Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Rescue Industry Part 2

This is copied from

Guest Columnist:  Molli Desi (Part Two)

This is the second part of the story of Molli Desi, a young Indian woman abducted into a “rescue center” under the excuse that her sex worker friends might “traffick” her.  If you missed the first part yesterday, I urge you to go back and read it first before continuing.
At the “rescue” centre (which we only thought of as a “detention” centre) we were told that the NGO had custody papers for us from a court, and that we could not leave.  I think it is important to understand why we are held incustody rather than given our freedom after we are “rescued”.  Most anti-trafficking programmes must have what are called the “Three Ps”: Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution; without cases the NGOs cannot meet their prosecution quotas, and without women and girls in their centres they cannot meet their “protection” quotas.  Many of these NGOs are not rights-based at all, but rather prioritise prosecution of traffickers; they must therefore detain sex workers under “safe custody orders” so as to force them to testify in court.  Thisdetention can last many years because the court process is so slow, so thetrafficker can get bail and live free while the “victim” is held in centre or even prison.  If women or girls run away, the NGO claims they were kidnapped by traffickers.  In reality, though, it is the NGOs who are the real traffickers; sex workers and other women they capture are a commodity that they buy and sell.rescue center show  To get money from USAID they must promise to be anti-prostitution, and to get money from other donorsthey use women they have captured to put on shows.  The women are even given false ages to make it look like they are very young; they told the court and donors that I was 12 years old though I was actually 17, and one woman of 23 was said to be 16.
The detention house was not like the orphanage; the women and girls were scared and cried a lot.  Several of them were not even sex workers, but rather migrants without papers; the NGO said they were “at risk” for trafficking.  Most of the girls there with me were not sex workers; some had been raped while in domestic service.  Everyone wanted to leave but many had nowhere to go, because the NGO had told their family and home village that they had been trafficked and raped.  They do this to stop you from being able to go home, because they know your family will reject you for being a sex worker; it’s a way to discourage running away from the centre.  This is why it is so important to give a false name and say you are from a faraway place when they catch you (which we did); it also helps to prevent anyone from filing a First Instance Report (FIR).
After a couple of days, the NGO demanded we undergo gynecological examinations and take HIV tests, but I refused to undress or to let them take blood.  They would not respect my wishes, so I had to physically fight them; the NGO director hit me in the face with her hand, and I now have a scar on my forehead from her heavy ring.  Each day we had to do activities in the centre, and we were not allowed to go outside.  One day two white donor women came to visit the centre, and we were forced to sing and dance for them and let them take photos of us; when the staff realised I could speak English they took me upstairs and locked me in a room until the women had left.  After we had been in the centre for a week, we started planning our escape, but our hidden phone needed credit and charge; though we had the money I had hidden, we did not have any contact with outside.  We learned from other women who had been there a while that night security would exchange food and candy for sex, so we propositioned one night guard and in exchange for oral sex and money he eventually brought us a phone charger and phone credit.  We were then able to contact our sisters in the orphanage, who had been very worried about us; the orphanage had filed an FIR on us because they thought we had been kidnapped and trafficked.
Microsoft Word - Document1After another few more days of oral sex with the night guard and some of his friends (whom he was charging money for access to us), we arranged for two of our sisters to come to the centre in an auto-rickshaw, late at night (this was during a festival time).  We then used a metal bar we got from the guard to prise open the metal cage on our window, lowered ourselves onto the annex roof, and got down to the garden.  Unfortunately, the main gate was still locked and we could not get to the street, so we rang our sisters outside and they convinced the auto-rickshaw driver to break the lock and let us out, whereupon we all ran to the auto-rickshaw and fled away into the night.  We did not go straight home, but stopped for iftarfood; it tasted so good, and we were all so happy to be free we laughed and cried all the way home.  When we got home everyone was so pleased to see us, and we immediately washed our clothes and had showers; I then slept for almost a whole day.  We told our director that we had been lured away by miscreants and eventually escaped from their hideout, so she wrote a report and the FIR was cancelled.  We eventually heard from a woman who escaped the detention centre later that the staff had claimed traffickers had kidnapped us from the centre, and that we had probably been sent to Mumbai.
My main accusation against the “rescuers” is that everyone presumes that they take proper care of those they “rescue”; in truth, however, the NGOs havecomplete power over their victims. There is no proper protection for women and girls they detain, so it is very common for centre staff to rape them.  Though the Government is supposed to supervise orphanages and centres, the reality is that it lacks the capacity to do so; all NGOs know there is inadequate supervision, and many of them resist external accountability and will pay the few inspectors who do come to give them clean reports.  This power and impunity from consequences invites abuses of all kinds, such as the way the night guard charged his friends for sex with us; personally, though, I did not find the sex trading for telephone credit and food nearly as bad as the way the women senior staff acted toward us.  They want sex workers to be forced into domestic work or garment factory work, or to be married to low caste men; they know they are trapped inside patriarchy and resent our determination to live free.  You can find many “rescue” stories on the internet, but most of them are usually mediated by the “rescuers”; if you read my account here and the various links I have included, you will hear another truth.

