Archive for April 16th, 2008

Unborn Victims of Crime Act seen as wedge to make termination of pregnancy a crime

Staking out a rare political position on federal matters, the Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists yesterday denounced Bill C-484, the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act,” as a backdoor attempt to recriminalize abortion.

Gaétan Barrette, president of the 8,000-member federation, criticized Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion for not having voted against the private member’s bill at its second reading on March 5.

“We were astounded to learn that the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada did not find it advisable to take an official stand on this matter and allowed party members a free vote,” Barrette told reporters.

“Some Liberal Party members therefore voted in favour of the bill, while others, including Mr. Dion, were absent.”

Barrette described Bill C-484, tabled by Alberta Conservative MP Ken Epp, as “clearly a manoeuvre to go in the direction of recriminalizing abortion.”

The bill, according to its wording, would make “it an offence to injure, cause the death of or attempt to cause the death of a child before or during its birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother.”

The bill also proposes a minimum prison term of 10 years.

Barrette expressed concern that were the bill to become law, anti-abortion groups would quickly take advantage of it to take a case to the Supreme Court to make abortion illegal again.

“This bill is the first step to giving rights to the fetus and those groups are very happy about that.”

On Jan. 28, 1988, the Supreme Court struck down Section 251 of the Criminal Code that made abortion illegal, ruling that a woman and her fetus are considered a single physical person.

Jean-François Del Torchio, Dion’s media attaché, said the Liberal Party is against Bill C-484, but he couldn’t confirm whether members plan to vote against it during its third and final reading. Both the New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois are against it.

He recalled that the night the bill passed its second reading, Dion held a reception for women’s groups , and the issue did come up. “Mr. Dion said that although some Liberals voted for the bill, that’s not the position of the party at all,” Del Torchio added.

Barrette said the federation decided to take a stance to protect its members against potential lawsuits and criminal prosecutions should abortion one day become illegal again.

The federation has launched a petition on its website ( as well as form letters to be sent to MPs to urge them to vote against the bill.

Luc Gagnon, president of Campagne Québec-Vie, accused Barrette of overstepping the bounds of his role as president of a medical organization.

“It’s completely scandalous because Bill C-484 is a judicial and political question, and I don’t see how the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec can get involved in this matter,” Gagnon said. “The federation is playing politics here. Has the federation consulted its members on this issue?”

Barrette conceded that some medical specialists are against abortion, but it’s the federation that has taken a position – not individual doctors.

Some believe the time has finally come and they will soon have the right to drive.

A woman drives a car in a grainy video posted on YouTube, her silhouette framed by a loose veil as she congratulates women on March 8, International Women’s Day. She is Wajiha al-Huweidar, a Saudi women’s rights advocate.

“Obviously, I’m driving my car in a remote area,” al-Huweidar says in Arabic. “Only in remote areas in Saudi Arabia are women allowed to drive, I’m sad to say. In cities–where they really need to drive–it is still forbidden.”

Hundreds of responses poured into YouTube: some praised her bravery, others called her a whore.

The same day the video was posted, al-Huweidar and other activists presented a petition signed by 126 women to the Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef Bin Abd al-Aziz. The signatories are women with driving licenses from other countries, offering to teach their countrywomen how to turn the wheel.

In January the government signaled that the driving ban will be lifted, and many people seeking reforms in Saudi Arabia believe this is the year. In the meantime, it remains a lightning rod for women’s rights activists who see it as a first step toward easing the rules of male guardianship that follow their every move.

Al-Huweidar learned how to drive as a graduate student in Virginia over 10 years ago. For her, the driving ban is especially important because, unlike wealthy Saudi women, she cannot afford a chauffeur.

“Driving is not the most important thing, but it is a symbol of freedom,” al-Huweidar says from her home in Dhahran, a city in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. “We want to achieve some kind of justification as humans.”

Women’s driving was officially forbidden in 1932, when the authoritarian monarchy was established. Saudis observe a strict form of Wahabbism that sharply curtails women’s freedom of movement under its interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law, which is observed across the legal system with the exception of secular tribunals for commercial disputes and complaints against government officials.

Saudi Arabia’s Sharia dictates that in order to travel a woman needs permission from her “mahram,” a male guardian who is her husband or relative. The mahram is also necessary for education, marriage, financial transactions, having surgery; everything. In Saudi Arabia, women are never mature enough, legally speaking.

“Our biggest problem is that we have no say in the biggest questions of our lives; we have no control over them but, rather, depend on the mahram,” al-Huweidar says. “We want to correct this, but are starting from the simpler issues (such as driving) because they have nothing to do with Islam or taboos. They are rights taken away from women.”

