NM: Desert Divas Indictments Handed Down

Tri-State Prostitution Ring Busted In August

POSTED: 11:28 pm MDT September 23, 2008
UPDATED: 5:59 pm MDT September 25, 2008

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Court documents filed Tuesday reveal new details about Desert Divas New Mexico. It was part of an alleged tri-state prostitution ring police busted in August.

Now, three men reportedly connected to the New Mexico operation have been indicted.

Initial arrests happened in August following busts in Albuquerque, but there were also arrests in Phoenix and Philadelphia.

Police said the operation used to have an office in the 1600 block of Central Street. Now the space is empty and a criminal case continues to build.

Indictments were filed Tuesday afternoon accusing an Albuquerque man and two men from Arizona of several crimes including racketeering, money laundering, and promoting prostitution.

Desert Divas of New Mexico was apart of a prostitution ring based out of Arizona, police said.

The people behind the operation were reportedly driving fast cars and living in big houses thanks to high priced hookers that were advertised online.

But it all came to an end in early August. Police swept in, made arrests and shut the business down.

James Bays of Albuquerque, well known radiologist Dr. Ross Levatter, of Arizona, and Scott Eder, also of Arizona, were indicted on a long list of allegations. Continue reading

Sex Workers in Tijuana Must Pay More to Get Tested

Tijuana in the Shadow of HIV

El Mensajero, News Report, Erika Cebreros, Translated by Elena Shore, Posted: Sep 25, 2008

Editor’s Note: The price of health cards required for sex workers in Tijuana has increased in what observers say is a “scandalous” and “immoral” setback in the fight against HIV.

TIJUANA, Mexico – Like thousands of women, Veronica Lizarraga, 18, migrated from the interior of Mexico to Tijuana, where she joined the ranks of the city’s prostitutes. She picks up customers as an erotic dancer at Hong Kong, one of the more sophisticated strip clubs in the border town’s red light district. Her average weekly earnings: $2,000.

With modern architecture and neon lights, this business employs more than 300 dancers. Most of its customers are foreigners, men from southern California looking for fun and sex that’s cheaper than in their country.

High-income sex workers like Veronica are not affected by the price increase. In order to work at Hong Kong, Veronica and her colleagues are required to have a health ID card that the local government issues to sex workers. Each month they undergo a series of medical tests for sexually transmitted infections and every four months, for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). If all goes well, the city’s Department of Health Control renews their cards. Continue reading

Korea: Special Law on Prostitution proving ineffective

Though the number of red-light districts has decreased, the number of prostitution-related crimes is increasing

  • » On September 22, the group Dandelion Pilgrimage, whose members consist of women forced into prostitution and civic activists, holds a memorial ceremony in the Seogbuk district of Seoul for victims of a fire that broke out at a house of prostitution in the district. According to a 2007 report by the Korean Women’s Development Institute, the Special Law on Prostitution has been ineffective in reducing the number of prostitution-related crimes.

It has been four years since the Special Law on Prostitution went into effect. At the time, the government, pledging to eradicate the source of prostitution, conducted a one-month crackdown so wide in scope that pimps called it the “September Tragedy.” Four years later, a queer phenomenon is occurring in which the number of red-light districts has decreased, but the crime of prostitution itself is increasing.


The Special Law on Prostitution did result in the decrease in the number of red-light districts. According to a 2007 report on businesses involved in the prostitution industry by the Korean Women’s Development Institute, there were 39 red-light districts in 2007, down 30 from 2002. The report also found there were 1,443 shops in 2007, down 1,295 from 2002. Dongdaemun district’s Cheongnyangni, formerly Seoul’s representative red-light district, had decreased greatly in size from 246 shops in 2004 to 32 in 2008.


Citizen consensus on the social criminality of prostitution has also grown. In a survey of citizens by the Ministry of Gender Equality, eight out of 10 (79.6%) responded that they believed prostitution to be a crime, a 25.8% increase from 2005.

Despite the waning of red-light districts, however, the reality in which you can buy sex at any time has not changed. The number of prostitution-related offenses is increasing steadily, going from 34,795 in 2006 to 39,236 in 2007. In the first half of this year alone, there were over 20,000 detentions for prostitution-related offenses.


