Joan Smith: Yes, it should be a crime to pay for sex

Published: 27 December 2007

You’ve got that bloated post-Christmas feeling, brought on by too much food and too much time with your nearest and dearest. What to do? Some people go to the gym, some meet their mates and go to a football match, and some want nothing more than a bracing work-out with a teenage sex slave. Trafficked women report a surge in demand at this time of year as men go along to massage parlours and brothels advertised in local papers, drawn by the promise of a regular supply of fresh young girls from Thailand or Ukraine.If they look under age, speak little English and seem scared, so what? It’s their choice, men have to get sex somewhere and going on the game is a traditional way for girls without education or skills to make a bit of easy money. What sort of killjoy could possibly object to that? Only those bloody feminists, who’ve even managed to get themselves into the Government these days, but we all know they’re female eunuchs who just want to stop blokes having a good time. I mean, Harriet Harman? Don’t get me started.

I’m caricaturing, of course, but not by much. Next month, when MPs return from their Christmas holidays, they’ll be asked to vote on an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which would give councils and police chiefs the power to ban men from paying for sex in designated areas. The idea is to extend action against kerb crawlers to brothels and massage parlours, which is where the majority of trafficked women are forced to “work” in this country; it’s a British version of a Swedish law which came into effect nine years ago and has radically changed the way many people think about prostitution.

Like most radical proposals, it has polarised opinion, although the degree of personal invective against those of us who support it is an eye-opener. Actually, I can’t help suspecting that some of the critics have a vested interest in maintaining a man’s “right” to buy sex, or their responses wouldn’t be quite so hysterical.

Their Pollyanna fantasies could not be more out of touch with the real world of prostitution and trafficking, two phenomena which are inextricably linked. Voluntary prostitution – by which I mean that minority of women in the sex trade who go into it because they are poor, out of work and dependent on drugs – is such an awful job that there are simply not enough women and girls to meet demand.

According to a study published four years ago in the Journal of Trauma Practice, 89 per cent of women in prostitution want to escape; a field study in nine countries showed that between 60 and 75 per cent of women in prostitution had been raped, between 70 and 95 per cent had been physically assaulted, and 68 per cent displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in the same range as combat veterans and victims of torture. Other research, this time from Canada, suggests that women in prostitution are 40 times more likely to be murdered than the rest of the female population.

Against this background, a lucrative opportunity has opened up for sex-traffickers to bring foreign girls and women to countries like the UK to satisfy growing demand. No one knows how many trafficked women are “working” in city centre and suburban brothels in this country, with estimates varying from 4,000 to 25,000. What is clear is that in most Western countries the sex trade is now dominated by foreign women, many of them tricked or coerced into sexual slavery. The men they are forced to service are not the classic shy loners beloved by pro-prostitution fantasists; research shows that most clients are sexually-active men aged between 30 and 55, married or co-habiting, whose attitudes to women are about as enlightened as your average Manchester United footballer.

They buy sex because they like variety, because they want sex acts they can’t get from regular partners, and because they like verbally abusing or beating women; it is these men – ordinary husbands and fathers who spent a fortune on presents for their wives and kids a couple of days ago – who are the engine of the trade in trafficked women. The US State Department considerably understated the case when it suggested that where prostitution is legalised or tolerated, “there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery”.

Amazingly, there is still no shortage of people arguing that the answer is legalisation. Here we enter another fantasy world, where all the problems associated with prostitution are about health and safety, and can be answered by setting up legal establishments where attractive young women with certificates of sexual health happily service polite clients (themselves free of STIs). There was a time when such arguments appealed to liberals like me, but that was before they were put into practice in several countries – notably Germany, the Netherlands and some parts of Australia – with disastrous consequences.