Some theologians have voiced fears of women being harassed by men if they drive. Other influential religious scholars have pointed out that the driving ban is not based on Islam but on social beliefs. A February poll in the Arab News found that only 10 of 125 male respondents categorically rejected women behind the wheel.

Al-Huweidar, her friend and colleague Fawfiyya al-Aouni and other activists have quietly but steadily tried to advance women’s rights.

Al-Aouni knows the price of making too much noise. Her husband, Ali al-Dumaini, signed a petition calling for constitutional reforms in 2003 and was sentenced to nine years in prison; he was pardoned after three months when the new king, Abdallah, took the throne.

“Our group is not allowed to function officially because we don’t have a license. The government doesn’t grant such things, and we don’t expect to obtain one in the near future,” al-Aouni says.

Last year, an organization calling itself Ansar al-Mar’a (Supporters of Women) tried in vain to register with the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs.

The lack of a law allowing nongovernmental organizations to operate–or political parties to exist–leaves the few activist Saudi women little option but to campaign clandestinely. But reforms are getting harder to keep at bay.

“The Internet has brought an enormous change into our lives; we can share information and ideas online,” al-Huweidar says. Although Saudi editors refuse to publish her anymore, she contributes to online Shiite discussion boards–which she says are more progressive than Sunni sites, the majority branch of Islam in Saudi Arabia–and is a regular guest on Arab satellite talk shows.

The issue of guardianship was highlighted in January by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which questioned Saudi officials in Geneva. The February visit of the U.N. special rapporteur, Yakin Erturk, a Turkish Muslim, also shed light on the position of Saudi women.

Around the time of Erturk’s visit, two cases related to guardianship drew international criticism. Last year a 19-year-old woman was condemned to 200 lashes and six months’ imprisonment for being with an unrelated man in a car. She and the man were both attacked and raped. King Abdallah later pardoned her, while her seven assailants–and male companion–received sentences ranging from two to nine years.

In another case, a married couple was forced to divorce because her male relatives thought his tribal stock wasn’t noble enough. “We had been happily married for three years,” the husband, Mansour al-Timani, tells Women’s eNews by phone as he is not allowed to meet foreigners or journalists.

“It all changed when her sister got married to a Bedouin of high stock, and that’s when her half-brothers decided that I wasn’t good enough for her.”

After a court ordered the divorce, the wife, Fatima Azzaz, was first taken to a prison and then to an orphanage because she resisted returning to her relatives. “Unfortunately there is no justice in our country,” al-Timani says. “We are victims. Even if they killed me I wouldn’t accept the court’s decision.”

Erturk left Saudi Arabia with assurances from officials that the couple would be reunited.

“I’m happy that these cases came to light, because this is a sign of freedom, because just years before the newspapers would not be able to publish something like that,” says Fawziyya al-Bakr, a professor for female students at King Saud University’s education college. Women gained the right to study 40 years ago and now 58 percent of all university students are female, although engineering, agriculture and geology remain forbidden.

“I think the biggest issue is the guardianship and the legal capacity in front of the law,” says al-Bakr, who sits in the women-only floor of Riyadh’s Kingdom Mall. It’s a little past 9 a.m. and the Thai waitresses are about to open the coffee shop. Women can walk unveiled here, and some have opened their black, ankle-length obligatory uniform, the abaya, to reveal jeans and stilettos underneath.

Al-Bakr participated in the 1990 protest in which 47 women drove around Riyadh. They were all briefly detained and called “fallen women” by the religious police.

Women have gained some nominal victories since then. Three years ago women were allowed to run in board elections for local chambers of commerce. As of this year, Saudi businesswomen have been able to rent hotel rooms alone, and a women-only hotel opened in Riyadh; no need for a mahram’s permission.

Sanna Negus is an author and a Middle East correspondent for Finnish TV and radio.
This series is supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The video: “Saudi Women’s Rights Activist Wajiha Al-Huweidar Drives Her Car, Calling upon Authorities to Allow Women to Drive” can be seen at
The video is also available in Arabic only at

When a male resident at Kildegaarden nursing home in Denmark made an indecent sexual proposal to a member of the staff, the home’s director, Inger Marie Kristensen, told a nurse to telephone for a prostitute.

“There was a considerable change in his demeanor after the escort girl had paid him a visit,” Kristensen said in an interview. “We do this for our clients just as we offer them other services that they need as human beings.”