Due to the “War on Prostitution” launched by the Dongdaemun Police Station in July, 15 of the around 20 houses of prostitution found along Jangan Daero street have been raided, but the bright lights of the neighborhood have not gone out. For the past two months, pimps have hung “massage” signs on their establishments, while some pimps have continued on after changing their establishments into “room salons” and “karaoke clubs.” In response to the police crackdown, pimps are creating new forms of prostitution and proliferating quickly in other districts. Pimps are renting “officetel” rooms in the Gangnam area and elsewhere and facilitating prostitution by finding new johns using the Internet or phone. New forms of prostitution, like “telephone rooms,” “hyugetel” (“rest hotels”) and “doll rooms” are operating everywhere.


One of the reasons behind this “balloon effect” is that the police crackdowns have been for show. With the strength of the crackdowns fluctuating repeatedly, even pimps figure that all they need to do is wait until the crackdown subsides. Mr. Park, 40, who runs a massage parlor in the Jangan neighborhood, said he operates a shop elsewhere until the police crackdown subsides, and then returns. He said some establishments have already moved to the inn area across from the Grand Mart in Sinchon, where the streets are lined with “love motels,” inexpensive inns often used for sex, and begun business. He explained that the pimps’ failure to make public their list of police officers who have taken bribes means they will continue to do business in the Jangan neighborhood. While the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency has created a “stealth” unit to conduct widespread crackdowns on prostitution in Gangnam and elsewhere, most of Seoul’s district police stations have not made particular plans for a crackdown. An official from Mapo Police Station, which overseas the Sinchon area where many of the Jangan pimps are relocating, said most of the places of prostitution in Sinchon and Hongdae have been cleaned up, and if they get a tip, they go out to check it out.


Experts stress that for the Special Law on Prostitution to have an effect, rather than focusing on how many places were raided and people arrested, they must break the connecting ring that keeps prostitution going by punishing pimps and building owners.


Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

Australia: Sydney ‘the best city for sex workers’

SYDNEY prostitutes enjoy the best health and welfare and Melbourne sex workers fare the worst.

But their colleagues in Perth will get the “rawest deal” if the new Liberal state government stands by its pledge to regulate the industry, experts have warned.

A new report to be presented at a major sexual health conference found that all three cities have a “thriving” sex industry, with nearly 400 brothels in Sydney, 160 in Melbourne and 40 in Perth.

Researchers said Sydney was the “highest risk” city for sexually transmitted infections, as it absorbs all the migrant sex workers from Asia, but instead it appeared workers are well protected by decriminalisation of the industry.

“What we found is that sex workers (in Sydney) are not frightened to seek proper health services because there are no legal issues stopping them,” said Basil Donovan, a professor in sexual health at the University of NSW, who led the survey of 600 sex workers.

Melbourne on the other hand was a vastly different story, with a decriminalised system that still requires brothels to register their workers so they can get monthly health check-ups.

“That might sound nice but it’s extremely expensive, unnecessary and an intrusion on these women’s bodies, and it scares women away from being registered at all, which drives the whole thing underground,” said Prof Donovan, who argues the law should be reformed.

“It is simply a stupid system that creates an underclass of hidden sex workers who may very well suffer much worse health outcomes, if we could even track them down to find out.”

In WA, the now-ousted Labor government recently ended a 150-year system in which all forms of sex work were criminal and controlled by police.

The report, to be presented at the conference on Wednesday, showed that police have taken a protective role in recent years in a climate of imminent decriminalisation, allowing workers to openly seek health and welfare support.

But if the newly-installed state Liberal Government follows through on its election promise to revert to the old system and implement a licensing scheme which tolerates some forms of government-controlled sex work, the situation will worsen dramatically, Prof Donovan said.

“Licensing is an even bigger joke than criminal laws,” he said.

“It’s never worked. The tools of trade, that is a woman’s body, are so portable and concealable, that any pretence to control it only leads to an artificial system that causes hidden prostitution and alienates workers from authorities. The new government would be crazy to go down that path.”

Janelle Fawkes, chief executive of the peak sex workers organisation Scarlet Alliance, echoed the call to end regulation of the sex industry, saying NSW laws were the gold standard in Australia.