Legalising prostitution stimulates demand, encourages trafficking and promotes the existence of a parallel illegal industry where men can get unprotected or anal sex. In Victoria, which has a population of only 3.5 million, the number of legal brothels jumped from 40 to 94 in a 10-year period, and were easily outnumbered by unlicensed establishments. But the most astounding figures come from Germany, where legalisation has created a situation in which 1.2 mllion men pay for sex each day. An estimated 400,000 women are working in prostitution, 80 per cent of them foreign and a high proportion trafficked. During last year’s football World Cup, many of them “worked” in narrow booths on motorways, forced to have sex with dozens of men each day.

In the nine years since Sweden made buying sex a criminal offence, there has been a drop in the number of women working as prostitutes and in trafficked women. Fewer than 600 women are trafficked into the country each year, compared with more than 10,000 in neighbouring Finland, and intercepts of telephone conversations between traffickers show that they’re giving up on Sweden. At least 1,700 men have been charged with paying or trying to pay for sex, and the figure would have been much higher if the courts had been able to handle them.

It’s a bold experiment, and the government is unashamed of the fact that the law is based on the notion that prostitution is an aspect of male violence towards women and children. I couldn’t agree more, and I have a final thought for those who have steam coming out of their ears. If prostitution is so great, why don’t you encourage your daughters to go and work in a brothel? Not to mention your sons.



Letters in Response:

Sex workers are not helpless victims

Sir: I am a sex worker and a sex manager. I run an agency and I work as a male escort and have done so for ten years. I have met hundreds of clients and represented hundreds of sex workers. I have never come across anyone who was coerced or trafficked.

Thousands of sex workers throughout this country work freely and by choice in an industry that provides them with a good income and flexible hours. Many sex workers do the work for a short time and others make a full-time career out of it

I wonder how many real sex workers Joan Smith has met (“Yes, it should be a crime to pay for sex”, 27 December). I suggest she speaks to real sex workers and learns the truth about the industry.

I do not argue that there is not a problem with trafficked victims, but I do question the numbers and strongly urge that further criminalisation will do nothing to stop this vile trade. It will have quite the opposite effect.

Sweden is seen by prohibitionists as a model for the destruction of the sex trade, but Sweden had a tiny sex worker community to begin with and those few sex workers are now more victimised than ever before.

Further criminalisation will not work here but rather will push the industry further underground and into the hands of the criminals we all despise. If she is genuinely concerned with helping the victims of crime, then she should look to decriminalise the industry and open the industry up to public scrutiny. The vast majority of sex workers are not victims and hate being classed as victims, just as the vast majority of managers are not evil pimps but rather are employees of sex workers, employed by them to provide collective services.

How many lives will be destroyed by the state egged on by people like Joan Smith simply because they have chosen to work in an industry that she disapproves of?

Douglas Fox

Newcastle Upon Tyne

Sir: Joan Smith’s article “Yes, it should be a crime to pay for sex” is in danger of reinforcing common mistaken stereotypes concerning prostitution and victims of human trafficking. A genuine, coerced trafficking victim is not a prostitute. She is a rape victim.

Ms Smith states that estimates vary between 4,000 and 25,000 sex-trafficking victims in the UK. Whilst both these figures seem to have emanated from the Home Office, no methodology explaining their foundation has been made available. The nationwide police operation Pentameter 1, which used the Palermo Protocol definition of trafficking and involved all 55 forces in the UK, found either 84 or 88 depending which report you read, Crimestoppers or Acpo. Its successor, Pentameter 2, has found more, but nothing like the number that would justify even the smaller of the two figures.

The 4,000 figure appears on page 25 of the 2005-6 Joint Committee on Human Rights report on Human Trafficking, where the committee reported the “Government told us that [research] showed that there were an estimated 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK during 2003 at any one time. Because the research has not yet been published, we have not been able to judge the validity of this figure.”

All this does not mean society should not do what it can to identify genuine cases, prosecute those responsible, and end the sufferings of real victims. However, as a great deal of police evidence on trafficking victims comes at present from prostitutes’ clients, rendering the latter illegal and pushing prostitution further underground is hardly a constructive way of going about matters.