My Story about Surviving the Rescue Industry Part 1

Molli Desi is one of the small number of Devadasi (sacred prostitutes of India) still remaining; she and Rani Desi, a Nagarvadhu (high priestess) now live in Londonand are active on Twitter, which is how I got to know them.  A few years ago Molli was trapped in one of the rescue industry’s many “rescue centers”, but eventually escaped; I asked if she would share the story on my blog and she graciously consented to do so.
Molli DesiI wish to give special thanks to the Nagarvadhu for helping me with this article, which is a translation from an account written in my mother language.  In this short a space I cannot tell the whole truth about all rescue projects, but I think I can expose how structurally and institutionally dangerous most rescue centres are in much of South Asia.  Furthermore, I will suggest that many donors from the West deliberately ignore these risks to detained women and girls so as to pursue their self-serving agendas.  I do not use the terms women and girls lightly; women and girls are often conflated by the NGOs, so that women of 23+ or married women of 16 will be referred to as girls; female identity in India is far more complex than any simple consideration of age.
It seems so strange to me that organisations that condemn the excesses of closed brothels will in turn exercise the same powers over those they claim to rescue; of course most girls are not rescued from closed brothels, but rather are taken from domestic labour or other sex work environments such as bars, clubs or rooms.  After “rescue” they are detained in facilities (sometimes called orphanages, shelter homes or rehab centres) where sexual and other abuse is commonplace; these detention centres are supposed to be inspected by the Government, but there is very little accountability so they foster and encourage a culture of impunity among the organisations that run them.  I wish to share my story because I think it very important that people understand the motivations and practices of these organizations; my experience is not unusual, and was a direct consequence the power that “rescuers” exercise over detained women and girls.  I have changed names and some details so as to protect myself and others.
I do not know my date of birth; I do know I was taken from the arms of a dying woman who told the people around her my name just before she died.  One man claimed to be my uncle and wanted to take me away, but one Devadasi lady knew he was really a miscreant and refused to let him take me.  Eventually I was taken to a nice orphanage, and while I was growing up there I was told that my mother and father were migrant workers who had been killed in a bus crash, so no one could trace my real extended family.  In India this made me asocial outcast, but my time in the orphanage was a happy one.  I had many “sisters”, was successful at school and had a talent for classical dance and singing; however, I was also aware that was socially suspect and that I would not be considered suitable for marriage by most “respectable” families because I was an orphan.
In India, marriage is the institution in which patriarchal power is reproduced, and its implementation and policing is delegated to older women; married women in particular support marriage, as it is the means by which they exercise male-delegated power over their son’s wives.  It was common practice for the sons of respectable families to target orphan teen girls when they went to college and to have affairs with these girls with promises of marriage.  Once the boy graduated, his family would arrange a marriage to a respectable girl and the orphan girl would be disowned.  Such young women would then only be able to make a marriage to a low-caste man, and then only with a promise of dowry; if the dowry was considered insufficient the husband and his family might even torture the wife, and sometimes kill her.  Orphan girls fully understand that we need to find alternatives to marriage if we want to escape such subjugation.  Some girls focus on getting skills or higher education; others develop dancing or even gymnastics.  Others do sex work rather than marry or take dangerous work in a garment factory or domestic service.  However, in India an unmarried woman is not considered fully human, so anyone who refuses to marry is considered a dangerous rebel.
