Archive for April 23rd, 2009

By the time she was 8, Amanda had been sexually abused by her father’s friend for four years. At 12, she was peddling crack. At 14, she was selling sex on the sidewalk.

Her pimp beat her weekly to keep her working, stitching up her wounds himself to avoid questions at a hospital. Her average earnings of $600 for a 13-hour day of turning tricks bought him a car.

Now 15, Amanda is rebuilding her life. Caught when a cop stopped one of her customers for a broken tail light, she was sent to Children of the Night, a residential program in suburban Los Angeles that rehabilitates teen prostitutes.

“All my life my plate was like overfilled with problems,” she said. “I always asked God to give me something good, and this is it.”

The fact that Amanda was rescued instead of arrested reflects not only a stroke of luck but a decidedly different take on tackling the juvenile sex trade. Courts and law enforcement are increasingly treating young prostitutes as child abuse victims — and their pimps as human traffickers.

“This is an institutional shift,” said Nancy O’Malley, an Alameda County prosecutor who wrote California’s new sexually exploited minors law. “It’s about getting people to shift their attention and judgment from the minor and seeing what’s beyond this criminal behavior.”

New York also has a new law that calls for underage prostitutes to be sent to rehabilitation programs instead of juvenile detention, along with more training for law enforcement in handling the troubled teenagers and taking a harder line on their pimps.

In many other states, prosecutors are charging pimps with human trafficking, or the transportation of people for illicit commercial purposes. Convictions can land traffickers in prison for decades.

The approach comes as pimps are getting increasingly sophisticated and harder to bust. They run loose networks across states lines that distribute girls like drugs and set up Internet sex operations that are tough to infiltrate.

The result: Teen prostitution has spread to towns across the country, said Michael Langeman, who heads the FBI’s Crimes Against Children unit. The FBI’s work is also bolstered by federal trafficking laws to crack down on pimps.

In Nevada, a man was sentenced to life for transporting two girls from that state to cities around California to work as prostitutes in 2006. Last year, three people pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of children in San Diego for running an Internet-advertised sex ring with 14- and 16-year-olds.

“This isn’t like the old days of a slap on the wrist,” said Keith Bolkar, who heads the FBI’s Cybercrimes unit in Los Angeles.

Rescuing the girls is an important part of the equation. In most cases, they’re troubled, often sexually abused, lured into prostitution by “boyfriends” who shower them with the loving attention they lack at home. Gifts and outings, though, turn into violence and emotional manipulation.

That was the case with Samantha, a 15-year-old from Orange County and now at Children of the Night. At 14, she said, she started using drugs and skipping school. She soon met an older man.

“He gave me money, drugs, clothes,” she recalled. “I was having fun. Then he started hitting me.”

The boyfriend took her to Arizona, made her pose for photos in lingerie and have sex with men who responded to Craigslist ads.

“I complained a lot so he gave me drugs,” she said.

She was rescued when another girl was arrested and told police about her.

Children of the Night, which has 24 beds, is one of about four rehab programs for teen prostitutes around the country. The others are in New York City, San Francisco and Atlanta. Two more are planned to open this year in Oakland and Toledo, Ohio.

The dearth of programs means girls from all over the country are sent to Children of the Night.

Gladys, a 17-year-old from a Miami suburb, found herself there after she ran away from home to be with a boyfriend. The boyfriend advertised her as a prostitute on Craigslist and threatened to kill her if she didn’t comply. She was shuffled around motels over a two-month period until one of his other “girlfriends” got arrested.

“I was like ‘thank God. I want to go home. What did I get myself into?'” she said.

Now, she’s completing high school and driver’s instruction and looking for a job.

The Associated Press doesn’t routinely identify the victims of sexual abuse. The names Amanda, Samantha and Gladys are pseudonyms.

