Now that the trickle of sexual abuse and exploitation revelations against British aid organisations has turned into a flood, much can be discerned by the language used: the way some of the alleged victims of Oxfam staff in countries such as Haiti are being described as “child prostitutes”, when people who have sex with children below the legal age of consent are, in fact, rapists.
We hear so many of the local women whom aid workers paid for sex described as “sex workers” without understanding the context. In countries where aid agencies have a large and permanent presence, people who live in their shadow have been conditioned to believe these organisations are there to offer them help. For example, everyone in Accra, Ghana, knows where the Save the Children offices are; in Liberia, almost anyone can direct you to the headquarters of Médecins Sans Frontières. These organisations are visible, and flashy – with expensive, branded four-wheel drives, and offer locals the possibility of rare and lucrative permanent employment.
In my experience, particularly in the aftermath of disaster, when foreigners are sometimes the only source of resources, women seek from them any help they can get. What’s emerging now is that handouts have been offered, allegedly, in exchange for sexual favours. It’s a transaction that is obviously unequal and exploitative.
We have all been conditioned to believe that aid agencies and charities operate in an uncivilised vacuum. It’s hard to overstate how much influence large NGOs have over the information we receive. These days few newsrooms can afford the cost of sending correspondents into crisis zones without their help. As a result, the news we consume is filtered through the prism of humanitarian relief work, where the civilised help the uncivilised – and if the helpers become deviant, what can you expect in such a climate?
The revelations about sexual abuse and misconduct – long overdue – have prompted a depressing combination of tropical neurasthenia and faux moral outrage. I say faux because this is really all about money. Our interest in these organisations is based on the fact they have received millions from British taxpayers. It is this that has been the centre of our concern rather than the wellbeing of the victims themselves.
Meanwhile, we have remained utterly uninterested in the thousands of incidents of UN peacekeeper sexual abuse that have emerged over the past decade, including a rape-for-food initiative in Central African Republic, a child-sexual-abuse ring in Haiti, regular sexual assaults of girls as young as 12 in Liberia, and other incidents whose depravity is hard to grasp, such as the time blue helmets are alleged to have tied up four young girls and made them have sex with a dog.
What is yet to emerge is the scale with which British and other foreign business travellers prop up local developing economies through prostitution. There are few, if any, official figures on the scale of this, but time and time again I have seen white men with clearly underage girls in hotels and bars throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. I have never been able to understand how this became normalised.
Is what happened in Haiti a scandal because prostitution is illegal in Haiti, or because it is always wrong to use massive economic and social inequality to coerce someone into sex?
The details of the Oxfam ‘sex scandal’ have been reported in great detail already, so I won’t reiterate any of that here. There is a debate to be had about global development in its current form (is this the best way to do it? does it work long term at all?), but that is beyond the remit of this blog post; in the short-term, in the face of disasters like the Haiti earthquake, organisations like Oxfam and their activities (minus the sexual coercion) seem to be better than no action at all from the global north.
I hope this scandal, as I hope for the ‘me too’/’time’s up’ movement in the entertainment industry, results in genuine change; I hope Oxfam, and other big charities like it, use this as an opportunity to get their houses in order and regain the public trust. I hope it is not used as an excuse for the UK government to scrap foreign aid altogether.
I am genuinely, personally, upset by this, Oxfam is a brand I trusted (they partnered with the Moomins for goodness sake), and I want to be able to trust them again.
Oxfam has never promoted entry into the sex industry as a ‘solution’ to the poverty of women and girls. Every campaign to end poverty for women and girls emphasises getting women into sustainable employment and their daughters into education, which, tacitly, is about keeping them out of prostitution.
The reactions to the Oxfam scandal are very different to the reactions to Amnesty International’s decision to support the decriminalisation of the sex industry back in 2015 (see all blog posts here).
The AI decision certainly did make headlines in the mainstream press, but not like this; there was no universal rush to condemn AI for its support of abusive institutions, there were no think-pieces questioning whether human rights organisations could survive such a scandal, because it was never reported in the mainstream press as a scandal at all.