Australia: Study backs decriminalisation of prostitution


The World Today – Tuesday, 16 September , 2008  12:45:00

Reporter: Michael Edwards

ELEANOR HALL: A sexual health expert is calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution across Australia, saying it will help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Basil Donovan from the National Centre in HIV is using a study of sex workers in New South Wales, where prostitution has been decriminalised, to back his call.

The study shows that sex workers in that state have lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases than their counterparts in other areas of Australia.

Michael Edwards has this report.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Twenty-eight year old Sharon is a six year veteran of Australia’s sex industry. She’s worked at brothels in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

When she compares conditions for sex workers in these states, she says New South Wales comes out best.

SHARON: When I came to Sydney I couldn’t believe the difference in attitude, you know, workers don’t have to worry about getting a criminal record or worrying about police knocking down the door.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: In New South Wales, prostitution is decriminalised and Sharon says sex workers take control of their own health concerns.

SHARON: I found that working in New South Wales has been more conducive to accessing health services and taking control of my health than when I was in Perth worried about, you know, the police or when I was in Victoria feeling forced and insulted and degraded and invaded by having to go for mandatory testing.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: And a new study shows sex workers in New South Wales have some of the lowest rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the entire country.

The study’s author, Professor Basil Donovan from the National Centre in HIV, says decriminalising and deregulating the sex industry works.

BASIL DONOVAN: In Sydney you are looking at a chlamydia prevalence that means how many women are infected in any one day are one to two per cent in Sydney sex workers.

The general population of prevalence for women of the same age is four to five per cent. Count the school girls is about one to two per cent or slightly higher. The prevalence of gonorrhoea in sex workers in Sydney is about as close as you can get to zero.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The findings of the study are being presented at the Australasian Sexual Health Congress presently being held in Perth. Professor Donovan says the results in New South Wales are in contrast to other states where prostitution is either illegal or regulated.

Professor Donovan says the requirement, in Queensland and Victoria, for brothels to be licensed has meant much of the industry has stayed underground.

BASIL DONOVAN: The substantial part of the industry is effectively illegal cause it’s not licensed. It’s very difficult to run health promotion programs and to access those women to ensure that they are seeing doctors.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Janelle Fawkes from the peak body for Australian sex workers, The Scarlet Alliance, backs the findings. She says the key to containing sexual diseases in the sex industry is education and ensuring workers are motivated to get medical treatment.

Ms Fawkes says the use of ‘licenses’ makes the situation worse.

JANELLE FAWKES: In licensing framework model you end up with a large percentage of the industry that is operating outside of the legal framework, therefore it doesn’t have the same levels of access to HIV prevention, education, outreach by a sex worker organisation, being covered by the states workplace conditions for occupational health and safety et cetera.

ELEANOR HALL: Janelle Fawkes is from the Scarlet Alliance which represents Australian sex workers and she was speak to Michael Edwards.


Auckland: School in dilemma over teacher’s prostitution work

Sun, 21 Sep 2008 5:13p.m.The Teachers’ Council may be asked to decide whether any action should be taken against an Auckland primary school teacher moonlighting as a prostitute.

The new teacher, a mother in her 30s with two children, has been working as a prostitute to supplement her income.

The newspaper, which did not name the teacher or her school, said a parent told the teacher’s principal, who was balancing a possible negative reaction from parents with the woman’s right to work in a job which has been legal in New Zealand since 2003.

It has been referred to the school’s board of trustees, which will meet in committee to debate whether to ignore the issue, discipline the teacher or ask the Teachers’ Council to decide.

The woman reportedly told the principal that her action in her own time was not his concern, and that it was not affecting her ability as a teacher.

Teachers’ Council director Peter Lind said the most important factor was whether the teacher’s second job was affecting her teaching duties, “and there would have to be actual evidence”.

Employment lawyer John Hannan, who knew of the case, said a school could possibly take action even if it didn’t have a policy either preventing teachers taking secondary jobs or ensuring they first seek approval from their board.

“It’s a case of whether the outside employment is regarded as incompatible with the role of a teacher in terms of role-modelling and in terms of any policies that the board of trustees might have in place.”

Another employment lawyer, Patrick Walsh, said the council could intervene if the school deemed the teacher’s second job was “conduct that brings discredit to the profession”.

Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator Catherine Healy said there were several teachers who had second jobs as prostitutes.

Frances Nelson, the president of the New Zealand Education Institute, the union for 97 percent of primary school teachers, could not be contacted.