As I got older, I began to spend time with a small group of girls and young women who sold sex in various residential hotels; I was attracted to them because they worked as a group and lived a freer life, coming and going as they pleased.  Two of my good friends from the orphanage worked with these women, and when we were not at school and they were not working we would arrange outings and gatherings.  Because they worked as a group they could negotiate with the owners of the residential hotels for better rooms to meet their clients and for less cost.  If any residential hotel owner caused a serious problem or assaulted any member of the group, they would set fire to his rubbish bins or his car and send a note to say next time they would burn the hotel.  They had money that could use for clothes and telephones but mostly they saved their money in the bank for when they would rent their own apartment.  If men eve teased them in the street they would shout back and even throw stones at them, whereas most girls would run away.    I admired their self-assurance, but I did not do sex work myself at this time because I did not feel confident enough.
sex workers detained in raidOne evening before Ramadan I was visiting my two girl-friends at a residential hotel where they working when suddenly there was a commotion from the lobby.  One friend looked out of the door and then closed and quickly locked the door; she told us the police were in the hotel. We were all terrified because the police will often rape women and take their money.  The police went from door to door shouting for everyone to come out; we could hear the screams of the women and girls.  I hid one of our phones and most of the money in a condom inside my vagina; it was very painful but I knew we would lose it all if I didn’t.  We then went outside into the hall, where two policemen shouted at us to come into the reception area; eventually there were about twelve women and girls surrounded by more than twenty police and NGO workers (only two of them were women).  A police sergeant made us line up and he took everyone’s phone and money, except for what I had hidden; if he asked a question and didn’t like the answer he got, he would hit the woman in the face.  After a few minutes the police inspector left, and the NGO workers said all young women and girls would have to go with them for safe custody; only women who could prove they were over 20 or had a magistrate permission certificate to be a prostitute could stay.  Eventually the NGO workers took me, my two friends and another young woman; we were chosen because we were the smallest and the police said they knew the other women were well known prostitutes who were definitely over 18.  The police then took the women who were allowed to stay, and in exchange for sex they could have their telephones back.
We told the NGO workers that I was not a prostitute, but was only visiting my friends; also, a police officer said that I did not look like a prostitute because I was wearing blue jeans and not Salwaar Kameez like the others.  However, the NGO workers said I was at risk of being trafficked by my friends, so I must go to “safe custody”.  There were five NGO workers; they took photographs of us (it’s not unknown for TV journalists to be invited to watch these “rescues”) and then took us outside to their minibus.  I tried to run away in the street, but one NGO woman grabbed my long hair and slammed me into the side of the minibus.  A crowd gathered as I was fighting back and during the chaos the other young woman managed to run away, but the NGO woman was much bigger than me so eventually my friends and I were pushed into the minibus.  All the way to detention the woman hit me and called me very bad names.
In tomorrow’s conclusion, Molli describes the rescue center and tells how she eventually escaped.

The New Kingston Market

The Nagarvadhu and I decided to go and see the new Kingston Market and do some shopping. It looks rather nice but I am not sure how long the new wooden kiosk/stalls will last.

I like how the market has such a wide choice of seasonal fruit and vegetables it is really my favourite place for buying fruit and vegetables.

The fish stall is also very good and is much cheaper than regular fishmongers.

After finishing our shopping we bought chicken samoosa from a food stall and they were very tasty not too spicy.

If you ever see us on shopping trips do say hello

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Understanding the Complexities of Underage Sex Work

We were honoured to hand over the account to @tainx_ to talk about her experiences of selling sexual services underage and how it intersected with her mental illness. We cannot her them enough

I think it's incredibly important that women who entered sex work as girls are given a chance to tell their stories.