Kildegaarden, located 100 miles west of Copenhagen in Skanderborg, has about 100 residents, including victims of Alzheimer’s disease and strokes. Nurses arranged visits by call girls three times in the past three years.

While Welfare Minister Karen Jespersen says Denmark’s 98 municipalities are free to let nurses call prostitutes, some lawmakers are stepping up efforts to pull women out of the profession, which has been legal in the country since 1999.

“I don’t want to contribute to keeping this industry in business,” said Mie Bergmann, an elected official with the Social-Liberal Party in Skanderborg, who led a failed vote to end prostitution at Kildegaarden.

Denmark is doubling spending to 80 million kroner ($17 million) over the next three years to get women out of the sex trade. The government estimates that 6,000 women work in the profession in the Scandinavian country of 5.5 million.

Copenhagen forbids contact with call girls in nursing homes. Other towns don’t publicize their policies.

In a poll posted last week on the Web site of national broadcaster DR, 46 percent of 1,982 readers said nursing home staff should be able to organize visits by prostitutes, 45 percent were against the practice and 8 percent were undecided. A margin of error wasn’t given.

Denmark’s Society for Women started a campaign in March called “Take a Position, Man” urging men to sign up at a Web site to protest against prostitution. So far, 1,887 women and men, including the editor-in-chief of newspaper Politiken Thoeger Seidenfaden, have signed.

The Copenhagen-based Danish Sex-worker Association was established last month in a bid to protect the industry. The leader, who gives her name only as Susanne on the association’s Web site, said prostitutes “often” visit Danish elderly homes.

“To forbid vulnerable customers from obtaining the services of a legal business is discriminating, both against the sex workers and the people who need help to get the services,” Susanne said in an e-mailed response to questions.

An increasing number of Danes oppose prostitution, a December 2006 opinion poll by newspaper Politiken showed. Forty- two percent of 1,180 said prostitution was unacceptable compared with 25 percent four years earlier. A majority of 54 percent approved of prostitution, compared with 66 percent in 2002.

“I don’t want a society where some people are used as a vehicle for others to live out their desires,” Ozlem Sara Cekic, a Danish Turkish member of parliament for the Socialist People’s Party, said in comments posted on her Web site.

The Danish People’s Party, which backs the minority Liberal- Conservative government in parliament, said earlier this year it may join opposition lawmakers to form a majority in favor of a ban on the sex trade.

The parliamentary committee for social affairs announced this year that it’s planning a trip to neighboring Sweden to investigate how that country has handled legislation it passed in 1999 that criminalized paying for sex.

For Kristensen, residents at the Kildegaarden home have rights under the current laws, no matter how old they are.

“Basically this is a matter of respecting the elderly and their needs,” she said.

The Rape Crisis Centre has welcomed news the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has complained about Sydney barrister Tania Evers’ conduct.

The judge repeatedly warned Ms Evers about her aggressive questioning of the teenager, who was 13 when she was allegedly sexually assaulted. He aborted the trial in its fifth week, meaning the girl will face a retrial later this year. DPP Nicholas Cowdery has asked the Legal Services Commissioner to investigate the barrister’s conduct.

Rape Crisis Centre spokeswoman Karen Willis has told ABC Sydney 702 Radio she believes the cross-examination was more about wearing down the alleged victim than trying to establish the facts of the case.

“It’s not about justice, it’s about getting the person to a stage where they’re not capable because they are so stressed and then [not] answering questions in a clear and concise way,” she said. “Then a person makes a mistake and that is used to say, ‘She’s an an unreliable witness, she is obviously a liar’… In no other crime matters would complainants or police witnesses be treated in this manner. Particularly in this case where she’s a little girl, it’s just a shocking way to treat somebody who’s already gone through a most appalling experience.”

Ms Willis says many judges fear putting a stop to aggressive questioning would risk an appeal.

“I ask anyone out there who’s got a child to think what it would be like if there was information that you wanted to get from a child,” she said. “If you questioned them non-stop for three days – asking them to repeat the same story over and over again, indicating that you didn’t believe them, that they had other motives for their story, that in fact they were making it up – at the end of it, you’ll not only have an incredibly distressed and distraught child, you’ll probably also have a child that’ll tell you anything to make you stop.”

NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos wants rules changed to prevent barristers intimidating rape victims. Mr Hatzistergos is pushing for lawyers to be forced to refuse to engage in harassing questioning of victims.

