Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Life without Privileges, part 3. A Sweeping Success: The Patna High Court Ruling in favor of Apne Aap's position on prostitution

image of the Patna High Court, Bihar, India

This is the 3rd of a three-part post.
Part 1: click here
Part 2: click here

In a great sweeping judgment, Apne Aap won at the High Court in Patna, Bihar. Please copy and paste what is below and spread it through social media. What follows was written by Ruchira Gupta.

The more mentions this gets online, the more encouraged the judge who worked closely with us would be. It would also support other judges doing something similar.

Here is the link to the judgment by the Patna High Court on a public interest litigation filed by Apne Aap.

We had asked for the court to ask the police to arrest traffickers and not activists, have special police officers for trafficking cases, social welfare services for both victims and @risk girls in every panchayat (village council), boarding schools for @risk girls, health, education, housing and legal services as well citizenship and subsidy documents for all victims.

We shared Apne Aap's Ten Asset Approach to enroll an @risk girl or victim of trafficking into an Apne Aap network and then help her gain a safe space, education through KGBV (government supported) boarding schools, to karate class, to government IDs and subsidies, to livelihood support, bank accounts and wrap around services for victims including more shelters and more police action against traffickers and clients.

In a sweeping judgment, the court has asked the government of Bihar to tackle trafficking from every angle in every village--from identifying at risk girls in marginalized communities, to keeping track of missing children, to ensuring school for @risk children, to arresting traffickers and clients, to providing citizenship papers and subsidies to @risk women and victims, to providing seed money for small business, to setting up more shelters, to reporting back, to link victims and @risk girls, to wrap around services like housing and counselling. It is truly one of the most comprehensive anti-trafficking judgments in the poorest state of India with a population of 82,998,509 of which 23,852,828 are girls!

This judgment can transform the lives of the most marginalized of them by gaining them access to citizenship and services and justice which has evaded them for centuries.

Ruchira Gupta

The Life without Privilege: the Inhumane Consequences of Pro-Prostitution Politics, part 2. Ruchira Gupta's challenge to the UN

photo of Ruchira Gupta is from here
This is the 2nd in a three-part post.

Part 1: click here
Part 3: click here

What follows is the writing of Ruchira Gupta. Anything in brackets and italics was written by me.  -- Julian

I was the 2015 Woman of Distinction Awardee by the United Nations NGO CSW/NY. I gave the  Keynote speech on International Women's Day, March 8, at Apollo Theatre to 1500 feminist activists from the whole world, who had come to the New York to offer advice and consult with the United Nations at the 59th session of the United Nations meeting on the Commission on the Status of Women.

[The speech may be viewed and heard here, or by clicking on the link @ "Keynote speech" above:]

This was 20 years after the big Beijing Women's meeting in 1995 which created a platform for action for the UN and governments to improve the status of women. I had attended the Beijing as a young reporter. Inspired by the survivor testimonies of victims of Domestic Violence I heard at Beijing, I went back in 1996 and completed a documentary,  The Selling of Innocents highlighting the voices of victims of prostitution and sex trafficking. I won an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism and quit journalism to form an NGO, Apne Aap (self-empowerment) Women Worldwide, with the 22 women who had told their stories in my documentary, and had at one time formed a circle around me to protect me from a pimp who had stuck a knife at my throat when I was filming. This was 14 years ago. Apne Aap now has reached more than 20,000 girls, women and their family members  

And now I was honoured by my peer group of NGOs who had given me the CSW NGO/NY Woman of Distinction  award at the UN. I was thrilled. To my dismay I got an email from them on the eve of my keynote speech saying that UN Women had asked them to tell me that " I should not speak on prostitution or put UN Women, " on the spot. I was surprised that the UN was trying to censor an NGO and that they should tell me not to speak on prostitution when my work was with victims of prostitution.

I went ahead and gave a speech which was a call to action to all UN policy makers, governments and NGOs to include the "last" girl as they were drawing up policies and not just represent the viewpoint of the "first" girl. I also asked us as a global family to watch out for backdoor policy creation by some people in the UN who sent out notes and reports by independent experts asking for governments to legalize pimping and brothel keeping. I mentioned how this contradicted  the UN's own Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Protocol to end Trafficking in Persons. 