The question here is simple: is what happened in Haiti a scandal because prostitution is illegal in Haiti, and the Oxfam aid workers were breaking local laws, or is it a scandal because using massive economic and social inequality to coerce someone into sex is always, objectively, wrong?
If it is always, objectively, wrong, how can it be acceptable for a ‘human rights’ charity to campaign and lobby for the decriminalisation of the people who perpetrate, facilitate, and profit from, such exploitation and abuse?
AI had as a member Douglas Fox, a known pimp at the time, who claims credit for AI’s ‘sex work’ policy. Mexico’s Maria Alejandra Gil Cuervo was vice president of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, which received money from the Open Society Foundation, and advised UNAIDS; when, in 2015, she was found guilty of sex trafficking and sentenced to 15 years in jail, the story was ‘broken’ in the English speaking world by Kat Banyard, on the Faber and Faber website (a publisher not a newspaper), and again there was no ‘scandal’.
There are some obvious differences, AI is not an aid agency, and it receives no government funding, but there is still the issue of public trust – I, personally, do not trust AI at all, if they could behave so dishonestly over this, what else are they not doing correctly?
Janice Turner in the Times (a publication I now trust more than the Guardian to report on trans and prostitution issues, misogyny transcends notions of left and right wing), reported on AI’s disgustingly cynical and hypocritical response to the Oxfam scandal:
Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International, was “shocked” by the Oxfam scandal, she told Woman’s Hour. She demanded an inquiry; for “lessons to be learnt”. I’d hoped Jenni Murray would follow through with a question: so what is Amnesty’s view on aid workers in poor countries paying women for sex? But she didn’t ask it, so I did.
Why is the question important? Because in 2015 Amnesty, a global organisation with seven million members, changed its policy on prostitution to support decriminalisation. Feminists were aghast: 3,000, including Gloria Steinem, signed a petition in horror that Amnesty was not only legitimising trade in women’s bodies, but the pimps and brothel keepers who exploit them.
No matter. Amnesty had been taken over by supporters of libertarian identity politics who regard prostitution not as a system of sexual abuse driven by economic need and inequality but a personal choice or a sexual identity, like being gay. Even, it seems, in disaster zones like Haiti.
“Decisions to sell sex,” states its policy document, “can be influenced by situations of poverty . . . Such situations do not necessarily . . . negate a person’s consent.” The only exceptions are “particular circumstances that amount to coercion where an individual faces threats of violence or abuse of authority”. But Amnesty’s overall stance is that it “neither supports nor condemns commercial sex”.
So how then would it view Roland van Hauwermeiren and his Oxfam compadres rolling into Port-au-Prince in safari jackets and mirrored shades, their 4x4s full of antibiotics and baby milk? Does it constitute an “abuse of authority” to round up a few hookers in town, take them to your villa and have a little fun in exchange for a few dollars and an Oxfam T-shirt? Or must we respect that these young women in a devastated land, with sick parents or hungry babies, have, in Amnesty’s words, “the agency and capacity of adults engaged in consensual sex work”?
Where does exploitation end and consent begin? I rang Amnesty for clarification. Kate Allen’s statement is a masterpiece of obfuscation. “The appalling situation of aid workers paying for sex in a context where they’re working with and providing services to extremely vulnerable people in crisis situations is separate from the issue of the legal status of sex work.”
But is it? In Haiti, 316,000 were dead, millions homeless, the entire infrastructure destroyed. Oxfam was “providing services to” a whole nation. Does Amnesty think it was wrong for van Hauwermeiren to prostitute a woman he met at, say, an aid distribution centre but it was fine for him to select equally impoverished women from the local brothel?
Given its neutral stance on commercial sex, is it cool with its staff using prostitutes? “Amnesty’s employment contracts clearly stipulate that employees must not behave in a way that brings the organisation into disrepute,” it said, “and in light of the Oxfam case, we’ve instigated a full review of all relevant policies.” Which reads less like a principled stand than a scrambled PR operation: ie we’ve smelt the public mood and don’t want lost donations. Only when I pressed further did it say: “Any staff members found to be using sex workers in the course of their work would face an immediate investigation and potential disciplinary action.” Which directly contradicts its own policy! What about neutrality, women having “agency” and punters not being penalised?