“We’ve been encouraging the Bar to come up with rules that I would believe make a significant difference to stop behaviour which can involve re-traumatising a victim…” he said. “The association has written to me, indicating they are prepared to move in this direction. They’ve put up some draft rules, they’ve sent that around for consultation, not only amongst its members but also other stakeholders. It’s currently in the process of resolving those changes. I’m anxious to see that that process is concluded as soon as possible.”

Ms Evers was not available to comment on the complaint against her.

Audio: The Rape Crisis Centre’s Karen Willis and ex-magistrate Barbara Holborough on the case (Local Radio)

The Council of Europe, including Irish parliamentarians, will this week debate a report calling for the legalisation of abortion in Ireland.

The Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) published the report last month, calling on member states that had not already decriminalised abortion to do so.

‘‘Women must be allowed freedom of choice and offered the conditions of a free and enlightened choice,” said Austrian socialist Gisela Wurm, the committee rapporteur.

‘‘Abortion on request is, in theory, available in all Council of Europe member states, except Andorra, Malta, Ireland and Poland,” said the report, but ‘‘even in member states where abortion is legal, conditions are not always such as to guarantee women effective access to this right’’.

Wurm said the absence of local healthcare facilities, lack of doctors willing to carry out abortions, repeated medical consultations, time allowed for a woman to change her mind and waiting time for abortions could all make access more difficult, or even impossible.

The report, which was approved by a large majority of the committee, calls on all 47 Council of Europe member states to guarantee ‘‘women’s effective exercise of their right to abortion and to lift restrictions which hinder access to safe abortion . . . by creating the appropriate conditions for health, medical and psychological care and offering suitable financial cover’’.

This first PACE report on abortion said that making contraception available was not enough to prevent abortions.

‘‘A recent study in France, which has the highest contraception rate in the world, provided a reminder that almost two of every three unplanned pregnancies occurred in women who claimed to be using a means of contraception when they fell pregnant,” it said.

The report also called for the introduction of ‘‘compulsory sex education’’ for schoolchildren to avoid ‘‘as many unwanted pregnancies (and therefore abortions) as possible’’.

Among those debating the report on Wednesday morning will be Irish parliamentarians Frank Fahey, Cecilia Keaveney, Peter Kelly and Terry Leyden of Fianna Fáil, Pat Breen and Joe O’Reilly of Fine Gael, Labour’s Joe Costello and independent Tony Gregory. The debate will be webcast live via the Council of Europe website.

Leyden voted against the report’s conclusions at a meeting in Strasbourg in January, after being appointed as the only Irish parliamentarian on the committee the previous month.

‘‘I never thought I would be landed in the middle of a committee calling for abortion in Ireland,” he told The Sunday Business Post. Leyden said he would cooperate with delegates from Malta and Poland to table amendments rejecting the report. ‘‘On a personal basis, I am not a zealot, but I am opposed to abortion,” he said. Leyden said the Lisbon Reform Treaty did not include any provision for interfering with Ireland’s position on abortion, but added: ‘‘This report is not helpful to our position.”

MEP Kathy Sinnott said: ‘‘The Council of Europe is not the EU and its resolutions do not have the force of law in Ireland that EU law does. Nonetheless, it is recognised as a moral authority in Europe and its deliberations can be used to pressure us in areas where we have taken an independent path.

‘‘If this resolution passes, it will be more pressure on Ireland to change its abortion laws.”

See also: “The bishops of Malta and Gozo insisted in a statement today that abortion is not a choice but murder, and it is not a right

V-Day 2009 focuses on stopping rampant rape in the DRC

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and playwright and V-Day founder Eve Ensler today announced a partnership focused on ending rape of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They were joined by Dr. Denis Mukwege and Christine Schuler Deschryverha from the DRC.

The announcement came during the celebration of V-Day’s tenth anniversary in the Superdome where thousands gathered.

Rape is a weapon of war in the DRC. Hundreds of thousands of women and children, aged six months to 80 years of age, have been sexually assaulted.

“The goal of the campaign, Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource, Power to The Women And Girls Of Democratic Republic Of Congo is to stop the rape, empower women and girls and end impunity for these atrocious crimes,” said Veneman.

Veneman visited the DRC in 2006 where she met several survivors of rape.”These women’s lives have been profoundly marked by acts of brutality,” Veneman said. “It is urgent that we work together to put a stop to these inhumane acts of violence.”

UNICEF is working with NGOs in the DRC to assist the thousands of women and girls who have been assaulted and raped, many with severe physical and psychological consequences.

Dr. Mukwegi has treated thousands of these women at the UNICEF-supported PANZI Hospital. Many of these women have been severely injured as a result of the sexual assaults. “The program is designed to give these women hope,” he said.