Stephen Paterson

Colwyn Bay, North Wales

Sir: I write in response to the letter from a host of academics entitled, “Sex workers need no moral crusades” (22 December). I entirely agree with the points they make. It is wrong, of course, for anybody to be forced to work in the sex industry and there should be criminal sanctions in place to tackle those involved in that aspect of the market. But why should everybody engaged in selling and buying sex be subjected to draconian criminal measures? This is one reason that those working in the industry should be involved in a debate on the subject.

In many instances, women choose to sell sex because they want to, not because they are forced to. The reasons may be many and varied – choosing when and how they work and the amount of money they are capable of earning, for example, might feature among those reasons. If a man chooses to buy sex from a woman choosing to sell it, what harm is being done? To criminalise such transactions would mean that numerous people would be hauled up before the courts when there is not even a victim.

Our laws on prostitution have always been behind the times and ineffective. Why not have brothels that are regulated? That would be one way to make sex workers offer their services in a safer environment than a dimly-lit street.


Ilford, Essex

Sir: How does Julie Harrison (letter, 29 December) know that many people object to men buying sex? Most people, I suggest, are completely indifferent to prostitution so long as it doesn’t affect them. And what evidence does she have of men “in their thousands” sexually exploiting women? So far just 88 trafficked women have been rescued from the sex trade.

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire

Sir: Julie Harrison alludes to large numbers of women being enslaved and beaten. These are extremely serious matters; so serious that it would be surprising if they were not already covered in criminal law. Ms Harrison offers a case neither for enacting new legislation nor for making this gender-specific.

John Riseley

Harrogate, North Yorkshire


The Myth of the Migrant

Laura Mari­a Agusti­n wants frank talk about migration and the sex trade

If you picked up, moved to Paris, and landed a job, what would you call yourself? Chances are, if you’re an American, you’d soon find yourself part of a colorful community of “expats.” If, while there, you hired an Algerian nanny—a woman who had picked up, moved abroad, and landed a job—how would you refer to him or her? Expat probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Yet almost no one refers to herself as a “migrant worker.”

Laura María Agustín’s Sex at the Margins catalogues the many ways in which wealthy Westerners cast immigrants as The Other, and for this reason it is a profoundly uncomfortable read. Having spent many years as an educator working with expatriate sex workers, Agustín turns her attention to the “rescue industry” and the way those who would help describe the migrants they’ve pledged to assist.

Comparing the ways immigrants describe their experiences and the ways NGO personnel and theorists describe immigrants, she writes, “The crux of the difference concerns autonomy; whether travellers are perceived to have quite a lot versus little or none at all.” Theories of migration portray migrants as unsophisticated and desperate people who are “pushed” and “pulled” along a variety of dimensions. “The tourism and pleasure seeking of people from ‘developing societies’, rarely figures, as though migration and tourism were mutually exclusive,” she writes, “Why should the travels to work of people from less wealthy countries be supposed to differ fundamentally from those of Europeans?” “Migrants” travel because they are poor and desperate, “expatriates,” travel because they are curious, self-actualizing cosmopolites. But Agustín searches in vain for an immigrant whose self-identity reflects the wretched portrait of the modal migrant drawn by those who would help.

As Agustín shows, nowhere are these human caricatures more exaggerated than in the contemporary conversation about human trafficking, or—to use a term Agustín detests—“sex trafficking.” While selling sex may be a rational choice for some, governmental and charitable anti-trafficking initiatives rarely discriminate between those who would prefer sex work to the relevant alternatives and those who have been wronged. Sex slavery statistics are so tenuous that debunking them is a sport for skeptical journalists, while genuine labor abuses go ignored.

Collective anxiety about women who traverse sexual and spatial boundaries is anything but new. As Agustín writes, “Women who cross borders have long been viewed as deviant, so perhaps the present-day panic about the sexuality of women is not surprising.” Immigrants are human beings with the courage to leave the comforts of home. In Sex at the Margins, Agustín asks readers to leave behind easy stereotypes about migrants and welcome the overlooked expats among us.

reason spoke with Agustín in December.

reason: What experiences led you to write Sex at the Margins?