Turner also describes how the Labour Party has failed in its response to the Oxfam scandal:
Amnesty is not alone in being tied up in liberal knots. The Labour Party has been notably silent on the Oxfam prostitution scandal. The shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor defined it as a “safeguarding” breakdown, which reduces it to a failure to protect underage girls or prevent coercion, swerving the tougher question. But then in 2016 Jeremy Corbyn declared “I am in favour of decriminalising the sex industry”. Does he then approve of Roland’s poolside fun?
In Corbyn’s view, decriminalisation is a “more civilised” approach. Indeed, no feminist who signed the petition against Amnesty wants to punish desperate women. Rather, most favour the Nordic model, now law in France, Sweden, Ireland and other countries, which legalises selling sex but criminalises its purchase. Total decriminalisation always causes the sex trade to expand. And while Amnesty distinguishes between trafficking (coerced: bad) and sex work (consensual: fine), when male demand soars, more “product” is required and locked vans of Albanian girls arrive at the mega-brothels of Amsterdam or Hamburg’s Reeperbahn.
Finally, something on which we can agree: charity officials ought not to buy sex. No one, so far, seems prominently to have argued, of the Oxfam employees’ misconduct in Haiti and Liberia, that, providing their female purchases were adult, and not coerced, then their prostitution should rightly be called sex work, that is: a perfectly dignified transaction, from which both sides – say, impoverished survivors of a disaster and benevolent male humanitarians – stood to benefit.
We have yet, admittedly, to hear from Amnesty International, the human rights NGO, which now doubles as the world’s leading advocate of legalised prostitution. In 2015, a year that will forever be celebrated by its allies in the pimping and trafficking community, Amnesty committed to the decriminalisation of all aspects of “sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation or abuse”.
So, hint for Roland Van Hauwermeiren, who is currently to be found in Ostend, explaining how incredibly easy it is for a vivacious Oxfam official to be mistaken for a sex-buyer: Amnesty is there for you. Equally, critics of Oxfam’s conduct, including Theresa May and Penny Mordaunt, can expect a reminder from Amnesty that it’s people “who live on the outskirts of society that are forced into sex work. It may be their only way to earn a living.” Once you see it that way, Oxfam workers who live, courtesy of charitable donations, in villas suited to large pool parties, can be seen as doing prostitute attendees a tremendous kindness. Inalienable human rights, meet trickle-down effect.
The Oxfam-related outrage must be baffling, also, to many British parliamentarians, for whom the option of reducing prostitution via the Nordic Model (also adopted in Northern Ireland, Canada and France; now backed by the SNP) is so much less appealing than the formal commodification of – overwhelmingly – women’s bodies.
Jeremy Corbyn, for example, supports decriminalisation because he wants to “do things a bit differently and in a bit more civilised way”. Around a pool, perhaps? At any rate, all that was missing from this progressive analysis, given the exploitation reported in the decriminalised German and Dutch industries, was an alternative scheme whereby sex trade “things” could be separated from violence, poverty, murder, pimping, drug abuse, stigma, illness, trafficking, misogyny and coercion – and the inevitable implication that all women, prostituted or not, have their price.
In a rare show of political harmony, Corbyn’s enthusiasm for a free market in women’s bodies, or, as it would be defined in Sweden, unfettered violence against women and girls, is shared by the Lib Dems, the Greens and by the Commons home affairs select committee. The latter, reconstituted under new leadership, has yet to withdraw a 2016 report on prostitution that urged immediate decriminalisation (without any measures to protect women from exploitation). Only after publication did it emerge that its chair, Keith Vaz, one of eight men on an 11-person committee, was himself a sex buyer. Mercifully for Vaz’s future in public service, the relevant purchases had occurred in Edgware, not Port-au-Prince.
In fairness to Bennett, her piece only came out a day after Turner’s, so she couldn’t have seen the replies from AI. But, it seems, she is not a thorough Guardian reader, otherwise she would have seen the report last week calling the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Haiti ‘underage sex work’. (And in fairness to The Observer, it and the Guardian are editorially independent, the Observer has, in the past, been better at not calling raped children ‘sex workers’.)
