite an age difference of 25 years, they lived as a couple for two decades, marrying in 2008.
According to Bacot’s account, it was anything but marital bliss: he frequently beat her, on one occasion breaking her nose and on another holding an unloaded pistol against her temple and pulling the trigger. “The next time there will be a bullet for you and for each of the children,” he told her.
Bacot thought of denouncing him to police but was fearful of how he would retaliate and did not dare to go herself. Instead she sent her children, but the police refused to listen to their claims and sent them away.
In the meantime, he had forced her into prostitution, initially only at weekends but then, after he gave up his job, almost full-time. To get clients, he made her distribute flyers in the local area. Once their daughter was 14, Bacot feared he would force the girl to sell her body too.
With no money and no friends or family to turn to, Bacot felt she had no alternative but to stay with her tormentor — until the day she shot him.
At first the family pretended he had gone away. But Bacot was eventually denounced to the police, apparently by the mother of her daughter’s boyfriend. At 6am one day in October 2017, the police came for her; she knew she was going to be arrested and for days had been sleeping in her clothes.
Bacot’s experiences show in an extreme form the plight of women who fall victim to conjugal violence and the failings of social services, according to her lawyers, Janine Bonaggiunta and Nathalie Tomasini. “Valérie was transformed by the extreme violence she suffered into a remote-controlled puppet who, against her will, became an object for her perverse husband,” they write in a preface to the book.
In too many cases, such violence ends with the woman being murdered. Earlier this month a 31-year-old mother-of-three in the Gironde died after her former partner shot her in both legs, poured petrol on her and set her on fire while still alive.
It was the 39th such killing this year, after 90 in 2020, according to Féminicides par compagnons ou ex (Women killed by partners or exes), a campaigning group that tracks such cases.
In a few instances such as Bacot’s, however, it is the victim who turns killer — as with Jacqueline Sauvage, whose case became a cause célèbre in France after she was sentenced to ten years in jail for shooting dead her husband in 2012 with a hunting rifle. He had abused her and driven their son to suicide. After an outcry over her treatment, François Hollande, then the president, gave Sauvage a full pardon.
Bacot’s growing band of supporters would like her to be pardoned too. “Even though she committed murder by killing her torturer,” their petition says, “given the 25 years of suffering she endured to general indifference, it is her freedom that we ask for.”
The campaign — together with Bacot’s highly unusual step of writing a book in effect justifying her actions — may not go down well with the court, however, and Bacot herself seems reconciled to her impending punishment.
“I am looking forward for this to end, to finally know what is in store for me,” she told Le Parisien. “I have done my job, fulfilled my role as a mother; now I can go to prison with peace of mind.
“I deserve to be jailed for a very long time. This trial is not only mine, it is also that of ‘the other’ ” — the term she uses for Polette, whose name she cannot bear to say out loud. “I hope that I can be stronger than him and for once in my life win against him.”
In the days since the death of Sarah Everard, the sadness many felt has turned to anger, with women railing against the general atmosphere of danger and threat they encounter in their day-to-day lives.
But others are also looking for solutions – asking what leads to attacks, as well as how to stop them.
These are big questions, taking in everything from the psychology of perpetrators to the patriarchal system we live in that allows violence against women to continue often unremarked on and unpunished.
To begin with, psychologists say there is no simple checklist to identify the man – because it is almost always men – who might abuse a woman. But there are some warning signs.
Dr Ruth Scully, a consultant forensic psychologist from Nottingham working with sex offenders, uses the term “hyper masculinity” to describe the attitudes of men she works with. They often have very strong views on how men should act and feel, she says.
“They also have these views about women. For example, men must have the dominant and powerful role in relationships, with women taking guidance on what to do and how to behave,” she says.
Sexual offenders often display feelings of entitlement – either sexual entitlement or entitlement in general, believing they can have what they want regardless of the consequences.
“An extreme example would be ‘I bought her a drink, she owes me’,” she says.
“They may also have an adversarial attitude towards women: women are the enemy, they are mistrustful of them and feel that women are trying to get one over on them,” Dr Scully adds.
And sexual attacks are often not about sex.
“It can be about anger, emotional expression or mistrust of women. Or again it could be about sexual entitlement,” says Dr Scully.
And these attitudes are also likely to exist in men who harass women on the street.