Two years ago, an Auckland policewoman was disciplined after it was discovered she had an extra job as a sex-worker.

Police bosses said they would not have approved the job because it was seen as inappropriate and incompatible with policing. The woman kept her police job following an investigation.



Oldies: Japan: Modern Japanese women: dealing with sex, lies and the dried-flower syndrome

GOODBYE MADAME BUTTERFLY: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman, by Sumie Kawakami. Chin Music Press, 2007, 219 pp., $20 (cloth)

Who wants to be a woman in Japan? Misery can’t get much worse than the sexless relationships, dreary marriages, loneliness, patriarchal blues and stressed out women portrayed in these riveting interviews. These ordinary women, and one rather different man, tell it like it is and force us to reconsider contemporary Japan and its modern pathologies.

Sumie Kawakami is an experienced and intelligent reporter who manages to get her subjects to bare their souls and share their anxieties in a book I found hard to put down. Early on she draws our attention to a sad paradox: Japan has a world beating sex industry while most Japanese don’t seem to be having much sex, at least according to a Durex survey. And, those who are getting their share are not very enthusiastic; Japan ranks second to last in the satisfaction category, just above China.

Sexless relationships are on the rise, apparently because its just too much bother. Horny housewives and lascivious “OLs” are a media induced fantasy as most women, Kawakami writes, “wanted their lovers to fill their loneliness, emptiness and lack of self-worth.” Apparently, this is nigh upon mission impossible in Japan.

Finding the right lover is not so easy, but we learn that at least women can avail themselves of a clinic that offers them intimate encounters with sex volunteers. Women can select their volunteers from a catalog brimming with intimate details, and, yes, size does seem to matter. The clients say they are grateful for the service while there appears to be no shortage of male volunteers; money isn’t everything.

The author divulges glimpses of her own experiences that help us understand where she is coming from, “Having been cheated on many times by my ex, I wasn’t in the mood to be sympathetic to these wives who enjoyed the luxury of not having to work, spending their time in nail salons, fancy shopping centers or luxurious cafes, and then going off and having sex while their husbands were at the office working hard to maintain the lifestyle they had grown accustomed to.”

Why do women put up with jerks? After reading about the abusive and philandering men in these women’s lives it is amazing what they tolerate. They literally roll with the punches and just ask their men to be more discreet in their affairs.

Emi eschews sex because she worries her husband might infect her with a sexually transmitted disease, but keeps the empty marriage going for the kids.

Misa confesses she wishes her husband’s mistress was much younger or at least a sex worker, saying, “This is a pride thing, I know, but I couldn’t get over the fact that she was not a pro and was almost the same age as me.” And so in her prime she resigns herself to a sexless marriage, a bleak trudge through life shared with someone she can no longer love.

We also learn why, in dealing with personal problems, Japanese prefer fortune tellers to psychiatrists. Kawakami writes: “If you say you are going to counseling, it sounds like you have a mental problem. But if you are going to have your fortune told or a purification ritual done, there is no social stigma attached.” And, if you need a fail-safe reason to dump a butthead guy, nothing beats fate!

Here, purgatory is described as a wife whose journalist husband is working overseas while she is ridden with guilt for consoling herself with the daughter’s cram school teacher. The better it got, the greater her guilt over betraying her family.

So what’s life like as a male sex volunteer helping women reach orgasm? Ironically, Hideo has a sexless marriage, but finds psychological fulfillment in helping sufferers of “dried-flower syndrome.” He says the women are grateful and tell him that the sex rejuvenates them.

Another interview subject admits that she slept with seven “volunteers” in six months because she could not find love, but still wanted sex. It’s her hope, however, “to graduate from being someone who can only relate to men through sex.”

Mitsuko, a virgin until 52, toiled at work and cared for her aging mother, but never found the right man until seducing a patient at her acupuncture clinic. Yukio, “told her he loved cuddling with a chubby woman with big breasts.” Such romantic pillow talk soon led to marriage, but bliss didn’t last as it turns out that the much younger man had a mother complex and soon moved back to where he was indulged and pampered in ways that a career woman could never manage.

Lessons? Finding a good man isn’t easy and getting rid of bad ones is even harder.