“At 15 years old I met a pimp. Two weeks later, I was thrown into the violent and abusive world of prostitution,” feminist gender rights campaigner and organiser Fiona Broadfoot tells me. “I was in a very vulnerable place and he quickly had a hold on me. “I was trafficked down to London where he stood me outside the Hilton Hotel dressed like a doll for people to buy me,” she plainly catalogues. “From then on it was downhill. Rape became an occupational hazard, and because I was working on the street, I was arrested and criminalised for loitering under the purposes of being a common prostitute. I’m 49 and I still have an eight-page criminal record from those offences that I’ve had to carry around with me my whole life.”
22 years after exiting prostitution, Broadfoot is seeking justice and is fighting to have her criminal record eradicated by launching the first ever legal challenge of prostitution-specific criminal records. Broadfoot is arguing that the government policy on the disclosure of prostitution-specific convictions are uniquely discriminatory to women: “a lot of these criminal records are from charges women got when they were underage… What’s more, women with difficult backgrounds are likely to go into prostitution and be charged for it more than men.” Four other women, who choose not to be identified, are also bringing their cases. All the claimants were pimped into prostitution when they were children and between them they have 100 criminal records. The case went to court on 26 July, where the defence’s request for a stay was refused but their request for a six week delay was agreed, which means the Home Office has to come back to them with a response.
“We’re optimistic about what will happen next,” says Heather Harvey, project manager at nia, the feminist domestic violence women and children’s charity which is supporting Broadfoot’s case and has just launched a major new research project, I’m No Criminal, to coincide with it, looking into the impact of prostitution-specific criminal records on women. One of the report’s major findings is that a lifelong criminal record is one of the key reasons women don’t exist prostitution. These discoveries add to writer and co-founder of Justice for Women Julie Bindel’s 2009 research report Breaking Down The Barriers, where she found that 49% of the 104 female sex workers she spoke to cited a criminal record as their reason for not attempting to exit.
“It’s unthinkable that you should have to disclose what is essentially a history of underage abuse,” Harvey says of the claimants. One of the women nia spoke to for their report was 62 and still working as a prostitute because “she couldn’t exit due to the multiple criminal records she had,” Harvey says. “She had given up hope of anyone ever taking her seriously”.
For former [prostitute] Charlotte* this was also the case. “I want to work in a caring profession and help other women like myself, but I know they always check your [criminal] record, so I don’t bother, I’m not going to stand a chance.”
Broadfoot was once fired from a role when her criminal record was discovered. “Once, not long after I left prostitution, still at the stage of scrubbing myself with Dettol to make myself clean, I was living in a refuge in Halifax where I hadn’t told anyone that I used to be a prostitute as I didn’t want to be judged.
“I thought: I’ll work with children because I don’t want to be near adults, I don’t trust them. I started the course and was the happiest I’d been in a long time. It made my life worth living,” she explains.
“Then a Disclosure and Barring Service check was carried out as I had to do a placement in a school, and when they found out about my record of prostitution, I had to leave the course.
“I was basically frog-marched off the premises.”
Like many women who are trying to exit, Broadfoot’s record only forced her back into prostitution. “I went back and conned myself with that classic lie that I’d rather be working as a prostitute earning more money than I would be working in a shop.”
Along with nia, a number of charities want the removal of these criminal records, including Manchester-based women’s charity MASH and Beyond The Streets, a charity campaigning to end sexual exploitation.
The article has been changed since I saw it early this afternoon, but I screen grabbed it. You can clearly see from the address that it is the same article, and that in the earlier version, the journalists use the term ‘underage sex workers’.
It is as ridiculous as it is unethical, how can a raped child be a worker, how can rape be work, how can a rapist be an employer? Do words mean anything?
The people being quoted in the article talk about a paedophile ring, how is it appropriate to label any of that ‘sex work’?
I have contacted the Guardian on this subject before, several times, and received no reply, but I am going to keep on trying:
I am writing to you, again, to complain about the use of the term ‘sex work’ in relation to commercially raped children.