“People behave in ways that are in line with their attitudes so it’s likely that sexist attitudes and attitudes of entitlement will underpin those beliefs. That doesn’t mean that people who engage in the harassing behaviours will go on to commit a sexual offence, but we tend to behave in ways that are in alignment with our views,” she says.
One of the problems with unpicking the roots of male violence is that research – like Dr Scully’s – is usually centred on men who have been found guilty of an offence. But these offences rarely come out of the blue.
“Nobody starts their journey of perpetration, of abuse, with murder or kidnap. They have had a long history of getting there,” says Dr Purna Sen, a leading expert on violence against women. “How have they got through that journey without being stopped?”
Dr Sen, an academic at London Metropolitan University and former director of policy at UN Women, isn’t saying that every cat caller is a potential murderer. But the problem for women is: they could be.
“The thing is, we just don’t know. And so we have to assume, for our own safety and well-being, that he is going to be worse,” adds Dr Sen, who is organising a conference on violence against women this summer in Reyjkavik.
Professor Aisha K Gill, a criminologist at the University of Roehampton, describes the abuse of women as a “continuum of violence” arising from structural inequalities.
“At the heart of all of this is gender discrimination and unequal power relations between men and women,” she says, stressing that these are compounded by other issues like race and class.
There are ways to identify women who may be at risk, for example through questioning during routine health appointments.
But identifying a potential attacker is harder. Several groups have worked towards developing models that look for what makes someone become an abuser.
A recent US Department of Justice review of evidence suggests that a combination of factors – from adverse conditions in early childhood to impulse control problems or repeated exposure to violent pornography – “likely contribute” to sexual violence.
The trait of anger is also associated with a higher risk of intimate partners violence, a major review of the literature showed in 2015.
Researchers have mainly focused on the likelihood of people re-offending, rather than finding them in the first place – the key tool used in the British prison service has just been updated and predicts this with reasonable accuracy.
And sexual offenders can also be treated. The UK’s Horizon programme is targeted at prisoners deemed at risk of re-offending and it looks at problem solving, self-regulation, relationships, sexual attitudes and behaviours.
Those in prison are at one end of the scale, whereas violence against women is much more pervasive although often less extreme, making it hard to predict where it might come from.
One in three women globally experience sexual or physical violence in their lives and harassment is even more common: recent figures from UN Women showed that 97 per cent of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed.
“One of the things we have to jettison very fast is this notion that it’s unusual for men to behave in ways that are abusive or enable abuse,” says Dr Sen, who says the idea there is a “type” is also reductive.
“It’s more about what maleness looks like across society and how we think about each other and how we behave,” she adds.
While there are no “types” of man there are defined patterns of behaviour for the worst offenders.
Professor Jane Monckton-Smith, a former police officer and forensic criminologist, is a specialist in domestic homicide. The narrative of “he just snapped” when discussing the murder of a – usually female – partner is wrong, she says in her book In Control: Dangerous Relationships and How They End in Murder. These attacks can be predicted and stopped, she argues.
She has plotted an eight-stage timeline in these relationships, with the risk increasing. Stage one is the man’s previous abusive relationship history and stage eight is murder.
“They are the most predictable homicides, which is why we can and should be preventing them,” Prof Monckton-Smith writes.
Prevention has a role to play across the board, the experts agree, and at a more fundamental societal level. That also applies to the work that needs to be done for victims, ensuring that they can get justice.
Dr Sen says that the Nordic countries, regularly voted as the safest places to be a woman, have at least in part achieved their success by tackling inequality at its root, from addressing the sex industry to childcare.
“There is an expectation inculcated in all men, whether they use it or not, that they have control over, or an entitlement to, women. So this has really changed things,” she says.
Dr Scully says that a complex interplay between a man’s environment and his upbringing influences his attitude towards women. She believes education is important but adds: “It’s much bigger than education – even if you think about what’s on TV, never mind what’s going on in someone’s home, there are so many things that influence our attitudes and behaviour. But we have to start somewhere,” she says.
Deniz Ugur, deputy director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, is more blunt.
“Violence against women and girls is inextricably tied to inequality and until we talk about it in those terms, women will never be free,” she said.
Bristol is set to become the biggest city in the country to ban lap-dancing clubs in a move campaigners claim will help undermine the sexist cultural norms that lead to violence against women.