Programs that build the girls’ self-esteem, push them to finish high school and heal their trauma are ideal, but funding is always short for a cause that generally doesn’t engender public sympathy, said Lois Lee, a sociologist who founded Children of the Night 30 years ago in her home and runs it on $2 million a year in private donations.

Once a girl becomes involved in prostitution, her prospects are bleak. An arrest usually offers the only hope for escape. Even then, there’s a small chance the girl is offered rehabilitation — and accepts it. Lee said 61 percent of 94 girls at Children of the Night in 2008 completed the program.

Amanda, now studying for her high school diploma, realized that was her fate if she didn’t accept Children of the Night.

“I said to myself ‘If I go back to the streets, I’m there ’til I die,'” she said. “I knew this was my chance.”


A Taiwan sex workers’ group has urged the government to legalize the sex trade, calling on lawmakers to back a bill aimed at decriminalizing prostitution.

Campaigners believe they are just one parliamentarian short of getting enough signatures to get such a bill started in parliament.

‘We hope we can get backing from 15 lawmakers, the minimum number of lawmakers needed to send the bill to parliament,’ Wang Fang-ping, general-secretary of the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), told German Press Agency dpa.

If introduced to parliament, the bill needs to pass three readings and the the Cabinet’s approval to become law.

‘We have been fighting for decriminalization of prostitution for a long time, but I am not very optimistic,’ she said by phone.

Lawmaker Cheng Li-wen said she had gathered signatures from 14 lawmakers to push the bill to decriminalize position, one signature short of the total number required.

‘We are worried because we heard that some of the 14 lawmakers backing the bill have withdrawn their support,’ Wang said.

The bill is aimed at abolishing Clause 80 of the Bill on Maintaining Social Order. According to the clause, a provider of sex faces a maximum three-day imprisonment or a fine of 30,000 Taiwan dollars (888 US dollars) but recipient of the sex service is not punished.

Taiwan in 1957 stopped issuing license to brothels. Currently there are some 100 brothels across the island with nearly 2,000 prostitutes.

While it is legal to practice the trade in the legal brothels, police crack down on the illegal sex trade in motels, clubs and massage parlours.

According to Wang, there are some 700,000 illegal sex workers in Taiwan who face the danger of being arrested by police every day.

‘We think that every one has the right to make a living. Prostitution is only a job like other jobs, so it should be decriminalized,’ Wang said.

However, public opinion remains divided over the issue.

Some women’s groups want brothel visitors, not prostitutes, be punished, while some law enforcement personnel are firmly opposed to legalizing the sex trade.

‘I am against decriminalizing prostitution because prostitution destroys our marriage system which is the basis for social harmony,’ Prosecutor Liu Cheng-wu told reporters.

Iceland plans to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of sexual services, the operation of strip clubs, and human trafficking, the government said on Wednesday.

“This plan is long overdue,” Icelandic Minister of Social Affairs Asta Ragnheithur Johannesdottir, told AFP. “This has been a fighting issue for the human rights organisations, women’s organisations and many members of parliament for years,” she said.

Parliament is expected to vote on the plan before Iceland’s general elections on April 25, the minister said.

Prostitution was legalised in Iceland in 2007 in order to protect prostitutes and make it easier for them to seek assistance and go to the police without fearing recrimination.

The ban on buying sex is aimed at hitting users of prostitutes.

According to the bill currently being discussed by parliament, anyone who purchases or promises to purchase sexual services can expect fines or up to one year in jail.

If the person they are purchasing sexual services from is under the age of 18, they risk up to two years in prison or fines.

Iceland’s Nordic neighbours Norway and Sweden have already introduced such bans on buying sex.

Gudrun Jonsdottir, a spokeswomen for Stigamot, the Icelandic counselling and information center for survivors of sexual violence, hailed the action plan.

“We have now shown that we understand the connection between pornography, prostitution and human trafficking,” she told AFP.

Strip clubs are as a general rule forbidden in Iceland but are allowed to operate with special permission from local authorities. The new legislation would abolish that exception.