In today’s article ‘Oxfam warned it could lose European funding over scandal’ (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/12/haiti-demands-oxfam-identify-workers-who-used-prostitutes), in its 12:21 iteration ‘Haiti demands Oxfam identify staff who paid sex workers’, the term ‘underage sex workers’ was used.
I have written to you before, on several occasions over the past four years, about this subject, and have yet to receive any reply. What I would like, is for a Guardian editor to justify to me this dishonest and unethical use of language, in a publication that portrays itself as a quality newspaper.
How can a raped child be a worker, how can rape be work, how can a rapist be an employer?
As I said the last time, I will not give a penny to the Guardian while it continues to report on the commercial sexual exploitation of children in this way.
QotD: “Why won’t the so-called ‘sex workers’ rights movement’ help ex-teenage prostitutes have their convictions wiped?”
The Government’s policy in relation to the retention, recording and disclosure of criminal convictions arising from street prostitution (soliciting) offences is inhumane and impractical, and the claim, brought by a group of formerly prostituted women, will argue for the first time that retaining the criminal records of women abused into prostitution as children is effectively a record of their own abuse.
It is also a gross violation of their private lives. All women were internally trafficked while under the age of 18, and none had chosen to sell sex.
The Judicial Review, which, if successful, would result in the criminal records of the applicants – all of whom were abused into prostitution as teenagers – being expunged, would be a crucial step towards recognising prostitution as a human rights violation perpetrated by the pimps and punters.
The campaign was born in 1997 out of a conversation between myself and Fiona Broadfoot, a sex trade survivor and one of the claimants in the case. When Fiona and I met, during the run-up to a conference on violence against women and girls in 1996, she had recently left prostitution, having been pimped onto the streets aged 15. Fiona told me that she had recently exited the sex trade and was trying to help other women do the same.
Fiona had set up a support group called the Street Exit programme, which consisted of supporting women wishing to escape prostitution. Fiona did this work in her own time, with neither funding nor expenses to pay her sizeable phone bill.
She told me that finding a job she wanted to do was a nightmare because she had a bad criminal record. Every single one of Fiona’s convictions were for street prostitution-related offences, and when she applied for jobs, particularly if the job would involve her coming into contact with children or vulnerable adults, she was required to disclose her previous convictions.
This also applied to volunteering posts, and would, in a grotesque twist of irony, exclude her from running Street Exit, had it not been a one-woman show without charitable status.
We decided to work together, alongside other campaigners and sex trade survivors, to achieve two distinct but connected aims – to fight to decriminalise the women, men and children selling sex, and to penalise and deter the men (because it is always men) who pay for sex, and therefore drive the demand for prostitution.
The polarised debate on the sex trade has been vicious and angry. The dominant view has long been that “prostitution has always been here and always will”, and “decriminalising the entire sex trade will make it safer for the women”. Those that espouse these views refer to prostitution as “sex work” and argue that criminalising sex buyers (referred to as “clients”) puts the women in danger.
I have never met anyone during my decades of campaigning against the sex trade who supports the criminalisation of prostituted people, and yet it has proved impossible to put aside our differences and form a united front.
When Fiona 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.
In 1998, when Fiona and I (with others) set up a re-education scheme in an attempt to deter men from paying for sex in West Yorkshire, over 40 pro-prostitution lobbyists in the region met to discuss ways in which they could scupper the initiative. It would have been a better use of their time to be fighting to decriminalise the women, one would have thought.
The abolitionist campaigners continued to try and build bridges. In the mid-2000s, at the annual Police Vice Conference, I approached the then chair of the UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP), which takes a firm view against abolitionism, and asked if we could work together to lobby police to support the decriminalisation of the women. She agreed, and we jointly presented our list of demands to the delegates. Our alliance was short-lived, however. I was told shortly after the conference that many members of the UKNSWP objected to working alongside those of us that refuse to see prostitution as a job like any other.
In my view, the key reason why abolitionists, and not the pro-prostitution lobby, are leading the way in the campaign to change the law in regards to the criminalisation of those selling sex is because we believe that the women (and men) involved in the sex trade are victimised. We consider prostitution per se to be harmful, and an abuse of human rights. The other side is so keen on sanitising this vile trade that they spend more time arguing in favour of decriminalising pimps and punters than they do exploring the abuse the women face at the hands of the buyers.