Laura María Agustín: I was working in NGOs and social projects on the Mexico/US Border, the Caribbean, and in South America. I worked with people who called themselves sex workers and gays having sex with tourists. To us, this was normal, conventional. Everyone talked about it. Obviously many of these people didn’t have many options. Some of them had the guts to travel, and I felt I understood that.

In ’94 I hadn’t heard the word the work trafficking in this context. In the sex context, it’s a creation of the past 10 years. I started running into the term when I came to Europe and saw what people who were trying to help migrants were doing and saying. The whole idea of migrants who sell sex being victims was so different from what I knew. My original research question was, why is there such a big difference between what people in Europe say about people who sell sex, and what those people themselves say about themselves? It took a while for me to answer that question.

reason: You write that migrants are considered “separate, uncreative, and unsophisticated” in theories of tourism and migration. What are we missing when we assume all migrants are simply desperate?

Agustín: People may feel under the gun, but people who end up leaving home to work abroad have mixed motives. They may be poor and without many choices. But they also are normal human beings who have desires and fantasies. They daydream about all the same pleasurable things that richer people do. The human ability to imagine that things can be better, that getting ahead is possible, are in play. These motivations mix together in the project of leaving home—legally or not—to go somewhere else.

And it’s not the most desperate, like famine sufferers, who manage to undertake a migration. In order to go abroad you have to be healthy and you have to have social capital, including a network that will get you information on how to travel and work. You need some money and some names and addresses; you have to have at least some official papers, even if they’re false. You need at least a minimal a safety net. People at the most disadvantaged social level rarely get into this situation.

reason: How are attitudes about trafficking related to the idea that women shouldn’t be leaving home in the first place?

Agustín: Women are sometimes called “boundary markers”: When States feel threatened, women’s bodies become symbols of home and the nation. This is a common sexist idea in patriarchal societies. The idea that women are domestic and symbolize home and hearth —but also that they should stay home and be home—is deeply entrenched all over the world. And while richer countries might favour gender equity for their own women, they often “domesticate” women from poorer contexts.

The U.N. protocols on trafficking and smuggling of human beings are gendered. The trafficking protocol mentions women and children, and mentions sexual exploitation, but doesn’t say anything about voluntary leaving. The smuggling protocol talks about men who want to travel but have crossed a border in a less than kosher way—and sex is not mentioned.

People talk about a contemporary “feminization” of migration, but the evidence for this is shaky. There have been other waves of women migrating in numbers, as in the late 19th century from Europe to Argentina, where they were often accused of being prostitutes. Europeans didn’t want to think these white women would set out on their own like this or end up selling sex, which is where the term “white slavery” derives from. The phenomenon was similar to what we see today, only the direction has shifted.

reason: What do you make of the State Department’s claim that 800,000 people are trafficked each year?

Agustín: Numbers like this are fabricated by defining trafficking in an extremely broad way to take in enormous numbers of people. The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons is using the widest possible definition, so which assumes that any woman who sells sex could not really want to, and, if she crossed a national border, she was forced.

The numbers are egregious partly because the research they’re cross-cultural. The US, calling itself the world’s moral arbiter on these issues, uses its embassies in other countries to talk to the police and other local authorities, supposedly to find out how many people were trafficked. There is a language issue —all the words involved don’t translate perfectly, and there is a confusion about what trafficking means. People don’t all use it the same way. Even leaving aside language issues, we know the data aren’t being collected using a standard methodology across countries. 800,000 is a fantasy number.

reason: Is there a legitimate core of abuses that need to be addressed?

Agustín: Some conscientious people talk about trafficking as applicable to men, transsexuals, or anyone you like, no matter what kind of work they do, when things go very wrong during a migration. When migrants are charged egregious amounts of money they can’t possibly pay back, for example. However, we’ve reached the point in this cultural madness where most people mean specifically women who sell sex when they use the word “trafficking.” They usually mean women working inside brothels.

reason: So there is an attempt to conflate the terms prostitution and trafficking?

