Greece: Hypocrisy and exploitation: do we really want to battle the vice trade?

By Stefanos Evripidou

SURVEILLANCE cameras, hard drives brimming with X-rated footage, actress prostitutes, female patrons and a dirty book of secrets: the police raid of a Strovolos brothel that dominated the media last week has all the juicy ingredients of a Hollywood scandal.

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

Living next to a Paphos brothel

By Jill Campbell Mackay
BEFORE Susan Goode (not her real name) bought a property in Paphos, she diligently checked out the area, making sure there was easy access to shops and amenities, that the beach was indeed within easy walking distance, even double checked the 15 houses within her complex were occupied by permanent residents, and not liable to be rented out every summer to screaming hordes of tourists.

She knew all the ins and outs of the purchasing contract, and when she inquired as to the half built block of flats adjacent to her house was told they would be one bedroom residential apartments.

Duly satisfied that all her boxes were ticked she went ahead and paid her money. Six weeks later, she moved from Manchester to her new home in the sun, where everything looked set for a long and happy retirement.

Little did Susan know that her dreams of lazy days spent in her garden, of entertaining friends to supper and inviting family and friends over to stay, were going to disappear the minute the apartment block opposite her villa was completed and the residents arrived.

“The day they moved in, I was surprised to see about 20-25 young girls and no sign of any men with them. They all looked attractive, if somewhat scantily dressed, carrying their suitcases and stereos. I just thought that perhaps this was workers’ accommodation for the hotel trade or something like that.”

Susan was in fact now in the rather unsettling position of living directly opposite a ‘start-up’ brothel, something a male student may have regarded as the height of decadent bohemianism, but not a 54-year-widow with four grandchildren.

That evening, some of the girls were collected by minibus and taken away to various cabarets. Upon their return after midnight, they entertained clients, and it was a full house with the 20 girls satisfying the needs of upwards of 20-40 men until the small hours.

Susan’s front drive way was invariably blocked with cars and, as she explained, it wasn’t just the cars, the noise and the nature of the business being carried out across the road that destroyed her lifestyle, it was the fact that she felt as a single woman totally under siege and helpless to do anything about the situation.

“I mean, this is a residential area, we have families here and they, like me, have all paid a lot of money to buy these properties. When we found out what was going on, some people just moved out and rented out their property, as they couldn’t stand the constant to-ing and fro-ing every night.

“I now go out in the morning to be greeted with the sight of used condoms littering the pavement, and have regularly walked on hypodermic needles that have been thrown over my wall. Entertaining friends is out of the question as from about 11am it’s a case of a strict dress code for the girls of g-strings, sequin pelmets, and ample displays of flesh, as they sit on the balconies sipping coffee, not exactly a view one appreciates every morning. And I have to say this, if I ever thought these young girls were being exploited as sex slaves or whatever, I would naturally be as concerned as the next person but, to be honest I hear them all day and although they speak other languages they are laughing, joking, talking on their mobiles and generally seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. They seem to know exactly what the score is and by the looks of it wholeheartedly relish the work they do.

“Mind you, they must be focused on the money, if the men I have seen going in there are is anything to go by, some are pretty rough and ready, others are drunk or high or both, but over the week you do see all sorts visiting, from smart businessmen, lawyer/bank types, to older farmers and teenagers.”

Susan then thought (naively, with hindsight) that she’d be public spirited and try and do something to force the business out of the residential area. “I started taking down the registration numbers of hundreds of vehicles over a two-month period and, rather stupidly, sent them to the police with an accompanying letter. That’s when I learnt not to dabble with this sort of Miss Marple activity as a few days later I received a lightly veiled threat from the immigration department, confirming their powers of removal of ‘undesirables’ from the island and stating that I could be taken off the island at a moment’s notice with absolutely no recourse to law.

“I was now really frightened and knew then pursuing a case against this brothel would prove pointless and, ultimately, would be very dangerous for me. I did, however, keep up a small but sustained form of mini-sabotage, just to make myself feel less helpless.

“For example, there was a driver for one of the major tour companies who would arrive three afternoons a week to enjoy the girls’ hospitality. He always parked his 54-seater bus further up our road, effectively blocking our turning spot. This required him when leaving to reverse round past my front gate. It was just before Christmas (that’s when there is a really brisk trade and also at Easter) and while he was in the brothel, some male friends of mine dug a large hole some metres away from his back wheel. He came out after one hour and duly reversed back, sank into the hole which, because of the wet weather was also very muddy, and his wheels really stuck.