“I am doing this campaign because I don’t want to have to cry anymore. I don’t want to have to cry when I tell a young woman when she asks me, can I have a baby, and I have to say, no,” said Dr. Mukwegi.

UNICEF works in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The worlds largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

About V-Day
V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Playwright/Founder Eve Enslers award winning play The Vagina Monologues. In 2008, more than 3500 V-Day events will take place in the U.S. and around the world. To date, the V-Day movement has raised over $50 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the efforts to end it, crafted international educational, media and PSA campaigns, launched the Karama program in the Middle East, reopened shelters, and funded over 5000 community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses in Democratic Republic Of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq. The ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina.

Please visit also:

For more information, please contact: Kate Donovan, UNICEF New York, Tel: 212 326 7452

Zambian police, last week dispersed hundreds of women demonstrating against the reported use of prostitutes at an exclusive hotel for members of parliament.

The women converged at the cabinet office, where they attempted to hold a protest march, demanding the resignation of a deputy minister who was quoted in the local press supporting the deputies involved in bringing callgirls.

“They didn’t get any police permit to stage a demonstration. That is why we stopped them,” said Greenwell Nguni, a commanding officer for Lusaka.

Jonas Shakafuswa, a deputy finance minister, was quoted as saying there was nothing wrong with parliamentarians from sleeping with call-girls so long as they can pay.

“If you are poor and cannot buy sex, let people with money do that…,” Shakafuswa was quoted by the local press as having said after an opposition MP raised the issue in parliament. He later apologised for his statement saying he was drunk.

Nguni said he allowed the representatives of the women organisations to submit their petition to Vice-President Rupiah Banda at the cabinet office without marching on the streets.

President Levy Mwanawasa said it was “disgraceful” for the members of parliament to have turned the exclusive hotel built for their comfort into an immoral place.

The president said he would wait for the results of an investigation launched by the speaker of the National Assembly before he could take action on the matter.

The mother of a girl murdered by a former boyfriend is calling for a radical change in society’s attitudes and a toughening of the law regarding gender violence.

Isola Martín is channeling her energies into an organization she has created in memory of her daughter called Asociación Beatriz (The Voice of Victims, their Families and Friends Against Gender Violence).

Beatriz Sanfiel Martín, a 19-year-old student, was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend in her La Laguna flat on the evening of Christmas Day 2006.

Sra. Martín says she wants to see the government take this issue as seriously as it does terrorism.

“The problem isn’t just in the number of deaths, but what lies behind them: too few and too crowded women’s shelters, the lack of counsellng and psychological assistance which victims badly need, the problem of the children, protection, education to name but a few.”

She also wants the law to come down far harder on aggressors who should, she says, serve the full term of their sentences with no possibility of early release.

“We have to ensure that abusive murderers like these do not continue with the idea that in legal terms it is cheap to kill,” she said and angrily refutes any suggestion that such men are ill.

“They are machistas, accustomed to getting their own way and controlling everyone and everything around them. And when they can’t do that they kill whoever is challenging their position.”

Isola Martín refutes the suggestion that it is better to play down reporting on domestic violence cases on the grounds that it encourages others.

“The men who do this don’t do it because they see something on the news. They plan their crime in cold blood, taking their time, as happened in the case of my daughter.”

Va. students interview prostitutes for course on American consumption

Nicki Amouri hands her camera to a friend, throws her arm over another and smiles wide as she leans in for a shot with the monument her class came to visit.

It’s a typical field trip memento — except that Amouri is in a brothel. The monument is a fluffy, queen-sized bed in a Western-themed party room reserved for VIPs and big spenders.

Amouri was one of a dozen Randolph College students who toured the Chicken Ranch, a legal bordello in the desert 60 miles outside Las Vegas. Thursday’s class trip, which included seminars from the working girls, capped a course on American consumption and “the ideas that consume us.”

“I think it’s fascinating, this is fun for me,” said Amouri, a junior at the private liberal arts school in Lynchburg, Va., that until last year admitted only women. “Not many people get to do this.”

Academic and media inquiries are daily occurrences at many of Nevada’s 27 legal brothels. Some shy away from the scrutiny; others, like the Chicken Ranch, welcome the publicity.

“We’re always open to trying to educate the public about legalized prostitution,” said Chicken Ranch general manager Debbie Rivenburgh, who acknowledged this was the first class tour request she’d received in 21 years.

‘Don’t just study America — live it’

The brothel tour was a natural fit for a class that tells students “don’t just study America — live it,” said Julio Rodriguez, the director of the college’s American Culture Program.