The Japan Times: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008

Uganda: Buturo and his prostitution fight


Crusading Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo has come up with an inspired method to rid Uganda of prostitution. He wants to name and shame sex workers and their clients.

“We want to shame the public officials who even use government vehicles to buy prostitutes,” Dr Buturo thundered piously to reporters. “We want to shame the husbands who go after these prostitutes and those running brothels.

Their names will be published in print, television, Internet and other possible arena.” The minister intends to use the police and the community to isolate sex workers and their clients.

Minister Buturo gets credit for trying to think creatively although we do not agree with the direction of his thinking because it is an unlikely lead to the wiping out of prostitution or even lessen its present magnitude. The minister’s approach is cosmetic and amounts to moralistic posturing.

What will shame achieve? Women go into prostitution almost entirely because they are hard-pressed economically. Most are ill-educated and have no jobs. Indeed, not even the well educated have the jobs they need.

It is this situation that forces women to put shame aside and go on to sell their bodies to survive. So if the minister is looking to shame anyone, he is better advised to look elsewhere. He could start with naming and shaming the corrupt, the unethical, and the incompetent in the very government he serves.

Once he is done, he should try to focus the government toward enacting reforms that ensure that our younger women get a sound education and that the economy expands fast enough to provide them jobs.
While at it, there is family life to ponder.

It is crucial that married couples stay together blissfully, the occasional blip notwithstanding. But the reality is that many marriages go through a lot of turmoil. That in itself would not be a problem. Things get out of hand because couples have nowhere to turn for help when they need it.

The government that Minister Buturo serves has not even bothered to pay lip service to things like marital counselling. The lack of this kind of therapy allows small problems to snowball thereby destroying families.

Happy, healthy and educated families rarely contribute women and men who engage in prostitution either as sellers, buyers or pimps.
But if the minister insists on going along with his misguided project, he must promise that he will name even big names who buy prostitutes either off Kampala’s streets or invite them to their hotel rooms.

And these big names, if the minister is not aware, include politicians, civil servants, diplomats and top businessmen. We expect no double-standards.


Oldies: Japan: Running the sex trade gantlet

The Japan Times: Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003
Voracious sex market and lax laws encourage abuse

It could be a scene from most neighborhoods in urban Japan but it happened to be mine in Hashimoto, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Weary male commuters file through the ticket barriers of the JR Yokohama Line greeted by half a dozen leggy beauties carrying fliers for a local bar called “Partner.”

Speaking in broken Japanese, the women zeroed in on salarymen who looked unsteady on their feet as a stocky man wearing shades and too much gold jewelry hovered in the background, giving orders.

Bigger versions of the flier with its promise of “Filipino Women Galore!” and its subliminal message of easy sexual opportunity can be found on billboards for bars and nightclubs all over Hashimoto and neighboring Sagamihara.

All questions to the women about their working conditions and lives in Japan were redirected to “Mr. Yamanouchi,” who, not surprisingly, refused to comment.

Many of these women come to a country where a good tip can be worth the equivalent of a week’s wages in the Philippines.

Some walk the tightrope between the flirting that is a job requirement and the prostitution that lurks on the fringes of their profession, while also avoiding obstacles that include unscrupulous employers, violence and police harassment, and somehow manage to save or send money home.

Those that don’t sometimes end up at Friendship Asia House Cosmos.

Battered and bruised

Set in a secluded part of Chiba, the facility provides refuge for about a dozen women from the Philippines, Thailand and other Asian countries who often arrive battered and bruised from whatever life in Japan has thrown at them.

The smiles, short skirts and bronzed skin on display at Hashimoto Station have been replaced here with baggy, shapeless clothes, dull complexions and wary expressions. Sari (not her real name) had arrived a few weeks previously with her two children, fathered by a Japanese man.

“I was recruited in the Philippines by a broker who said I would be working as an entertainer and would have my own apartment and short hours.

“When I got to Nagano I found myself with 10 other women in an 8-mat room, and we worked every day from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. for an allowance of 2,000 yen a week.

“The other girls said the boss was Yakuza and when he threatened me I ran away to Tokyo and then to Uwami, but always things were the same. I met a “tekiya” (stall) owner and married him. I just wanted to get away but he beat me so I came here.”

Women escaping from bad experiences into bad marriages are not uncommon, says Misao Hanazaki, who set up Friendship Asia House in 1991 to accompany her orphanage next door.