Agustín: There is a definite effort to conflate the terms in a stream of feminism I call “fundamentalist feminism.” These feminists believe there is a single definition of Woman, and that sexual experience is key to a woman’s life, soul, self-definition. This particular group has tried to say that prostitution is not only by definition exploitation but is trafficking. It’s bizarre but they are maintaining that.

reason: What about the fundamentalist fundamentalists?

Agustín: The alliance between fundamentalist feminists and some fundamentalist Christians sees its work as global. So you get the Southern Baptist Convention and some feminists writing to the government of the Czech Republic to urge against legalizing prostitution. Many kinds of fundamentalist thought share values about home, family sex and violence.

reason: Are anti-trafficking activists preventing the liberalization of prostitution laws?

Agustín: Probably. But I don’t think the obsession with trafficking is solely about women and sex. It’s become a cultural phenomenon up in the stratosphere with fears of terrorism. Governments are making it an issue of policing the borders, and I believe they are less concerned about women “victims” than male “perpetrators”. The UN protocols on trafficking and smuggling were attached to a convention on organized crime. It’s the same as the terrorism story, the idea that bad guys don’t respect States and will set up their own societies, go where they want and disobey all laws. The borders will not hold, the martians are invading. Everything is Falling Apart.

reason: Is there a romanticization of home at work here? The idea that it’s always best to stay in the place you come from?

Agustín: Immigration procedures still assume that everyone calls some country “home”, but many people’s situations don’t easily fit this idea. They’ve got more than one home or don’t want to call anyplace home. The collective fantasy says home is always a lovely place, but many people have a contrary experience. People who actually wanted to leave home may feel they have failed—whether they were leaving their parents, or partner or children.

reason: You write: “Believing Passionately that women must tell their stories is a government urge.”

Agustín: When I started studying, I thought it would be easy: Why not listen to what migrants themselves say? Then I found an enormous literature, much of it explicitly feminist, urging subjects to speak authentically, to get up and tell their true stories for everyone to hear. With all kinds of marginalized people, the idea was they’ve been silenced and should be allowed to speak.

Except it turns out that lots of people don’t want to tell their stories, they don’t want to stand up anywhere, they’d just as soon let someone speak for them. Or they don’t care or know they are being talked about, they just want to do whatever they feel like doing. So I had to question my own desire to push people to present themselves in a certain kind of way. It’s not enough to say, “we will facilitate people giving voice.” No, because also that gives us a job. Then we can see our job as being a virtuous person who is going to help the poor and silenced of the earth speak.

It’s also not clear that they would get anything out of speaking, because governments, and most people, don’t listen when they do. Those who see themselves as helping believe they Know Best how we should all live and benevolently provide necessary services to us all.

reason: Both the U.N. and the U.S. have promoted the idea that human trafficking is perpetrated by organized crime rings. How accurate is this?

Agustín: The Interpols and FBIs of the world are trying to find out exactly who the bad guys are doing the trafficking. They have a terrible time of it, because trafficking in the sense that they mean it includes most irregular migration. Millions and millions of people are involved, most of them working on a small scale—petty criminals, not big-time mafiosi. I lived in Spain for five years and least once every week the media carried a story about the police breaking up a trafficking ring – which means there are always more and more.

But there’s no evidence that large-scale organized crime has gone into human trafficking in the way they did into heroin trafficking decades ago. What researchers have found is quantities of small-scale operations – people who know one person they can call in Berlin and one in Istanbul, who use mobile phones, who move around. Small-time entrepreneurs, some meaner, some acting like regular travel agents.

reason: What policies would you recommend for people concerned about legitimately coercive situations?

Agustín: I’m trying to get people to slow down on the rush to determine a definitive policy. Because the prostitution debate is so limited and moralistic, vast amounts of information that policymakers need is still absent. Research on traffickers themselves is just beginning. The diversity of experience is enormous. There isn’t going to be a single social policy that will work for everyone.

Kerry Howley is a senior editor of reason.