Iceland has been hit by a deep recession after the spectacular collapse of its banking sector six months ago.

The economic crisis made the new legislation even more necessary, Johannesdottir stressed.

“In times of economic downturn, it is even more important to tackle this issue. When there are economic hardships there is an even greater danger of criminal activity, like human trafficking and sexual abuse,” she said.

The Italian Senate on Wednesday approved a law that introduces tough penalties for rape and makes stalking a crime. A total of 262 senators from the ruling conservative coalition and from opposition parties backed the law, while one senator voted against it and three senators from the libertarian Radical party abstained.

The new law makes murder committed after sexual violence, sexual assault and lewd sexual acts against minors, gang rape and stalking all punishable with life in jail.

Stalking is categorised as a ‘persecutory act’ under the law. It imposes a jailterm of between six and 36 months when the stalking occurred repeatedly and caused the victim anxiety or to fear for their personal safety, or forced them to change their usual habits.

If the stalker’s victim is a child, a pregnant women or is disabled, the penalty is a jailterm of one to six years.

The law also imposes mandatory prison sentences for the crime of reducing individuals to slavery, abducting individuals, prostituting minors, child pornography and paedophile tourism.

Individuals convicted of sexual crimes will also find it harder to get work outside prison or prison leave and be sentenced to community service as an alternative to a jailterm.

Local authorities are also authorised by the law to introduce video-surveillance of public places.

The law gained the backing of senators from the anti-immigrant Northern League party after the government pledged to include several controversial security measures in a separate security bill currently being debated in the lower house of parliament.

These measures include local security patrols in Italian towns and cities by ‘concerned citizens’ and the detention of illegal immigrants in identification centres for up to six months.

Another controversial measure seeks to make illegal immigration a crime, and to oblige doctors and other national health service staff to report to police illegal immigrants who seek medical treatment.

The bill has already been approved by the Senate but ran into difficulty in the lower house of parliament after over 100 MPs from the ruling conservative People of Freedom party opposed the move to oblige health service workers to report illegal immigrants. They claimed it breached basic human rights.

Eight women’s groups protested outside the offices of the Times Group — the publishers of The Times of India — accusing the Mumbai Mirror newspaper, also published by the group, of sensationalising the story of a rape victim and violating her right to privacy.

A student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai was reportedly raped by six men. Following the registration of a case with the local police on Tuesday evening, newspapers in Mumbai have extensively reported on the case, featuring the story on their front pages every day since the story broke.

The Mumbai Mirror published in entirety the statement made by the victim to the local police, detailing her age, her country of origin — she was an international student — and even the course she was enrolled at the TISS, an institute which does not have many international students. The statement also graphically described how the victim was attacked by the alleged offenders.

The eight women’s groups filed a complaint with the police, who registered an FIR against the Mumbai Mirror, the Times Group and its owners Bennett, Coleman and Co. under Section 228 (A) of the Indian Penal Code for disclosing the identity of a rape victim, said Sandhya Gokhale of the Forum against Oppression of Women, one of the groups involved in the protest.

While the newspaper did not reveal her name, women’s groups said that by revealing the other details, the newspaper left no scope for her identity to remain confidential thereby violating her right to privacy. “This isn’t ethical journalism at all, it’s a violation of her privacy,” Ms. Gokhale said.

“Everyone in her college, and elsewhere, knows her identity now. This is irresponsible reporting.”

The Mumbai Mirror carried an apology in its pages after many readers wrote in to complain about the graphic descriptions of the girl’s rape that was contained in her statement.

The women’s groups said this was not enough as the newspaper apologised only for offending the readers’ sensibilities, and not to the victim. “We want the newspaper to apologise to the victim,” Ms. Gokhale said.

The incident has ignited a debate on where boundaries lie in reporting such crimes and when newspapers should refrain from publishing information that may offend the sentiments of victims, or possibly worse, disclose their identity.