Terrible cases

“We’ve had some terrible cases,” she says. “A Filipino woman ran into problems and was locked away in a detention center for two years while her visa case was being sorted out, leaving her children to fend for themselves.”

Despite the recession, Japan still has Asia’s largest and most voracious sex market, one that has sucked in as many as 150,000 non-Japanese women, mainly from the Philippines and Thailand, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The sex industry likes foreign workers for the same reason every other industry likes them: they’re cheaper and willing to do jobs few others are, says Takashi Kadokura, an economist with Dai Ichi Life Research Institute, who recently set the size of Japan’s “entertainment trade” at a staggering 2.37 trillion yen (2001).

Filipinos, Thais and increasingly Chinese and South American women can be found doing everything from pouring drinks in karaoke and hostess bars to offering cut-price sex massages. The boundaries between many of these services intersect and the pressure to please the customer is intense.

A survey by U.N. researcher Sally Cameron found that 19 of the 20 subjects she interviewed were “forced to engage in sexual practices in their job.”

Cameron says her personal “bug bear” is Japan’s “entertainer visas,” which are stamped on about 40,000 Filipino passports a year.

“There are very few people with this kind of visa actually doing this sort of job,” she says.

“The regulations are stringent and the visa is meant for use only by professional singers and dancers, but many Filipino women are still being brought to Japan on entertainer visas in conditions that are blatantly contrary to their visa conditions.

“The government said it would crack down on illegal categories, but there are still enormous numbers of workers coming in. The entertainment industry is huge and it’s fundamental and the government is not interested in changing that or in creating the legal infrastructure to fight this.”

But the government points to the arrest and trial of former travel agent Koichi Hagiwara as evidence that it is cracking down on illegal practices in the industry.

Not taken seriously

Hagiwara, who police say earned 10 million yen a month as a broker for women like Sari, is up on charges of forcing two Colombian women to engage in prostitution.

But campaigners point to Hagiwara’s earlier conviction in 1999 for similar offenses, when he received a suspended sentence and a puny 300,000 yen fine as evidence that Japan is not taking the problem seriously.

“There’s no antitrafficking law in Japan,” says Keiko Otsu, director of Asian Women’s Shelter Help in Tokyo, which provides help for women who are forced into prostitution.

“The problem is just starting to be recognized in Japan.

“The police use the Prostitution Law and only arrest the foreign women, who they blame, not the men. Local police in particular do nothing because they do not recognize that many of these women are trapped.”

In a typical incident, a Columbian woman was coerced into Japan, told she was 5 million yen in debt and forced to work off her debts in a strip joint in Yamanashi.

She had her passport confiscated and was beaten, raped and tied up before she fled to Tokyo.

It’s not the worst case.

Mrs. Otsu says a 13-year-old foreign girl was recently found working in a brothel in Yokohama.

Hanazaki-san’s biggest worry is the children who are being born here in increasingly large numbers to foreign women of indeterminate visa status.

“Many of these women are living in fear of their visa being cut off, so they keep their children out of school.

“We’re building up a lot of problems. What will all these kids do when they grow up without abilities or qualifications?

“The government has to change the law to either accept more people or, if they’re illegal, send them home.”

Oldies: Japan: Prostitution testing bounds of culture, business

Sex industry endures thanks to demand, commercialization and legal loopholes

First of two parts on prostitution, beginning in Japan, where the act is illegal, then in the Netherlands, where it is legal Staff writer

Megu Kano, 24, spends all nine hours on the job in a small room less than six tatami mats in size, including a bed and a bathroom. On an average day, she accepts five customers, having sex twice with each within the allotted 80 minutes.

News photo
Men pass by neon signs in the Kabukicho entertainment district in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

During each session, the service woman at the “soapland” sex parlor in Tokyo must also share a bath with the customers and wash their bodies. In return, she gets 20,000 yen per customer, and the house gets 10,000 yen more.

“For the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t stand and walk straight, because my legs were stiff and shaking like a fawn,” said Kano, which is not her real name.

“But this is so much easier and relaxing compared with my previous job at a ‘fashion health’ massage parlor, where I had to make as many as 30 guys a day ejaculate mainly by oral sex,” she said.