Sex slaves and the reality of prostitution

Friday December 28, 2007
The Guardian

Harriet Harman holds that a Swedish-style law against buying sex is necessary to stem demand for sex workers trafficked into Britain (Harman calls for prostitution ban, December 21). She was supported by former Europe minister Denis MacShane, who insisted there are 25,000 sex slaves in the UK. This is a startling assertion – 25,000 is more than the entire workforce of Debenhams. How is it that this vast number of women and girls are so readily available to male clients and yet simultaneously so difficult for the police to detect?
When 515 indoor prostitution establishments were raided by police as part of Operation Pentameter last year, only 84 women and girls who conformed to police and immigration officers’ understanding of the term “victim of trafficking” were “rescued”. At this rate, the police would need to raid some 150,000 indoor prostitution establishments to unearth MacShane’s 25,000 sex slaves. The fact that there are estimated to be fewer than 1,000 such establishments in London gives some indication of how preposterous MacShane’s claim is.Abuse and exploitation undoubtedly occur in the UK sex sector, but only a minority of cases involve women and girls being imprisoned and physically forced into prostitution by a third party. More usually, those who are vulnerable are working to pay off debts incurred in migration, or to supplement paltry single-parent benefits. Their vulnerability is in large part a consequence of government action and inaction – its failure to regulate the sex sector, its immigration and welfare policies etc. And raids by police and immigration officials normally result in their deportation or prosecution for benefit fraud, not in their assistance or protection.

The government’s concern about sex trafficking appears to have helped immigration officers meet their targets for deportations without protecting sex workers. Evidence from other countries (including Sweden) suggests that a policy of suppression, whether focused on clients or sex workers, can have very negative consequences for those who trade sex. But in place of serious debate based on independent research evidence, we are offered hyperbole and emotive rhetoric about sex slaves. We need to move beyond this and think not only about how to offer those who currently work in prostitution protection, but also how to ensure them rights.
Professor Julia O’Connell Davidson, University of Nottingham

Harriet Harman’s proposal is just a lingering example of Blairism: eye-catching, ill-defined and its consequences not thought out. There are many types of sexual relations where money, goods or services pass from one party to another – marriage for a start – not all of which are surely intended to come under a ban. The law might make an exception for married couples, but that would have to extend to unmarried couples who live together, and then those who do not live together, and then those who go out on a date without splitting the costs equally and end up in bed.

All these cases might be excluded on the grounds that the payment to the sexual partner was not specifically for sex, so where one party happens to employ the other as a secretary or a gardener, or hires the other as a yoga teacher or a childminder there would be no offence. Yet the law would presumably try to include cases where the sexual partner was hired as a masseur or an escort, regarding these as merely covers for sex, a hard line to draw clearly.

Ministers should first decide what the purpose of prohibition is. Sex is not a bad thing, nor is earning one’s living, nor is it obvious why the former should not be a means to the latter. The ill effects of prostitution are not intrinsic, but associated with it and include violence, forms of slavery, illegal immigration and exploitation. However, these are against the law already, except for exploitation – when the prostitute is miserably paid for his or her services. Yet the proposed law would provide legal backing to the customer who leaves without paying.
Anthony Matthew, Leicester

As a Labour member I was appalled at more dangerous moralising from my party. Harriet Harman’s proposal will place sex workers at greater risk of violence and cut the chances of bringing successful prosecutions against those who commit violence – a point made by the English Collective of Prostitutes. The way to protect prostitutes is to legalise brothels to provide greater scrutiny of the industry and protection for sex workers. Illegality will make it harder to deal with trafficking. The Labour party would do better focusing on the issues that compel some people to enter prostitution, such as poverty and drug addiction, rather than talking of a ban.
Stuart Colley, London

Surely the owners of newspapers carrying adverts for “massage parlours”, which are by common knowledge acting as a front for brothels (Not in our newspapers, G2, December 21), are living on immoral earnings, an offence under the 1956 Sexual Offences Act.
Richard Towers, Sheffield,,2232720,00.html

Sex slaves, human trafficking … in America?