In order to build a coherent argument as to why prostituted people should never be viewed as criminals, it is necessary to be clear and honest about the violence and abuse inherent to prostitution. If we win this case, our next step will be to introduce a law in England and Wales that will criminalise the men paying or attempting to pay for sex. They are the criminals, not the women they use and abuse.
This article explores the activities of George Soros and his charitable organization, Open Society Foundations (OSF), in advocating for the full decriminalization of the sex trade industry. Research finds that OSF spends only a small amount of money on grass roots “sex worker” groups around the world advocating for full decriminalization, but the foundation awards larger amounts of funds to large human rights groups whose reports and policies have a wider reach. OSF’s rationale for full decriminalization fails to consider violence and coercion in the sex trade industry, misreads research, and does not include research from venues where full decriminalization of prostitution has occurred. Thus OSF and its grantees have created a partial view on prostitution that they advocate to the public. Those concerned with trafficking for sexual exploitation, violence, coercion, and abuse in prostitution should be cognizant of these strategies used by decriminalization advocates funded by OSF and be prepared to point out the unsupported assumptions and meet OSF’s allegations with proven facts.
This paper is definitely worth reading in full, it covers the funding given by the Open Society Foundation to Amnesty International, as well as other charities like Human Rights Watch and the ACLU. It also shows how research has been misrepresented and misinterpreted, with those misrepresentations being repeated across the OSF funded organisations.
It also shows the huge sums of money involved – there is nothing democratic or accountable about any individual, of any political orientation, having such a huge, global, influence.
The Guardian, yet again, is calling a commercially raped child a ‘sex worker’.
In this article on Cyntoia Brown, who was first trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation at the age of sixteen, the first paragraph says this:
Celebrities including Rihanna, Cara Delevingne and Kim Kardashian West are calling for freedom from prison for a woman who was 16 years old when she killed a man who hired her as a sex worker.
At this point I can’t believe this is an accident; this is very deliberate, partisan language, “hired her as a sex worker”, not even “hired her for sex”, as if the situation was just a bug in the otherwise benign system of ‘sex work’.
I have written to the Guardian many times on this subject, and not ever received a reply (the Observer does better). Please feel free to use or adapt the below template:
I am writing to you, yet again, to complain about your use of the term ‘sex work’ in relation to a commercially sexually exploited child (in the article ‘Cyntoia Brown: celebrities call for victim of sex trafficking to be freed’ published online today).
Brown was sixteen years old when she was commercially raped (and had been sexually abused from a younger age), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises anyone under the age of eighteen as a child, regardless of local age of consent laws. In New Zealand, where the sex industry has been decriminalised, only people over the age of eighteen can legally consent to ‘sex work’, so there is no justification to refer to Brown as a ‘sex worker’.
This use of language is harmful, it invisibilises the abusive system in which Brown was exploited, and invisibilises the role sex buyers play in this system. By calling Brown a ‘sex worker’ you sanitise the man who paid to rape her as someone merely engaging in a commercial transaction, rather than a predator who targeted the most vulnerable children.
The Guardian keeps asking for subscribers, I will not give you a penny while you continue to sanitise the harm done to vulnerable children, young people, and adults by uncritically using the term ‘sex work’ to describe commercial sexual exploitation.
Men with a history of sexual violence and domestic abuse joined Islamic State because of the organisation’s systemic use of rape and slavery as a form of terrorism, according to new analysis.
The promotion and sanctioning of sexual violence by the extremist group was a pivotal means of “attracting, retaining, mobilising and rewarding fighters” as well as punishing kaffir, or disbelievers, says a report to be released by the Henry Jackson Society.
Enshrining a theology of rape, the sexual exploitation of women alongside trafficking helped fund the caliphate and was used to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating prohibited.
In addition, forced inseminations and forced pregnancies – along with forced conversions – were officially endorsed to help secure the next generation of jihadis, a tactic also replicated by Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
Analysis of ISIS members from Europe and the US found that a cohort had a history of domestic and sexual violence, suggesting a “relationship between committing terrorist attacks and having a history of physical and/or sexual violence”.