Although the 45-year-old Prostitution Prevention Law prohibits hooking, straight sex has been widely practiced at soaplands, which number around 1,270 nationwide.

“Everyone comes to soaplands, knowing that they can have sex,” Kano said.

“I think my job is even better than other sex businesses, which sneak around the law by avoiding straight sex, but offer all kinds of sexual services, some of which seem to be only perverted sex,” she said.

What is practiced at soaplands, which are mainly Japanese-staffed, represents one of a variety of loopholes in the prostitution law. The law terms prostitution something that devastates human dignity, sexual morals and culture.

The law says that it is prohibited to sell or buy sex, but it does not penalize those acts. Instead, it penalizes prostitutes for soliciting or waiting for customers in public places, such as on the street and in parks. It also penalizes anyone who forces somebody to engage in prostitution, exploits a prostitute or gives financial support to a business engaged in prostitution.

Inside soaplands, which are legally registered as “special public bathhouses” under another law that regulates adult entertainment, employees are allowed to “touch” customers.

Customers first pay an “entrance fee” at the front desk and then pay a “service fee” directly to the employee, giving the business a pretext that sex is conducted on mutual consent between two adults who know each other. The prostitution law says that prostitution is something between strangers.

This gives men a free hand at sex parlors and with prostitutes on the streets. And because the law has interpreted “prostitutes” as meaning “women,” male prostitution is outside of the legal framework.

Aside from soaplands, there are thousands of massage parlors that offer various kinds of sexual services except straight sex. Thus commercialized sex is a regular feature in Japan.

Law fuels sex industry

According to the National Police Agency, there were 908 fashion health massage parlors and 5,425 “outcall-style” fashion health parlors that were publicly registered in 2000 under the Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses, etc.

What protects the operation of the fashion health parlors is simple — they only offer oral sex, anal sex and other sexual services that are not interpreted as sex in the prostitution law.

“Getting around the prostitution law, the sex industry here has expanded even amid the protracted recession, offering easy satisfaction to men’s sexual desires and high-paying jobs to women,” said Masayuki Ogino, chief editor of Tokyo Man-zoku News, a biweekly information magazine on the sex business.

Ogino said he believes there are twice as many such parlors and other adult businesses than what police counted, with between 200,000 and 250,000 women working in the industry.

What characterizes sex parlors today is an extreme commercialization, as is represented by the “option system,” which most employ.

Aside from “basic services,” which usually include oral sex, customers can choose options ranging from anal sex to making girls dress up in special costumes. These cost a couple thousand yen each.

“Because straight sex is prohibited by the prostitution law and the sex business had to provide various services to satisfy men’s sexual fantasies, the sex industry in Japan has become widely accepted by society,” Ogino said.

Corresponding to the increased number of sex parlors, the weekly magazine has doubled its circulation in the past decade to 100,000 copies in the Tokyo area, Ogino said.

Amid increasing competition and escalation of their services, an increasing number of sex parlors other than soaplands offer straight sex today, although they do not explicitly advertise it, experts said, adding that operators of those sex businesses are rarely arrested for violating the prostitution law.

“If we receive a complaint, we will investigate a soapland or any other types of sex businesses, but it hardly ever happens, as prostitution usually has no apparent victims,” said the National Police Agency spokesman. “The current situation (that sex is practiced at such parlors) is not enough for us to begin an investigation into a specific parlor.”

Of the 2,947 reported violations of the prostitution law in 2000 involving 1,225 people, only 627 cases involved registered massage parlors and other sex-related establishments. The remaining cases include those involving street hookers and more underground practitioners.

Law gives tacit approval

Lawyer Yukiko Tsunoda, who has represented a number of women charged with violating the prostitution law, said that its apparent defects seem to be intentionally designed to serve its prime aim — to ostensibly hide prostitution and other sex businesses from the public, not to strictly ban commercial sex.

“The law was designed so ineffectively that it appears as if tacit approval is being given to commercial sex as long as it is practiced behind closed doors,” she said. “This reflects a double standard in the country’s sex culture, which views prostitution or prostitutes as morally wrong but necessary to maintain social order.”

According to Kaori Tanaka, a freelance writer on the sex industry who used to work at a fashion health massage parlor in Tokyo, it was only after Western or Christian views were introduced that people began viewing prostitution as morally wrong.