Each semester the course examines a strain of American culture and ends with a class trip. Past destinations included post-Katrina New Orleans, Walt Disney World and the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Ala.

This year’s focus on Nevada started with a professor’s interest in water rights and conservation. It grew to include discussions of the wedding and entertainment industries and, inevitably, prostitution.

Nevada is the only state where prostitution is legal. Brothels are allowed in 10 Nevada counties, though not in Las Vegas.

As part of their research, students were assigned “The Beauty Myth,” by feminist author Naomi Wolf; “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” by Hunter S. Thompson; and a “20/20” episode on prostitution with Diane Sawyer, among other research, professors said.

“We gave them all the option to either opt out or express reservations privately. No one did,” said Rodriguez, adding that he received no objections from parents or administrators.

Prostitutes at the Chicken Ranch had plenty of reservations. Most don’t jump at the chance to talk to strangers about what they do, Rivenburgh said. They worry about friends or family finding out. They know how others see them. It can be uncomfortable.

“Ninety-nine percent of the working girls will not participate. Each woman’s got her reason and her limitations,” Rivenburgh said. “I couldn’t have done better with the two that said yes, though.”

Flexibility and free time

Alexis, 38, and Alicia, “over 30,” sat on white folding chairs in front the young, earnest women in the brothel’s Victorian-styled parlor, usually the setting for the “lineup.” They would not give their last names. The group took close notes as a handful of television cameras and reporters looked on.

A blonde in jeans and platform boots, Alexis talked about the job’s flexibility and the free time it has allowed her to write a book about her life. Alicia wore a black-and-white gingham nighty and a tattoo on her left breast that read “Famous.”

“I enjoy giving back what some people don’t get in their lives, as far as companionship, time, just the touch of a woman,” she said. The job allows her to take care of her mother and grandmother. She’s also in real estate.

The introductions gave way to questions.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Alexis: “Most women in this business wear the pants in the family.”

Is there a certain look most men prefer?
Alicia: “Every man wants something different. There’s all different kinds of girls.”

Why aren’t there brothels with male prostitutes?
Rivenburgh: Former Hollywood Madame Heidi Fleiss is trying.

Do you still give a military discount?
Rivenburgh: Yes.

What’s the worst part?
Alicia: “Being confined, being cooped up. I have to be here 24 hours a day.”

With a tour and time to mingle, the students packed up gift bags containing a menu of services, a Chicken Ranch key chain and a brochure. They had to get back to Las Vegas in time for a backstage tour of the risque revue “Jubilee.” With any luck, they might get to interview the showgirls.

Statement by Dean of College in response to media coverage of ‘field trip’

Hundreds of members of a group campaigning for Islamic rule in Bangladesh clashed with police on Friday over a plan to give women equal inheritance rights.

Police fired teargas and used batons to break up the protests after members of the Islami Constitution Movement threw rocks and stones as they emerged from Friday prayers at a mosque in the centre of the capital Dhaka, witnesses said.

A Reuters reporter said at least a 100 people were injured in the protests that took place despite a ban on such gatherings under a state of emergency imposed after an army-backed interim administration took power in January last year.

“All roads around the Baitul Mokarram mosque were filled with white robed Muslim devotees since before noon despite strong presence of police,” a witness said.

On Thursday, nearly 50 people were injured as members of the Khelafat Majlis group clashed with police in the capital over the same issue.

The activists’ ire was triggered by reports of a draft law in the local media that gives equal inheritance rights, including property, to men and women.

The Islamic Constitution Movement, which is one of several groups campaigning for sharia-based laws in Bangladesh, said the law was against a Koranic law of inheritance.

One in three Swazi women has suffered some form of sexual abuse as a child, while one in four experienced physical violence, a new United Nations survey revealed this week.

The study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the first of its kind conducted in a country where anecdotal evidence suggests an alarming number of female children are victims of abuse: more disconcertingly still, the mushrooming population of orphans and vulnerable children in Swaziland provides yet more opportunities for sexual exploitation to occur.

In two years, Swaziland will have a population of 200,000 children orphaned by AIDS – more than one-fifth of its population, according to UNICEF. With HIV prevalence at 33.4 percent among people aged between 15 and 49, the country has the world’s highest infection rate. As a result, life expectancy has halved from nearly 60 years in the 1990s to just over 30 years today.

“Disabled children, children out of school and orphans are some of the most vulnerable groups,” said Jama Gulaid, UNICEF representative in Swaziland. “Poverty and the high prevalence of HIV create high numbers of marginalised children.”