One young woman shares the story of how she escaped from forced labor

By Grace Kahng contributor
updated 11:53 a.m. PT, Mon., Dec. 3, 2007 function UpdateTimeStamp(pdt) { var n = document.getElementById(“udtD”); if(pdt != ” && n && window.DateTime) { var dt = new DateTime(); pdt = dt.T2D(pdt); if(dt.GetTZ(pdt)) {n.innerHTML = dt.D2S(pdt,((”.toLowerCase()==’false’)?false:true));} } } UpdateTimeStamp(‘633323084253670000’);

In spring of 2004, Katya (not her real name), like thousands of other foreign exchange university students, was looking forward to the summer job placement that she and a friend had received in Virginia Beach, Va. When she and her friend Lena arrived at Dulles Airport after a long flight from Ukraine, they were relieved to be met by fellow countrymen who spoke Russian.

The two men, Alex Maksimenko and Michael Aronov, were holding signs with the girls’ names and greeted them by taking their bags and luggage. Charming and reassuring, Aronov informed the girls that they had been reassigned to a job in Detroit where they would waitress and perfect their English language skills.

The men drove Katya and Lena to the Greyhound bus station and gave them tickets to Detroit. Confused and exhausted, the girls had no reason to question the change of plans.

“When we got to the hotel in Detroit, everything changed,” says Katya. “They closed the door and sat us down on the couch, took our passports and papers and said, ‘You owe us big money for bringing you here.’ They gave us strip clothes and told us that we were going to be working at a strip club called Cheetahs.”

Shocked and scared, the two women were subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse  over the next year as they were forced to work 12-hour shifts stripping for local Detroit men’s clubs. According to immigration customs agent Angus Lowe, the men controlled the women through intimidation with guns and threats to hurt family members back home.

Katya and her friend are two of the estimated 17,000 young women and girls annually who are forced to work in the sex industry in the U.S. by organized criminals. “Chicago, Houston, St. Paul, Minnesota, these crimes are happening in every community in America big and small,” says Marcie Forman, director of investigations for ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement).   “We’re talking about money here. Millions of dollars, and these people don’t think about these women as human beings. They think of them as dollars and cents,” Forman says.

In February 2005, after months of planning and finally confiding in a customer from the strip club, the two girls escaped and were brought to the FBI and ICE. Their escape resulted in the arrest of Alex Maksimenko and Michael Aronov, both of whom pleaded guilty and are serving time in federal prison for their crimes.

Even though her captors are in prison, Katya says she will never live without fear. Maksimenko’s father — who was also convicted of forced labor and illegal trafficking — continues to live openly in Ukraine as a fugitive from authorities. 

Tune in: NBC’s Meredith Vieira goes inside the human trafficking and underground prostitution scene in the United States in “MSNBC Undercover: Sex Slaves in America,” which premieres Monday, Dec. 3, at 11 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC.

For more information about this story, please email document.write(““); document.write(“info”+”@”+””); document.write(‘‘); .

Human traffic

December 27, 2007

Outlawing prostitution will drive it underground

Human traffic

Sir, Commons Leader Harriet Harman wants to criminalise paying women for sex using the Criminal Justice Bill to outlaw prostitution (“Paying for sex may be made illegal”, report, Dec 21) .

Last Thursday’s Newsnight discussion failed to distinguish between prostitution on the one hand and human-trafficking on the other — the exploitation of others for profit. No one has a clue as to the number of victims of trafficking. Government estimates range from hundreds to thousands.

Research into the Swedish approach, criminalising the buying

of sex, shows that it simply drives human-trafficking underground, making it nigh impossible for trafficked women to escape their traffickers.

The pressing issue in Britain is the hidden crime of trafficking in women for other purposes, such as forced labour, domestic servitude, debt bondage and benefit fraud. Not that sexy, but as urgent as those forced into prostitution.

The Government’s continued failure to ratify the Council of Europe Convention means victims remain unprotected and unidentified. They will not come forward. Traffickers will not be prosecuted. Harriet Harman’s zero-tolerance proposal will do little to halt human trafficking.