Nandita Gandhi, a prominent women’s rights activist with the non-governmental organisation Akshara, said this was in her opinion “the grossest incident of reporting a rape case in recent memory.”

“An FIR may be a public document, but it’s not a document that is meant to titillate or sensationalise,” Ms. Gandhi said. “The competition between newspapers is so vitiated that they are pulling out all the stops. The newspaper can argue they have not named her, but they have otherwise revealed her identity. They may have kept the law, but they violated its spirit.”

The scale of the Rwandan genocide shocked the world – and left the country reeling. An estimated 800,000 people died in 100 days of wanton violence that began 15 years ago this week. And the Hutu militias not only murdered their mostly Tutsi victims, but anywhere between a quarter and half a million women were subjected to brutal sexual attacks.

And for those women who survived, the time still haunts them. Denise Uwimana, who experienced the horrors of 15 years ago, explains:

“Fifteen years have passed and the genocide is like it happened yesterday because we still have wounds. They are external wounds and internal wounds.”

Ms Uwimana lived through the genocide and runs a charity which helps Rwanda’s survivors of sexual violence. She’s was recently in The Netherlands for the launch of a new book The Men Who Killed Me. It tells the stories of 16 women and one man who were raped, and survived.

Anne-Marie de Brouwer co-edited the book, and believes it meets an important need:

“Many people know that the genocide happened in Rwanda. But many people don’t know the extremeness of the sexual violence that took place in this country”.

An astonishing 70 percent of the Rwandan survivors of sexual assault are now HIV positive. Ms Uwimana hopes that the stories documented in the book will raise awareness about this issue.

“I think it’s good that all people can know the suffering of survivors today. The international community should know what happened to them.”

And as Ms de Brouwer notes, the book is also an important tool in the healing process for the survivors themselves.

“They [the women] all told me that they wanted their stories to be heard, that they wanted the world to know that these crimes had been committed against them”

Ms de Brouwer believes we all have a moral responsibility to do something for the survivors of the genocide and is the founder of the charity Mukomeze. This Rwandan word means “empower me”, and the group supports Rwandan survivors of sexual violence.

All proceeds from the The Men Who Killed Me will go to Mukomeze and its partners in Rwanda.

You can buy the book via the web site

Child rights organisation Molo Songololo says that it is worried about an increase in child rapes linked to drug abuse in the Western Cape.

A 25-year-old man appeared in the Bellville Magistrate’s Court on charges of raping a 16-month-old baby from Blikkiesdorp in Delft.

The suspect is the boyfriend of the baby’s mother who was allegedly a tik addict.

The NGO Rape Crisis said tik was changing the nature of rapes in the Western Cape, adding there was a definite increase in the brutality of rapes over the last three years.

Anastacia Wiese was raped, left to bleed to death and stuffed in the ceiling of her home in Mitchell’s Plain in 2007.

Her attacker Richard Engelbreght was on tik and dating her mother.

Molo Songololo’s Patrick Solomons said people’s homes should be able to be investigated.

Solomons said it was a sad reality that children fell prey to people they were supposed to trust.

See: Lurking in the shadows – young children killed by their stepfather or their mother’s boyfriend

Pro-abortion group says she’s “cause celebre”

A Cairns teenager who allegedly self-aborted at two months with an abortion pill smuggled in from overseas has gained support from the pro-choice lobby.

Tegan Simone Leach, 19, is believed to be the first woman charged in Queensland in nearly 50 years for organising her own miscarriage and is facing up to 14 years in jail.

Pro-abortion lobbyists are rallying in Brisbane today against the landmark test case saying it “sets an ugly precedent for the rights of women”.

Ms Leach’s partner Sergie Brennan, 21, who lives with his girlfriend at their Mt Sheridan home, also has been charged with attempting to procure and supply drugs to procure an abortion.

The two are due to face Cairns Magistrate’s Court again on June 11 after they allegedly decided to terminate the pregnancy because they were too young to have a child.