The city council’s licensing committee last week voted to consult on proposals to introduce a “nil-cap” for sexual entertainment venues. Bristol currently has two lap-dancing clubs.
Margaret Hickman, leader of the council’s ruling Labour group, said evidence suggested sexual entertainment venues were linked to violence against women. “We can’t ignore the fact that casual street harassment of women and domestic homicide are one of the biggest social issues that Bristol has to deal with,” she said.
The radical policy, which is supported by the city’s Labour mayor, Marvin Rees, as well as Avon and Somerset’s police commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, puts Bristol at the forefront of municipal efforts to use equality laws to clamp down on lap-dancing and strip clubs.
Sasha Rakoff, chief executive of Not Buying It, which campaigns against the sex trade, said councils had a duty to promote sex equality: “Bristol is ending the ‘strip clubs on the high street’ phenomenon because they recognise that this breeds and feeds the very attitudes that leads to harassment, abuse and ultimately violence against all women and girls.”
The Bristol proposals state the council has a duty to eliminate harassment and discrimination under equality legislation – and may risk legal challenges if it allows the city’s lap dancing clubs to continue trading.
Helen Mott, an expert in gender equality from Bristol Fawcett Society, said: “The offer in our city right now is that from the age of 18 as a young man you can go down town and pay for a woman to strip for you,” she said. “It is hampering and undoing the council’s own efforts to advance equality between women and men.”
Although councils have had the power to limit the number of sexual entertainment venues since 2010, only a minority of cities have introduced bans. These are thought to include seven councils – North Tyneside, Swansea and Exeter among them, where no lap-dancing clubs are permitted, and nine London boroughs. Last month Blackpool decided to refuse all new applications for lap dancing clubs and not renew existing licences. Officers in Bristol did not find any evidence from councils that operate bans that the sex industry had been driven underground.
Rakoff, who won a landmark judicial review case against Sheffield for failing to apply its equality duty when licensing lap-dancing clubs, called on other councils to follow Bristol’s lead. “Even if it’s a perfectly run club with no sexual contact and the punters are all gentleman, it is still harmful,” she said. “Allowing these clubs to remain open signals women can be objectified and bought.”
She added the women in the industry would need help finding other careers. “There needs to be exit support so lap dancers, who actually have to pay to work in strip clubs, are redeployed into safe, alternative work with full employment rights – including in former strip clubs reimagined as bars, clubs and restaurants.”
Today [19th January 2021] the High Court in London hears a landmark legal challenge. It relates to the policy for criminal records for prostitution to be held on file until those convicted are 100 years old. Currently, women who have escaped the sex trade and have convictions for street soliciting will have to live with this record for ever. And it’s not only the police that can access these records – so too can bodies including the Royal Mail, trading standards and credit checking organisations. This is not just a gross violation of human rights, but also deeply unjust.
As I have discovered during the vast amount of in-depth research on the global sex trade I have conducted over the past three decades, women find it difficult if not impossible to exit prostitution. Those that do escape are judged, stigmatised and disenfranchised. So how did this legal challenge come about?
In 1996, I met Fiona Broadfoot who was not that long out of prostitution. We were at a conference on violence against women, and Fiona was giving her first public address on the grim realities of the sex trade. Pimped into prostitution aged 15, she had endured indescribable violence at the hands of her pimp and numerous punters. But as I would come to learn, Fiona’s story was more typical than extraordinary.
Fiona had a criminal record several pages long. Women in street prostitution would be routinely picked up by the police and sent through what we called the ‘revolving door’. The magistrates would issue them a fine for soliciting or loitering. Needing to earn the money to pay the fine, the women would go back out onto the streets, get re-arrested, and the whole charade would begin again. The kerb crawlers were rarely arrested and therefore acted with impunity.
Fiona and I came up with an idea: to launch a legal challenge to decriminalise the women selling sex on the streets, and to prevent the law from requiring those women that have previous convictions to disclose them. Handily, my partner, the indomitable Harriet Wistrich qualified as a lawyer in 1997 and began challenging state agencies for failure to tackle violence against women. It took 20 more years before we were able to formulate a constructive case against the Home Office, which involved involving additional claimants alongside Fiona.