“Prostitution has been well accepted by society as a tool to maintain social order,” she said. “It was considered something necessary for men to fulfill their sexual desire.”

Before the Prostitution Prevention Law took effect in April 1957, commercial sex was highly institutionalized in Japan, and the government often went hand in hand with the industry. Authorities recognized and attempted to supervise or to tax brothels from the 12th century.

That stance on prostitution symbolically led to creation of the “comfort women” system used by the Imperial Japanese Army, which ostensibly encouraged the recruitment of Japanese “prostitutes” for soldiers fighting overseas, but actually was a mass scale roundup of women in occupied territories who were forced into sexual slavery. Soon after Japan’s surrender, the government even recruited prostitutes to serve the Occupation troops, historical records show.

By 1955, there were an estimated 500,000 prostitutes in Japan in 1,922 public and private red-light districts, government records show.

Legal experts said the law was established only to allow the country to ratify the U.N. Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, which took effect in 1951, as a part of the country’s efforts to rejoin the international community.

In the following years, thousands of prostitutes and brothel operators were arrested, and old-time prostitution was replaced by the modern sex industry with its legal loopholes.

Conflicting viewpoints

Despite the apparent wide acceptance of prostitution, however, prostitutes were perpetually maligned, while being severely exploited by brothel operators under the indenturing system that lasted through the middle of the 20th century.

“The traditional Japanese stance on prostitution draws a clear line between good women, represented by wives faithful to their husbands, and bad women, who engage in sexual intercourse for money,” said Mizuho Matsuda, program director of the Asian Women’s Fund, a semigovernmental body that runs a public fund to provide monetary assistance to former “comfort women” in Asia. The organization also works to promote women’s rights.

“Men were encouraged to buy prostitutes or to have a mistress in a way to prove they were financially reliable, while prostitutes were viewed as the worst group of all women,” she said.

Amid the long-held prejudice against prostitutes, women in the current sex industry seem to be trying hard to convince themselves that their job represents something less serious than it is.

“I’ve never viewed my job as prostitution, but as a service that is more sophisticated and well-organized,” said Kano, the soapland employee.

“Prostitution sounds to me like something more gloomy, desperate and having something to do with poverty or exploitation, which have nothing to do with my job,” she said.

Behind the prosperity of the established sex industry, a large-scale underground sex trade has also thrived.

2000 saw 1,225 people arrested on suspicion of violating the prostitution law. But that it is believed to be just the tip of the iceberg. Research conducted by Bank of Yokohama on the state of the underground economy in Japan in fiscal 1998 estimated that unreported earnings from commercial and “amateur” prostitution come to around 945 billion yen.

These businesses vary, ranging from individual street prostitute, call-girl networks and those that take the form of bars and nightclubs. There also are so-called “chon-no-ma” (rooms for a second) in the former red-light districts, which are identical with old-style brothels that offer quick sex for cheap prices, according to experts.

Tragedy, fate or choice?

The ever-expanding legitimate sex industry absorbs many Japanese women as well as an increasing number of foreign women, mainly from Asia and South America, to engage in underground prostitution, according to the Asian Women’s Fund.

While no statistics are available, the organization reckons that of the 250,000 or so foreigners who have overstayed their visas, tens of thousands are foreign women engaged in prostitution.

“Just like many of the Japanese prostitutes in the feudal era, many of these foreign prostitutes are forced into the trade, usually due to poverty back home,” said Mizuho Matsuda of the organization.

“This inhumane situation is the result of the country’s long ignorance and failure to view prostitution from the perspective of women’s rights and exploitation of their sex,” she said.

While prostitution has been legalized in some European countries from the perspective of individual freedom and rights, lawyer Yukiko Tsunoda said that it is too early to argue it from such a viewpoint in Japan.

“The fact that so many women have chosen to work in the sex industry reflects Japan’s highly male-oriented culture and social system, which approves or often encourages the view that women are supposed to serve men’s sexual needs,” she said.

“For women, choosing the sex industry is not as much an individual choice as it is a social one, forced on them by society, although many women in the industry are not well aware of that,” Tsunoda said.

Tsunoda thinks commercial sex has also reinforced the view that women can be exchanged for money, and thus has helped perpetuate the unequal relationship between men and women.

The Japan Times: Friday, March 15, 2002

See Part Two