I come from a country that forbids marriage under 18 for girls and yet such marriages are also considered legally valid ??? These contradictions accommodate customary practices that are used to subjugate girls. I can understand why some adolescent girls might enter sex work and I have known such girls who have been groomed into sex work by others. I have also known girls who informally exchanged sex for gifts from boys and men. I have also known very assertive girls who actively sought out sex work opportunities while working as singers or dancers.

I have known many more girls outside of sex work who have been sexually active before the legal age of consent and most of them considered themselves competent to make that decision.

Girls and sex will always be a focus of moral panic, and when sex work is added to the mix the panic becomes hysteria.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Xenophobic Adultwork Punter

A very pleasant message from Lover2014 on Adultwork.Com

Date: 18/03/2014 13:14
From: Lover2014 (0) 4 Profile Notes  View All

Subject: HELOO


Seems I have upset someone, but being foreign and female means I am often subjected to misogynistic and xenophobic messages. However me being in sex work does seem to really provoke some people.

My success and free living really annoys people who would like brown women to be weak and poor and somewhere else.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Criminalizing Clients: Nasty and Unnecessary

In the endless war on sex workers the abolitionists are desperate to ensure that they have law enforcement possibilities to harass us. They are desperate to have the means by which they can disrupt what they consider transgressive sexual behaviour. Whether this trangressive behaviour is women having sex with men, or women having sex outside of marriage, the agenda is to control sexual access to my body.

If I offer sexual access to my body in exchange for accepting patriarchal institutions such as marriage, it is acceptable to some. For others it is my willingness to claim that sex with men for payment is subverting patriarchy that is so provocative and is why they subject sex workers to so much opprobrium.

Criminalizing clients will create huge problems for sex workers as our bodies will become the forensic locale of investigation. The police will have the right to survey my body and invade my vagina for evidence, they will confiscate used condoms and search my phone to see who called me.

So to evade or avoid such harms clients will want withhold their numbers when they call which as all sex workers know is a real danger or the clients will want to contact us through trusted third parties which will make us dependent on such mediators. This is an invitation for exploitation.

Clients will want to take used condoms away with them to avoid them being found by the police. How they will then eventually dispose of these condoms will range from the most careful to the negligent and cavalier.

Finally I can be subjected to intimate and internal examination by the Police to ascertain whether a sex act has taken place.

I find it incredible that anyone can really argue that the criminalisation of clients will make life safer for sex workers, the criminalisation of clients is simply a device for exercising control over who can have sexual access to my body regardless of my desire or wishes.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Meeting the Honey Bees

It is so nice that spring is here so I decided to visit a bee keeping assoc to see them get their bees and equipment ready.

It was really interesting to see how well they look after their bees. fortunately all the bee colonies were in good health after the winter storms. They told me that a few years ago they had lost all their bees after they were infected with parasites!

At least they don't have man eating tigers, in the mangroves of my country the wild honey collectors are often attacked and killed by tigers.

I so enjoyed visiting the bees without having to worry about the tigers :)

Friday, 24 January 2014

What is really Missing from #notyourrescueproject

In the recent times the twitter hash tag #notyourrescueproject has become a battleground between a group of radical feminist abolitionists and many of the sex working women who were speaking out on the hash tag about their experiences.

The abolitionist group have apparently chosen as their spokesperson @meganemurphy and have in consequence repeatedly reposted a link to her analysis of #notyourrescueproject at

In her analysis Megan critiques a number of issues and seeks to show how radical feminist abolitionists have been misunderstood and misrepresented. She also posits sex working women as all being victims of exploitation and quotes others who suggest that sex workers who represent themselves otherwise derail the global fight for freedom and equality.

There is obviously a deeply contested notion of sex work that has fuelled quite angry and bitter exchanges between the different groups.

I would like to unpack some thoughts about why so many Sex Workers feel so much anger and then consider the misunderstandings and misrepresentations raised by Meghan.
Firstly I want to make it clear that I am fully seized that many women experience considerable harm when in sex work. I believe the marginalised nature of sex work and its stigmatisation has often allowed exploitative people to abuse the consequentially vulnerable sex workers. I believe many women have been compelled by coercion to sell sex, while others have been emotionally manipulated into exploitative sex work. I know of other women who through poverty have resorted to selling sex and have felt devalued by that experience. I have also noted that many women can only pay for their drug use by selling sex. Therefore I am fully seized that many women resent their sex work experiences and want to protect other women from the abuse they suffered.