In 2018, after three years of jumping through legal loopholes and case preparation the team won a legal challenge against the Disclosure and Barring Scheme, which means that women no longer have to show these records of their abuse and exploitation from many years back. This is a big deal. Prior to the legal challenge, when women with criminal records for soliciting applied to volunteer in any position involving children or vulnerable adults, including at their own children’s school, they would be required to disclose their previous involvement in prostitution.
On hearing about the challenge, and of the fact that a further case would be brought to challenge such criminal records being held on file, a number of women with similar experiences came forward. As Sam, one of the claimants in today’s case tells me, it is interesting that those organisations seeking to normalise and decriminalise the entire sex trade (as opposed to decriminalising the women and criminalising the pimps and punters) have not taken this case to court despite their considerable resources and networks of lawyers that take the ‘sex work is work’ line.
A number of years ago, distressed by yet another knock-back following a job interview, Sam approached one of the ‘sex work is work’ groups in the hope they would help her. Despite the fact that our very high profile legal case was already in progress, of which this group was well aware, Sam was merely advised to write a letter of disclosure ‘explaining’ her convictions and outlining how she got involved in prostitution which she could add to her job applications in the future. ‘It took me another four years before I found Harriet and Fiona, by looking online for women that are against prostitution rather than celebrating it as a profession,’ she says.
The powerful lobby which views prostitution as ‘sex work’ has neither been involved nor helpful in this case. As I wrote about the 2018 case at the time:
‘When Fiona [Broadfoot] and I contacted members of the pro-prostitution lobby to ask if we could form a united front to argue for the decriminalisation of the women, we were told, in somewhat hostile terms, that they would not work with abolitionists. We were further told that if we dropped our efforts to criminalise sex buyers then they may consider joining forces with us. We refused.’
Had that same offer been made regarding today’s legal challenge we would have refused again. Protecting the men that create the demand for prostitution is a disgrace. These men are the very reason why women are sexually exploited, and yet groups such as the English Collective of Prostitutes argue that criminalising them is wrong. Until we end demand for prostitution, more women like Fiona and Sam will be drawn into this nightmarish life.
If today’s case succeeds, the victory will be down to the sex trade survivors that dare to expose the truth about the horrors of the sex trade, and not those that seek to sanitise it.
The article ‘Children in the Roman Empire’, by Peter Thonemann, has, for some reason, disappeared from the Times Literary Supplement website, and I can’t find an archived copy. Fortunately, I saved it as a pdf, so I have a copy myself. It’s a useful article, I think, because sex industry apologists cite ‘cultural norms’ and even ‘children’s sexuality’ and ‘children’s agency’ to justify the commercial sexual exploitation of children (‘youth sex workers’). As the article shows, the ‘cultural norms’ in the past of ‘adult-child’ sex, were nothing to do with the ‘rights’ or ‘agency’ or ‘sexuality’ of children, and everything to do with what society allowed powerful men to do. In the present day the ‘cultural norm’ in many parts of the world is of marrying off girls as young as ten to men decades older.
The key sections of the article are:
It comes, then, as a rude shock to discover that the baby was not Statius’s son, but his slave. “He was not of my stock, nor did he carry my name or features; I was not his father … I was not one to love some chatterbox plaything bought from an Egyptian slave-ship – no, he was mine, my own.” This little boy was a verna, “house-reared”, the child of two of Statius’s own household slaves. He was Statius’s property, to be trained up or sold on as he wished. To judge from Statius’s other poems for deliciae, beloved slave-boys in elite Roman households, the boy’s early adolescence would probably have been spent ministering to his owner’s sexual desires.
Adult-child relationships in past societies present painful and delicate problems for the historian. Were Statius’s feelings for this child “natural”? Did he have “paternal instincts” towards him? By the standards of contemporary Roman society, Statius’s relationship with his verna was clearly quite normal, and there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his feelings for the child. House-reared slaves, as Beryl Rawson shows in Children, Memory, and Family Identity in Roman Culture, could play a variety of roles in the Roman elite family, from surrogate son to erotic plaything. What is difficult for us to deal with is the notion that, as in the case of Statius’s beloved boy, they might have played both roles simultaneously.
[…] Whether or not a twelve-year-old child was regarded as an acceptable sexual partner was determined not by biology, but by the child’s status, slave or free. No Roman saw anything problematic about setting slaves and lowstatus children to work as soon as they were physically capable of doing so. For many, adult labour began painfully early. The tombstone of Quintus Artulus, who died at the age of four at the silver mines of Baños de la Encina in Andalusia, depicts the child in a short tunic, barefoot, carrying the tools of his trade, a miner’s axe and basket.