Police allege a family member obtained the abortion pill misoprostol from a doctor in the Ukraine and smuggled it into Australia on a flight to Cairns on December 25.

The pill was then allegedly successfully used by Ms Leach to terminate her pregnancy and induce a miscarriage at 60 days.

In their first court appearance on Thursday, it was alleged the pair did not ask about the lawful process to have an abortion.

Medical abortions are legal in Queensland but are often expensive with 90 per cent or more terminations performed in private clinics for a minimum out-of-pocket cost of about $370. But it remains an offence under the 100-year-old criminal code to access or procure an abortion.

Pro-abortion campaigner Kate Marsh, of Children By Choice, yesterday said the case was believed to be a Queensland first.

“She is our cause celebre,” Ms Marsh said. “It comes as such a shock that someone can be charged with this offence in this day and age. We’d like to see abortion removed from the criminal code and be regulated like any other health procedure. It is an emotional issue and people have strong opinions about it,” Ms Marsh said. “But this unprecedented case highlights the urgency to change the laws.”

Cairns gynaecologist Caroline de Costa, the first Australian doctor to legally dispense the controversial abortion drug RU486, backed the calls for decriminalisation, saying Queensland should follow the lead of Victoria.

She said the legislation harkened to the 1960s when women died after undergoing illegal backyard abortions.,27574,25361091-2,00.html

The Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs said that it will introduce a bill to reduce the term limit for abortions from 28 weeks to 24 to the National Assembly.

Any ruling, however, will not affect women suffering from hereditary diseases.

Currently, women can undergo the procedure when they have epilepsy, hemophilia, serious mental disorders and hereditary conditions before they are 28 weeks pregnant. Abortion is also allowed for women who get pregnant through rape and incest, or if the pregnancy puts their life at risk.

Many industrialized countries prohibit late-stage abortions ― Germany sets a limit of 12 weeks while Japan and Britain have thresholds of 22 weeks and 24 weeks, respectively.

Abortion is seen as a serious social issue here, with the number of procedures reaching 339,818 in 2005.

Healthy women who undergo elective abortions can be imprisoned for up to one year or fined two million won. Doctors performing the abortion can be imprisoned for up to two years.

The revision bill will go into effect immediately if the National Assembly endorses it.

Adults in Chile are split on the topic of pregnancy termination, according to a poll by Ipsos, 46.9 per cent of respondents are opposed to abortion, while 39.1 per cent would allow it in some cases.

In addition, 13.4 per cent of respondents are in favour of abortion.

Chile has been traditionally regarded as one of the most conservative countries in the Americas. In May 2004, then Chilean president Ricardo Lagos authorized a law that allowed divorce in the South American country for the first time. Homosexuality was legalized in 1998, but the country does not have an anti-discrimination law pertaining to sexual orientation. Abortion is completely illegal in Chile.

Michelle Bachelet—a former defence minister—was elected in a January 2006 run-off as the candidate for the centre-left Agreement of Parties for Democracy (CPD) with 53.49 per cent of all cast ballots. She officially took over as president in March 2006.

In September 2006, Chile’s Health Ministry authorized public clinics to provide the morning-after pill—which can be administered within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse to prevent a pregnancy—to girls older than 14.

Last month, former Chilean president Eduardo Frei—who is the CPD’s candidate in this year’s election—discussed his views on abortion, saying, “Therapeutic abortion was allowed in Chile until 1989, when it was banned. People who review this matter forget that it was allowed during the whole military government. This is a complex topic. We must respect personal decisions, and avoid moral considerations.”

Polling Data
In general, are you in favour of abortion?
13.4% : Yes
39.1% : Only in some cases
46.9% : No
 0.6% : Not sure

Source: Ipsos

Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,008 Chilean adults, conducted from Mar. 17 to Apr. 3, 2009. Margin of error is 3.1 per cent.