By Stefanos Evripidou
The brothel – dressed up, or down, as a massage parlour – was run by a 40-year-old Cypriot and his 30-year-old Russian wife. Confirming the long-standing relationship between sex and fame, the wife, who appeared in a number of TV serials for a private channel, was included in the sexual services on offer.
It’s not the first time a brothel has been busted in Cyprus, nor will it be the last, but the latest police sting operation against a “house of disrepute” raises a number of important issues.
The husband was “pimping” his wife, though she was not the only woman selling her services. The couple had cameras recording clients engaged in sexual acts. Police have yet to determine whether the explicit footage was for personal use, commercial purposes (to be sold as pornographic material) or part of a blackmail bid.
One CID officer raised eyebrows in court when he noted that a female patron was among the clients caught on camera in the brothel. Perhaps even more were raised when he revealed that a book had been confiscated with 160 names and numbers of the clientele.
From the 160 names, police obtained statements from only two patrons. The remainder were either out of town, with family or unwilling to speak. The police are not pushing the issue and have made it clear, privately, that they are not about to stop the oldest profession in the world.
“We will not force someone who has a family to give a statement. We do not want to break up families for one mistake some guy made,” said one officer who did not wish to be named.
The police are so sensitive to being discreet that if the wife of a client answers their call, they put the phone down claiming a “wrong number” and try again later.
“The first thing that’s striking is that we are concentrating less on what’s going on in society, i.e., the high demand for sexual services, and more on what impact this case is going to have on Cypriot families,” said Susana Pavlou of the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS).
“If you look at the media coverage, no one’s talked about the possible sexual exploitation of these women. We know there is a serious problem of sexual exploitation in Cyprus yet it’s never been a question in the press. They are more concerned about the exposure of the clients,” she added.
Pavlou argued both the law and attitudes had to change if Cyprus was to tackle the issue of sexual exploitation.
As the law now stands, one woman alone cannot be charged for prostitution, but two together can be charged for running a brothel, while the “boss” or “pimp” is criminally liable for living off the profits of prostitution. Being a client is not an offence.
According to Pavlou, Cyprus needs to focus on the high level of demand for prostitution, not just the supply: “In Sweden, demand for the sexual services of trafficked women is criminalised.”
“There is tacit acceptance of it here. If you open a newspaper, you’ll see many adverts for ‘massage parlours’ or ‘New Arrivals’ as if they’ve just brought in the latest winter collection.”
Police methods in raiding brothels are also indicative of this “tacit acceptance”.
In the above case, a client turned police informant was used to bust the brothel. After the client paid for and received sexual services, the owner was arrested with the marked euro notes in his possession.
“In this case, they criminalise the provider, which is not a bad thing, but the client is completely exonerated,” said Pavlou.
More surprisingly, when a client is not available to do the job at hand, it’s not uncommon for a police officer to be used in his place.
Not everyone believes criminalisation is the way to go. The Sunday Mail spoke to one man in his early thirties who used to work as a pimp.
“It’s something natural, a way of life, like any job. A builder knows how to build a good wall just like a prostitute knows how to satisfy her client sexually. And like any job, employees need employers to ensure customer satisfaction and protection,” said Costas (not his real name).
The former pimp said prostitution was part of Cypriot culture. “It’s a centuries old profession. We shouldn’t be making this a problem, there are more important issues to worry about.
“But as workers, these women should have better rights and more protection, they are people too,” he said.
Costas said legalising prostitution would protect both pimps and prostitutes. “Otherwise it goes underground, with pimps fighting each other over who’s got the prettiest girls and more guns, all for nothing. If it was legal, things would be different.”
Asked if the commercialisation of sex was responsible for breaking up homes, he said: “Neither men nor women take family seriously nowadays. The only difference is women don’t go with prostitutes, they go with others.”
One way to create a more level playing field would be to provide women with male prostitutes, he suggested.
“Our times do not allow for these serious condemnations. We have changed a lot. Very few people are stuck on old morals and principles,” he said.
During his time as a pimp, Costas saw three types of sex workers: those who saw it as a job and liked doing it; those who wanted to make a better future by getting more money or securing a foreign passport; and those who were pushed into it.
“I preferred the first type. I used to tell those who did it for a passport that they had better options than this. I also disagreed with employers who forced girls to do things. You can’t achieve anything with a bad act, and it always creates more problems than it’s worth,” he said, adding, “The authorities need to ensure better treatment of those girls.”
Sociologist from the University of Nicosia, Nicos Peristianis, said the issue of prostitution was a difficult one.
“One can say the commercialisation of love and exploitation of women is something human society should not accept, but at the same time, I would have a hard time fighting the decision of any person (prostitute) to engage in this act,” he said.
“You need to strike a balance. A person can have the individual right to offer sexual services but you don’t have to make it an institutionalised right.”
Peristianis said the ideal situation would be for relations between people to be freer so people don’t resort to paying for sex.
The problem here lies in the traditionally strict and/or hypocritical approach to sex.
“The pimp you mentioned supposedly has liberal views on women but ask him to put his sister or mother on the market.”
In the past, fathers would take their sons to a prostitute in the next village so he could “get experienced” while protecting the “moral integrity” of their own village. Daughters were never encouraged to do the same.
“These double standards encourage prostitution in society,” said Peristianis.
The sociologist said parents today needed to talk more openly with their children about sex. Even in schools, it is only being taught on an “experimental” basis and by a biologist, not social scientist.
“It doesn’t help if we put our heads in the sand, this is hypocrisy. It’s not easy to discuss these things but children are not traditional and conservative any more. We have to face the fact,” he said.
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008