One Briton, Ondogo Ahmed, from north London, was given an eight-year custodial sentence for raping a 16-year-old girl in the UK but fled to Syria while out of prison on licence in 2013.
Another was Siddhartha Dhar, a father of four from London, who has been described as a central player in Isis’s brutal persecution of the Yazidis, a religious minority whose followers the group permitted its members to rape.
Testimony from one victim, Nihad Barakat, 18, revealed how Dhar, a former bouncy castle salesman from Walthamstow, east London, routinely participated in the group’s systemic trafficking and abuse of Yazidi teenage girls and enslaved some himself. “These cases indicate an existence of a type of terrorism that is sexually motivated, in which individuals with prior records of sexual violence are attracted by the sexual brutality carried out by members of Islamic State,” said Nikita Malik, the report’s author.
Although Malik said more work was required to establish a definitive link between an individual’s history of domestic violence and subsequent involvement in terrorism, evidence existed to indicate a potential correlation. One of the men involved in July’s London Bridge attack, Rachid Redouane, 30, was reportedly abusive and controlling, and his girlfriend eventually fled to a unit for victims of domestic violence. The Westminster attacker Khalid Masood, 52, is another who has been described as violent and controlling, this time towards his second wife.
ISIS has repeatedly promoted and attempted to legitimise a theology of rape, occasionally through its Dabiq magazine and Al Hayat media channel. One edition of Dabiq justified the rape of Yazidi women in Iraq by dismissing them as “pagans”. The extremist group also set up a department dedicated to “war spoils” and issued guidelines to codify slavery.
Markets selling sex slaves were relatively common in territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria at the calpihate’s height, while the group’s franchise in Libya has also played a role in human trafficking. One account contained in the report describes how Isis members would touch the chests of girls to see whether they had grown breasts. If they had done so they could be raped, according to the report – which will be released in parliament – and if not they would be examined three months later. Among a number of harrowing case studies are accounts of how a 10-year-old Libyan child was raped by traffickers linked to ISIS.
Apart from subjugation and spreading terror, another key reason for Isis exploiting sex trafficking is financial gain. Ransom payments directly linked to the threat or use of sexual violence and paid out by governments and individuals earned, according to the report, between £7.7m and £23m last year, at a time of lowering revenues for the group.
It’s unsurprising to note that the report (or the article on it at least), makes the link to “deeply conservative Muslim societies”, but not to our own, western, misogyny. Hardcore pornography was easily available to any ISIS fighter who grew up in the west, plus bootleg pornography is available throughout the global south.
And as Namia Akhtar reported, Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were porn users:
Nonetheless, Sexlamists in their private lives are obsessed with pornography (in a February 17, 2015 article, New York Post reported that Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden found a fairly extensive stash of modern pornography in his possession), they communicate through it (media sources reported that terrorist cells embedded secret coded messages into shared pornography and onto pedophile websites) and justify their own salacious carnal practices on religious grounds. Al-Qaeda leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden and Anwar Al-waki, had also indulged in notorious promiscuity. Adultery and fornication are strictly prohibited in Islam, but in terror groups abhorrent sexual practices reign supreme. Daesh, for instance, has issued fatwas justifying rapes of Yazidi women to make them Muslims. Rape is the mechanism of Daesh to achieve their strategic objectives, since it humiliates and shames respective communities.
It’s not quite so positive in the eyes of the Cambridgeshire police, called to the development “a disproportionate number of times”, not only to patrol late-night student antics, but to investigate the trafficking of sex workers. “We’ve seen an awful lot of ‘pop-up brothels’,” says Detective Inspector Nick Skipworth, who recently asked the council for extra resources to police the area.
“A huge number of the properties are available as short-term holiday lets for a week at a time, so they’ve been targeted by the sex trade. We’ve been running an operation to safeguard sex workers over the last two years and made several arrests related to trafficking in the CB1 area.”
And so, unfortunately, are the police, but I’m not sure how one complains to a police force over this kind of thing.