Anthony Steen, MP

Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking of Women & Children

[Eulogy] Remembering murder victims

December 27, 2007

by Julie Seabaugh

On the scene at the sex workers march

Only two are atop the Fremont Street Experience garage at the 7 p.m. meeting time, but both are wearing red in solidarity. By 7:30 the number has increased to seven, including organizer Susan Lopez, who also serves as assistant director of the Desiree Alliance and founded Sex Workers Outreach Project-Las Vegas. There were a few more participants when the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers memorial march was held at UNLV last year, but this year’s are a dedicated bunch. Former Texas madam Robin Head  did eight years in prison. A former-call-girl-turned-lawyer sports her red in the form of a Santa hat. General UNLV mover/shaker/activist Crystal Jackson, meanwhile, concerned that her jacket obscures her red “SLUTS UNITE” tee, notes, “I’ve got to make sure that the breasts and motto are showing.”

Lopez distributes 15 pieces of paper, each printed with the names of murdered sex workers, and participants affix them to the panels of the oversize red umbrellas emerging from her trunk. Down on the street, the umbrellas unfold and the group travels the Experience length, past a security officer on a bicycle, a gentleman passing out Christian literature in the guise of Santa-emblazoned “Christmas Cash,” a giant Christmas tree, the Chippendales booth, a scowling “Sexual Sin Leads to Hell” sign-holder, Carl “Safe Sax” Ferris and Glitter Gulch.

As Lopez reads three pages of murdered sex workers’ names, the rest silently hold candles. They answer questions from a dozen or so curious onlookers. (One puzzles,

“Are they pro-sluts or anti-sluts?”). The highlight of the night: a public defender looking for charity work to “balance my karma. I represent a lot of murderers, rapists, child molesters and wife beaters.”

Lopez takes his name and number and promises to be in touch. Umbrellas still aloft, they ascend to the top of the garage, return their names, bundle up over their red, and dissipate into the night.

Reader Discussion

Displaying results 1 to 1 out of 1

Power to these women for having the courage to stand up for these murdered sex workers. No one else sure is! I would have loved to come to this event myself – but have a very bad strep throat. So my thoughts and prayers are with them and those lost to a world where no one but us seems to care about them.

Jody Williams on Friday, 28-12-07 17:29

‘Violence is not in the job description’

SEX / Sex workers call for an end to violence and decriminalization of sex work



Sex workers and supporters gathered across the world Dec 17, and they called for an end to violence against sex workers and the decriminalization of sex work.

In Ottawa, dozens of people marched through the streets to mark the fifth annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. They carried red umbrellas and chanted ‘Sex work is work, no to violence!’ They stopped at the Canadian Human Rights Monument to remember victims of violence and to call for changes to law enforcement.

“Endless research clearly states that law enforcement will not stop prostitution,” said Jina Rodas-Wright of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa. “It only forces sex workers into dangerous working conditions that has led to an increase in violence against sex workers.”

Chris Bruckert, a University of Ottawa criminology professor and former sex worker, echoed Rodas-Wright’s concerns. “Police patrol but do not protect sex workers,” she said.

Bruckert said that police practices force sex workers into uninhabited industrial zones, prevent sex workers from working in pairs, and pressure sex workers to get into cars quickly without assessing clients.

She added that police are not building bridges with sex workers or taking violence against them seriously.

“Here, the imperative to serve and protect is not extended to the marginalized, the disenfranchised — the sex workers,” she said.

The day before the protest, Ottawa Police Services arrested 65 people for street-level crimes, including prostitution. It was the largest sweep of its kind in recent months.

Nicholas Little of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa read from a recent study that examined the most pressing concerns of local sex workers.

“It’s time to decriminalize sex work,” he said. He also spoke about the need for freedom from police injustice, affordable housing and a centre run by and for sex workers.

Check out’s video report below
Can’t see the video player above?
Check out the clip on’s YouTube channel