By contrast, the adolescent sons and daughters of wealthy Roman citizens were at least as segregated from adult society as any modern Oliver or Olivia. Sexual advances towards a freeborn Roman child of any age, male or female, were punishable by death. Premarital purity was obsessively guarded; obscene language was known in Latin as nupta verba, “married words”. Physical labour was unheard of: the sons of the Roman elite could expect to stay in full-time formal education well into their mid-teens, studying the civil arts of grammar and rhetoric.
I will put screen caps of the full article below the line.
The first loyalty of sex industry advocates is to the sex industry itself. This loyalty is showing itself again in how the ECP is exploiting COVID19 lock-down to push for the total decriminalisation of the sex industry.
The BBC has published an article today that reads very much like a regurgitated press release from the ECP, with no alternative points of view offered, and, in the name of ‘balance’ only a brief statement from the government at the end, which only addressed the legal status of the sex industry, and not poverty under lock-down.
Poverty pushes women into prostitution. The recent switch to Universal Credit in the UK has pushed more women into poverty. If the ECP’s real concern was for the welfare of women in poverty, they would be lobbying for a better social safety net, so that no woman was forced into prostitution just to make ends meet.
Instead, the ECP is calling for the complete decriminalisation of the sex industry, because recognising ‘sex work as work’ is, somehow, the only way women trapped in prostitution can get benefits under lock-down when they can’t ‘work’.
In the UK, the act of selling sex itself is legal, but the acts around it like soliciting, kerb-crawling, pimping, and brothel keeping are illegal, so really what the ECP is calling for is the decriminalisation of pimps and brothel-keepers, all so that prostituted women can be recognised as ‘workers’ in order to get extra benefits under lock-down!
The implication is that if the sex industry were decriminalised, it wouldn’t matter how many women were pushed into it through poverty, because ‘sex work is work’. What about all the women in poverty who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t turn to ‘sex work’? What about the women who are not lifted out of poverty by ‘sex work’? It is obvious that the ECP only cares about women in poverty as a means to an end, the end being the decriminalisation, expansion, and normalisation of the sex industry.
I have sent a complaint to the BBC, please feel free to copy or adapt the below:
Why is the BBC unquestioningly reporting the claim, from sex industry lobbyists, that the best thing for women forced into prostitution through poverty, is the complete decriminalisation of the sex industry?
Why was the false claim from the ECP that ‘sex work’ is criminalised (since the act of selling sex itself is legal in the UK) allowed to stand unquestioned?
Why was there no alternative point of view given by campaigners for a better benefits system? Why was no one from Nordic Model Now asked for a comment? Why was there no interview with a woman who has exited the sex industry, and, because of her experiences, supports the abolitionist legal approach?
The BBC must realise by now that the political debate over the legal status of the sex industry is highly polarised and partisan; the article read like a regurgitated press release from the ECP, it is lazy, biased journalism.
Curiously, the article also, briefly, quotes someone from an organisation in Bristol called One25, which is dedicated to helping women exit prostitution. I have sent them a short email asking them if they are happy with the way they have been portrayed in the article, as completely aligned with the ECP.
QotD: “The past six months in my job working to help people targeted by loan sharks have been busier because of the pandemic”
One of my team has a case involving a vulnerable young woman who has been forced to pay off debts with sexual favours. Danielle is terrified of the loan shark who lives on the same estate. He has made threats to her partner and children, which has made her get help. Danielle is also living with crippling anxiety and depression – we make a referral to her GP for counselling and mental health support. We have also referred her to Citizens Advice for debt advice. The loan shark is under investigation.
The way loan sharks operate is to entice people by pretending to be their best friend and doing them a favour – it can be really easy to fall into that trap. These criminals initially offer money to mothers, who in some cases are seeking to feed their children, without fully informing them of the extortionate interest rates and despicable repayment methods. They will use violence, intimidation and even force women into performing sexual services and prostitution to pay off their debts.
It is extremely upsetting to hear stories of women who have experienced unimaginable suffering as a result of borrowing money. The sad reality is that this is not just a shocking one-off story and it is happening more frequently since the pandemic hit.