I have emailed the Guardian before about this, and never received a reply (the Observer has been better), but I’m going to keep on trying. Please feel free to copy or adapt this template:
I am writing to you to complain about the article ‘‘An embarrassment to the city’: what went wrong with the £725m gateway to Cambridge?’, published in today’s Guardian.
It is wrong to call women trafficked into prostitution ‘sex workers’, rape is not ‘work’ and a raped woman is not a ‘worker’.
Under any other circumstances, coerced sex is called rape, but when the rapist hands over money to a third party, who has violent control over the rape victim, it gets called ‘sex work’. This makes no sense, and invisibilises the men who are happy to pay to rape trafficked women; it turns a sexual abuse issue into a mere labour issue.
The fact that the police officer interviewed for the piece used the term ‘sex worker’ is no excuse, newspapers are supposed to hold public bodies to account.
I look forward to hearing back from you on this issue.
A Romanian couple have been jailed for trafficking a 14-year-old girl and other women into prostitution in the UK, in the first prosecution for child sex trafficking under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
Romelia Florentina Radu, 32, and Petre Niculescu, 39, were each sentenced to 14 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to trafficking the child and eight women.
A third Romanian national, George Maracineanu, 47, who persuaded a woman to come to the UK, promising her love and work before handing her over to the couple, was jailed for two years and eight months.
The criminal network run by Radu and Niculescu was dismantled by the Metropolitan police and Romanian police after an eight-month joint operation.
The trial at Kingston crown court in Surrey heard that the group preyed on women from impoverished backgrounds, telling some they would be given work in shops or restaurants.
“The defendants benefited criminally from the sexual exploitation of a number of women,” prosecution counsel Caroline Haughey told the court. “They beguiled and deceived their way into their lives and them put them to work on the streets.”
In the case of the pair’s youngest victim, they “deliberately and callously stole her childhood,” she said.
The pair had operated in the UK since 2013 and lured the 14-year-old, one of nine siblings from a poor family, in 2016 after promising her a job as a waitress.
But on the night she arrived in the UK, she was told to change into “sexy” clothes and put on heavy makeup, because “she had the face of a child”, said Haughey.
The court heard that the girl was forced to have sex with men every day for four months.
In a victim impact statement, the girl said: “I was forced to have sex continuously. Many times it was painful and I was disgusted.”
She said she lived in permanent fear and was told not to tell anyone her age or her real name. “They would swear at me and threaten me with violence. They would tell me that they are going to hurt my family and that they would set fire to the front of my door,” she said.
Met police became aware of the gang after one of the victims, a 41-year-old woman, went to a north London police station. She told officers she had been recruited by Maracineanu, who had promised they would earn money together to buy a house in Romania.
The court heard that other women had been controlled by the couple, recruited through friends and family with the promise of a better life. One had been offered work as a prostitute when she was 14. Four years later, she agreed to go with Radu for unspecified work in the UK, but when she arrived was told she would be working as a prostitute.
Others knew they would be working as prostitutes and were told they would share takings. But when they had arrived in the UK thye found themselves in debt bondage – told by the couple they owed money for their travel costs, as well as their “patch” of the street and rent in the flats they used in Paddington, west London. While the women could earn at least £250-300 a night, they were often given as little as £20-30 a day.
They described physical and mental abuse. In a victim impact statement, one of the women said: “Once [Niculescu] beat me really badly. He punched me and then hit me many times with the pole from the hoover… I was covered in blood. I still have a scar because of what happened that day.”
Another described being beaten by a man who refused to pay for sex. “The client was under the influence of drugs and beat me for an hour, both during and after sex,” she said. “He slapped me all over my body, including my face. I was praying to God to escape alive.”
DC Alison Hines said all the women had been subjected to various levels of abuse. “All of them were threatened that their families would be harmed, their houses would be burned down, or they would be beaten up,” she said. “The fact that they were willing to give evidence against their traffickers is incredibly brave.”
Damaris Lakin, a prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service London’s complex casework unit, said: “All three suspects initially denied controlling these women and girls for prostitution. The bravery of these women in providing evidence and supporting this prosecution has helped stop a dangerous criminal network taking advantage of vulnerable young girls.”