I am also quite convinced that many privileged actors resent women demanding to be paid for their sexual labour and as such they want to constrain and punish us for our insolence. Furthermore they have legislated and socially constructed sex work to push sex workers to the edges of society so criminal elements can easily harass and exploit sex working people often in collusion with law enforcement.

I believe the barriers to be able to sell sex safely and free of exploitative forces makes sex work unnecessarily dangerous. However the exploitation of sex work is not inherent in sex work it is a consequence of allowing structures and legislation that prevent sex workers from organising effective resistance.  The idea that women need to be protected from men is a patriarchal myth that underpins the practice of woman exchange, marriage to ensure patrimony, and purduh. Laws that protect women are usually grounded in the notion that women must be protected from sex that might compromise patrimony. I believe women need rights that allow them to organise their own resistance, however abolitionism demands to control the legitimacy of sexual access to my body; as such it is predicated on the patriarchal notion of “woman protection” rather than effecting “woman autonomy”.

My own matriarchal culture has been all but destroyed by centauries of deliberate persecution by powerful actors who resented our rejection of marriage and patrimony. This matriarchy predates patriarchy and as such it is not a reaction to patriarchy but an alternative. However it is now a weak and mostly forgotten tradition buried under the opprobrious rhetoric of those who demanded to control our sexual behaviour. (You can read something about the Devadasi here)

So apart from the many women who experience exploitation and abuse in sex work there are also many women who successfully negotiate the various sex work environments and find sex work to be interesting and meaningful work. These women do not deny the hazards nor do they deny the experiences of those who have suffered harm and hurt. These sex working women believe that their stories and experiences should also be heard and used to inform a better understanding of the diversity of sex work. When they are told that their experiences and opinions are not useful and that they do not properly understand the dynamics of sex work some of these sex workers have become quite angry at such contrived exclusion. They are also sometimes accused of being “not representative” or being “pimps” or “men”. These dismissals are hurtful and provocative; they also suggest that when someone doesn’t exist theoretically there is a tendency to obfuscate that possibility so as to protect the theoretical canon over contradictions that challenge its validity.

Before I spoke English and could use Twitter I was representative of some young Indian sex workers now I have broken through that technological and cultural glass ceiling I am no longer representative and I can be ignored according to Meghan’s analysis. I do not believe it is likely that will be any reach out to enable the voices of young Indian sex workers to speak in open social forums unless such voices are mediated by more powerful agents. In any case, any of us who do access twitter will, by definition, no longer be representative. This is a disingenuous argument and disqualifies our attempts to participate. It also allows for the unheard voices of my still "representative" friends to be appropriated and spoken for by others.  I think many people would be very surprised to know how many simple Indian sex workers use facebook, but unless you are willing to learn an indigenous Indian language they will remain unheard by English speakers.

I will now try and address the misunderstanding and misrepresentations raised by Meghan.

Meghan contends that many women consider the use of the “rescue industry” to be strategic misrepresentation intended to undermine women’s solidarity. She also highlights that much abolitionist work is undertaken by volunteers and is underfunded. As a survivor of the “rescue industry” I am convinced that women are sometimes “rescued” and then detained in abusive circumstances so they can be used to entice donors to fund NGO rescue projects. I do not believe that many individuals actually profit directly from such activities but I believe that many “rescue” agencies receive considerable funding from the US government and religious organisations to conduct “rescues” regardless of the desires of the “rescued”. The policy of the US Government not to fund agencies that refused to consider prostitution abusive prevented many Sex Worker led NGOs from receiving funding and privileged funding to “rescue” NGOs. This prejudicial funding stream spawned a myriad of anti-prostitution NGO opportunists that slavishly repeated the moralistic polemic of Ambassador John Miller. Agencies such as the DMSC in Songachi lost USAID funding while abolitionist agencies increasingly received substantial funding. The underwriting of abolitionist agencies with such preferential funding required the delivery of various outputs and that included so many “rescued” women and girls. Anti-trafficking is dominated by the 4 Ps, prevention, protection, prosecution, and policy.