The survey, the National Study on Violence Against Children and Young Women, based its findings on interviews among rural and urban communities. Disturbingly, it concluded that violence and sexual assault against girls primarily took place at home.

“We found that 75 percent of the perpetrators of sexual violence were known to the victim,” Gulaid said. “It is not surprising that sexual abuse of girls is a household problem, because Swazis reside in multi-generational homes, usually isolated farms. Relatively few girls are raped by strangers in towns because less of the population resides in towns, and there is a heightened awareness of security there”.

Rapists don’t use condoms

Often the abusers are the girls’ own fathers and boyfriends. Only 43.5 percent of girls said their first sexual experiences were freely willed and devoid of coercion: a little less than five percent said they had been introduced to sex as rape victims.

Underscoring the urgency of addressing violence against girls was the AIDS crisis. “Rapists don’t use condoms, and if a father or uncle are so inclined to rape a daughter or niece, or a boyfriend forces himself on his girlfriend, the danger of HIV transmission is rife,” said Victor Ndlovu, a voluntary testing and counseling officer in the central commercial town of Manzini. “Add to that the reluctance of girls to report abuse or in many instances to rightly understand they have been violated, we are faced with a serious public health challenge, aside from the individual suffering incurred by the girls.”

A third of Swazi females interviewed for the study reported they had experienced emotional abuse. Often, the perpetrators had been abused themselves as children.

“The established ‘hand me down’ passing on of abuse is evident from what we were told,” said Pamela Dlamini, a sociology student at the University of Swaziland, who was one of the survey interviewers. “Emotional abuse of girls is mostly carried out by the girls’ female relatives, who were abused themselves. Sometimes there is jealousy. Instead of reporting an abusive husband or unable to police [the girl], the girl’s mother or aunt will treat the girl as a rival. This comes from a culture where any post-pubescent girl is considered eligible for marriage in a polygamous household, even if she is 13, although Swazi culture does not allow for the incest we find rampant in households where abuse occurs.”

Although officially a middle-income country, the UN Development Programme estimates more than two-thirds of Swazis live in chronic poverty, about the same number – over 600,000 – currently depend on food assistance from the World Food Programme and other donor groups.

The report noted that “Violence can damage the emotional, cognitive and physical development of children and thereby impact economic development of Swaziland by degrading the contribution of affected children”.

The way forward

Less than half of sexual assaults and other abusive crimes are reported to the authorities. Swazi children were found to have sought help from the police or social welfare counselors in only one out of five cases that resulted in injury serious enough to consult a doctor.

The way forward appears to be through education, instructing girls about what constitutes abuse. “I spoke with many girls who said they did not understand that they had been abused. They felt abused, physically and psychologically, but no one told them this was not normal,” said Dlamini.

The report backed Dlamini’s observation, noting, “The numbers suggest a lack of understanding of what sexual violence is and how and where to report such incidents”.

Educational programmes in schools would assist in a country where primary school attendance is relatively widespread, and instruct girls on the type of behaviour acceptable when they return home.

“The large numbers of sexual violence incidents happening in the home underscores the hidden nature of sexual violence and presents one of the largest challenges in preventing sexual violence in Swaziland,” the report said.

The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Thursday passed a bill imposing heavy penalties on people found guilty of trafficking in human beings, particularly in women and children.

Previously there has been no specific offence of human trafficking on the Mozambican statute book. However, cases of trafficking could be dealt with under the articles concerning kidnapping and private imprisonment in the penal code. Nonetheless, the government decided to draft a bill that would make human trafficking a specific offence.

The issue has been hitting headlines recently because of the coverage on Mozambican Television of the case of three teenage girls enticed from Maputo with promises of jobs and study in South Africa, only to end up in a brothel in Pretoria. They were rescued thanks to the intervention of a Mozambican lawyer resident in South Africa, and the woman who trafficked them is currently awaiting trial in a South African jail.

Introducing the bill, Justice Minister Benvinda Levy said “Studies show that Mozambique is affected by the phenomenon of human trafficking, and that in recent years this has been linked to organised cross-border crime, although the true scale of the problem is not known”.

“The existing legislation on the matter in Mozambique is incipient, and an effective fight against the traffickers has been difficult”, she admitted. The new bill thus opted for “the most inclusive approach possible, which considers the various forms of trafficking, and leaves grey areas to the minimum, while including the typifying elements defined internationally”.