“All of us were in the front room looking out and it was so satisfying seeing him trying to get out of this particular hole. After a while, he had to call a tow truck to rescue him.

“Another ploy I used was when some men drove up dashed into the brothel, leaving their car out front with the keys in the ignition. This would happen a lot, so I would then quietly get in their car and drive it away, dump it, then walk back to my house. Mind you, I did feel a bit of a criminal doing that, but you do go crazy living like this, and end up doing things you wouldn’t normally dream of doing. Anyway it’s just so immensely gratifying when they come out and think their car has been stolen, and they have to then say where it was actually taken from.”

Did she ever get any response to the police other than the threat from immigration? “The place was raided by police from Nicosia and things went quiet for a few weeks, but then they started up again.”

Susan eventually moved out and rented a property elsewhere but then had to come back for financial reasons. “I had bought this as my home and really liked the house. Now I just have to live with the situation, as do my neighbours; you cannot fight this sort of thing as it’s too bound up with money.

“I have become pretty philosophical about it all now, but it’s terrible really, the constant coming and going of cars, never knowing who is outside your gate but always knowing why they are there and being fearful all the time. It’s dreadful, that’s why I am always trying to be out with friends rather than staying indoors, as it really is invasive. I went to immigration once with a friend and I spotted a man I see almost every day coming in and out of the apartment block, he was there holding a sheaf of foreign passports in his hand laughing and joking with immigration officers as if he owned the place. I assume he is the girls’ pimp and that’s just the way it is here, sex is a commodity and from my experience it seems that there is no slowing down in demand for it. In fact here it seems you can buy a woman as easy as picking up a MacDonald’s.”

Facts and figures

l The number of people offering sexual services in Britain has increased by a staggering 50 per cent in the past 5 years.

Figures from the European Parliament quote over 100,000 women working as full time prostitutes in the UK.

l In London alone the study showed that men spend £200 million a year on sex, half in massage parlours and saunas, with street prostitution accounting for only 5 per cent. Eight out of 10 women working these establishments in the capital are now from Eastern Europe or the Balkans.

l Across the UK, the sex industry is worth in the region of £770 million annually. Criminal gangs are now into sex where rewards are high and risks almost zero. A large London based brothel will turn over on average one million pounds a month.

l One of the smallest brothels was closed down in 2004 after an undercover operation cracked a vice ring in North Yorkshire.

The brothel was operated out of a battered old caravan parked in a layby off the A1 near the village of Thirsk. The true nature of the business was only discovered by accident, after planning officers issued a notice for the caravan’s removal under the local byways law which did not permit caravans to be on that site. The caravan was owned by a former double glazing salesman, who was also found to have three other very active caravan brothels dotted over the north Yorkshire area.

l Daulatdia, a village in Bangladesh, boasts one of the largest brothels in the world: 1,600 women service 3,000 men every day. The women have sex with an average of 30 clients every five days.

l Heidi Fleiss, the former Hollywood madam, is opening the ‘Rooster Ranch’ a brothel catering to women in Nevada. To be called ‘Heidi’s stud farm’, she is looking to ‘interview’ 20 men to service the all female customer base. Ms Fleiss used to run a sophisticated prostitution ring with girls charging clients up to $12,000 a night. Women using the Stud Farm services will have to pay around $300 an hour for the pleasure.

l Nevada is the only state in the USA where brothels are legal; it’s a state where prostitution has been considered a necessary service industry since the days when the area was mainly populated by prospectors. They do, however, place the brothels out of sight of the locals and never within residential areas.

l Spain’s brothel owners claim that prostitution and its spin offs are now an €18 billion business sector – equivalent to half of the country’s entire education budget.

l Among the UN list of countries most targeted for victims into prostitution are Albania, Belarus, China, Moldova, Russia, and Thailand. However, the UN warns that the fight against trafficking is being hampered by a lack of accurate data and because many countries are still in denial about it.

l Demand obviously meets supply in Paphos, which currently boasts around 26 cabarets, each employing an average of nine foreign born working girls there on a minimum three month contract.

l In the UK, there is a published ‘guide book’ titled McCoys Guide to Adult Services. It boasts a ‘Time Out’ approach to those wishing to find the best value for money sex services. These include 448 listings for massage parlours, 38 escort services, 144 private flats and house brothels, lists of 341 ‘working ladies and their specialties’, erotic party venues, where to go for the best Dominatrices, working couples and working twosomes. The author also runs a website and phone line with his personal pick of the month’s top ten massage parlours.


Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008