Consequently for our protection we were rescued to order and then detained with safe custody orders so we could be displayed as so much rescued “flesh”.  When we were visited by white women feminists, I was allowed to do a dance display and then I was taken upstairs and locked in a room because the NGO staff knew I could speak English and they did not want me to translate for the other detained women. During the Q&A the other women repeatedly said they wanted to go home and this was translated as them appreciating the safety of the home. Eventually most of us managed to escape and then other women were “rescued”.
I believe that there is a “rescue industry” and that it is preferentially funded and that this funding has created and sustained the abusive detention of many women and girls. I believe many residential rescue centres are not centred on the needs and best interests of detained women and girls but are often driven by the prosecution agenda. Many rescue NGOs need to deliver prosecution outputs and as such women and girls can be held by the NGOs for years as material witnesses demonstrating that the NGOs are engaged in “prosecution”. So there is a conflict of interest between the best interest of a woman wanting to move on from a rescue centre and the NGO detaining her who also needs to deliver a prosecution output even if that means years of detention for the woman or girl involved.

So while not every abolitionist group is preferentially funded enough are so as to have created a “rescue industry” model of intervention in many places.

With regards to Maghan’s comments regarding race, class, and the myth of the white upper-class abolitionist, I am not well positioned to respond as I find the nexus of these matters to be confusing in Europe. I come to these issues in a post-colonial world were sex workers in my country are subaltern to various elites, these elites most certainly once included white upper class abolitionists who petitioned for draconian laws against Indian sex workers and the LGBT community. Now we are confronted by other elites whose moral authority is intended to reinforce patriarchal and heterosexist norms. The NGO sector in South Asia is dominated by the elites who often then keep the third sector as the means to police the poor. These seem strange allies for those who would like to break the stranglehold of patriarchy.

With regards to choice I consider this to offer little in helping to understand the intentions of women and girls. I did not have the choice to become an astronaut or the wife of a rajput or a bus driver, but equally I did not have to be a sex worker. I do not intend to be a sex worker all my life. I have met people in the UK who deliver leaflets about home delivery pizza services the work is dreadful in the winter but they tell me they have no choice. I know a woman teacher who really does not like her job but she says she will stay for two more years because of her pension. Most poor women do not sell sex but many choose to get married in exchange for the security of being considered male property. I decided if a man wanted sexual access to me he was going to ask very nicely, and then if I agreed he would have to pay me what I considered appropriate. I have met arrogant Rajput men who have a sense of entitlement to the bodies of women but these men are so angry if you say to them if you want me you must pay! Arrogant men want free sex not paid sex. My clients are overwhelmingly simple kind men who are trying to deal with their sexual needs in an honest, transparent and equitable way. The only men I have ever been really scared of are Policemen and Politician family men.

With regards to notions of the “feminist prude” it is a matter of record that the abolitionists have achieved a great deal through their alliance with the religious right, and frankly I think their manipulation of the religious right was and is a masterful political coup. The moral panic sustained by the religious right allows the more astute feminists to often direct policy and practice regarding sex working people.

However I would like to return to the notion that it is considered acceptable to legislate regarding what is legitimate sexual access to women.

Many years ago women were allowed to have sex for procreation with their husbands. Then women were allowed to have sex with their husbands for procreation and pleasure. More recently women are being allowed in some places to have sex for pleasure.

Laws that determine who is to be allowed sexual access to women are driven by patronymic concerns. If women seek to subvert patrimony especially sex workers they have always been subjected to extreme penalties including death. If women are to live free of patriarchy we must strike down every law that seeks to determine what is or is not legitimate sexual access between non-consanguineous adults.

I do realise that I have probably missed so much but I hope that will help some to see how radical feminist analysis of sex work needs to be revised to go beyond Eurocentric constraints and that it needs to welcome the voices of all sex workers not just survivors.

To those who felt compelled to invade #notyourrescueproject with links to meghan’s analysis, you are welcome to ignore me as not “representative”

I acknowledge the help of the @nagarvadhu in translating some of this from my mother language to English