The bill proposed to punish anyone guilty of any of the various forms of human trafficking with between eight and 12 years imprisonment. But there have been demands for stiffer penalties from civil society bodies, and the Assembly’s specialized commissions opted for a range of penalties of up to 20 years, depending on the exact nature of the trafficking. Levy accepted this amendment.

Thus, under the commissions’ redraft, anyone who “recruits, transports, shelters, provides or receives a person by any means, including on the pretext of employment in the country or abroad, for purposes of prostitution, forced labour, slavery, or involuntary or debt servitude” will face a prison sentence of between 16 and 20 years.

The same penalty is proposed for trafficking with the purpose of removing or selling the victims’ organs, and for fraudulent adoption with the purpose of involved the adopted children in prostitution, slavery or forced labour.

Trafficking for forms of sexual exploitation other than prostitution, such as forced marriage and pornography, will bear a penalty of 12 to 16 years jail

People who rent out buildings to be used in human trafficking will be liable to a jail sentence of between eight and twelve years. Those who use any form of publicity, including the Internet, to promote trafficking will face a penalty of between two and eight years imprisonment, as will anyone who confiscates, hides or destroys the passports or travel documents of those being trafficked.

Since human trafficking is defined as a “public crime”, prosecuting the traffickers does not depend on a complaint from the victims, and the consent of the victims is irrelevant.

If any property, premises or staff of collective persons (such as organisations and companies) are used in human trafficking, their senior officials will be held responsible, and the assets used may be seized and will revert to the state. The licences, permits and registrations of organisations found to be involved in human trafficking will be “definitively cancelled”.

The bill also envisages measures to protect victims and witnesses. The victims’ identity will not be revealed during or after criminal proceedings. In order to ensure their recovery, they will be entitled to appropriate accommodation, medical and psychological care, counseling, free legal aid, and education or professional training.

Witnesses and whistle-blowers will receive special protection if they are under threat. The exact nature of this protection will de determined by the court in charge of the case.

The bill was entirely uncontroversial and passed its first reading unanimously and by acclamation.

Human traffickers peddle young girls to work as sex slaves in Canadian cities for as little as $2,000 – a situation most people believe only happens in foreign lands, activists say.

An increase in human trafficking in Canada has gone largely unnoticed because Canadians think young girls choose to take up the sex trade, according to Joy Smith, a Conservative MP and longtime anti-trafficking activist.

“There are girls being sold in Montreal for $2,000,” Smith said.

International observers have described human trafficking as one of the world’s fastest growing crimes, a phenomenon Canada has not escaped.

“This is Canada’s best-kept secret and it’s a shameful secret,” said Smith.

Smith will be the keynote speaker at a four-day human trafficking conference that begins in Montreal on Thursday.

The UN estimates 2.5 million people from 127 countries have been shuttled around the world for various forms of servitude, including forced labour and the removal of organs.

It’s an industry thought to be worth billions of dollars.

The RCMP believes 800 to 1,200 people in Canada have been victims of human trafficking, though some activists peg the figure as high as 15,000.

“This is a rising crime in Canada,” Smith said.

She pointed out that many dismiss the scope of the problem by claiming sex slaves, who are mainly women, chose to become prostitutes.

“A lot of the girls in brothels never meant to be in brothels,” Smith said. “They got there because somebody threatened them and forced them into it.”

Activists maintain that dispelling myths about human trafficking is crucial to developing more effective policies.

“A lot of people don’t see the problem because they don’t want to see it,” said Michael Cory Davis, an American actor and filmmaker who will be screening his recent documentary on human trafficking at the conference.

“For anyone who says ‘This doesn’t affect me,’ all they need to do is to Google ‘Montreal,’ ‘escort service’ and ‘young girls’.”

Davis was given unique insight into the underbelly of the slave market while shooting a movie several year ago in Bulgaria.

Granted instant celebrity status thanks to appearances on the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” – much loved by Bulgarians – Davis was often approached by pimps hawking young girls.

He used his high profile to learn more about the system that turns girls into sex slaves, often touring Bulgarian orphanages to hear their stories first-hand.

Along with his documentary Cargo: Innocence Lost, he has made a 40-minute film about a 13-year-old girl’s abduction as well as educational movies for the FBI.

Davis is now trying to widen his audience through a series of commercials that will air later this year.

“If you let this fester it will become a disgusting open wound because every young child becomes vulnerable,” he said.

Smith acknowledged tougher laws and more policing can make a difference. But first there needs to be a critical mass of people unwilling to let the issue drop from the public’s radar.

“Our best defence against this horrendous crime is education,” she said. “The public needs to know about it.”