By asking for legalization of pimping, the UN Women note and an independent UNAIDS report let down the rights of the "last" girl who needed those who exploited her to be punished not protected and certainly not legalized. 

We have still to get an appointment with the UN on this, though we have been trying for two years!


1. On October, 2012, UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS released a report by independent experts titled: ”Sex Work and the Law in Asia and Pacific": On Page 7 of that report, they ask all countries to change laws to decriminalize pimping and brothel keeping. The exact quote is:

"Decriminalization of sex work requires the repeal of laws that criminalize activities associated with sex work, including removal of offences relating to soliciting; living on the earnings of sex work; procuring; pimping; the management and operation of brothels; and promoting or advertising services".

2. Apne Aap was shocked by this. Decriminalizing pimping and brothel would give impunity to all those who enslaved hundreds and thousand of girls and lived off selling them to 8-10 customers every night. In January, 2013, We wrote a letter to the head of UN Women saying:

"We ask that UN Women advocate with other UN agencies, as the agency charged with representing the voices of women, to recognize that commercial rape is the same as non-commercial rape and to remove all demands advocating for decriminalizing pimping and brothel-keeping. We want an end to impunity for all those who take advantage of our vulnerabilities to sexually exploit us. We want them to be held accountable and we want laws that penalize and punish them. By calling for the decriminalization of pimping, UN agencies are effectively helping the sex-industry and impeding our access to justice."

This was signed by 61 organizations representing the most vulnerable groups in South Asia and at the very minimum representing more than 150,00,00 people. 

3. We got a note from  UN Women saying they stood by the UNAIDS report:

"UN Women also supports the regulation of sex work in order to protect sex workers from abuse and violence."

4. We asked UN Women to clarify if they meant that regulation of sex work meant decriminalizing pimping and brothel keeping. If they did not agree with this recommendation of UNAIDS they should say so. We were told that we would get a meeting in August, 2013. It is March, 2014 and we have not heard anything. In the meantime, the Chair of the NCW in India says she wants to legalize prostitution by decriminalizing pimping and brothel keeping because that is a UN recommendation.

I have asked UN women to not to recognize JUST the rights of privileged and powerful women, but also of the weakest and last girls as they develop policies and decide budget allocations. I have said while they recognize the right of those with choices to be sex workers, they should recognize the absence of choices of hundred and thousands of prostituted women and girls.

I have also asked UN women not to create the dangerous precedent of creating policies through the backdoor, through notes and reports by independent experts and dilute agreed upon conventions and protocols by member states and civil society.

Ruchira Gupta

The Life without Privilege: the Inhumane Consequences of Pro-Prostitution Politics, part 1

photo of girls learning techniques for empowerment is from here
I sit here now in North America, typing, with a great deal of privilege. Here are a few ways that privilege exhibits itself:
  • I have clean water to drink.
  • I have enough food to eat.
  • I am not economically insecure.
  • I am not designated as dangerous due to my race.
  • I am not presumed a terrorist due to my religious and cultural ethnicity.
  • I am not assumed to be lazy due to my class.
  • I have good health care and choices about who I see for treatment.
  • I have a safe home to live and sleep in.
  • I have privacy when I want it.
  • My socially perceived gender does not target me as 'rapable'.
  • I am not raped daily.
  • My sexual life is not a function of pimps', brothel-keepers', and procurers' economic and sexual demands.
  • I have choices about when and where I am sexually available. I choose not to be sexually available to anyone and am not harassed, beaten, or murdered because of that decision.
  • My body belongs to me.
  • I am generally regarded as a human being with rights to be treated humanely.
  • When I am harmed, what happens to me is seen as harm.
  • Criminal justice systems and prison industrial complexes don't punish and imprison me for unjust reasons.
  • I can see similarly privileged people in the media portrayed as good, honorable, and moral.
  • Men across the globe do not assume I exist for the sole purpose of meeting the demand too many men have for gross sexual exploitation of female human beings, including unlimited visual and physical access to female incest and rape survivors of all ages.
If we went down the list and removed each form of privilege, what might the conditions be that define and limit my life?

I would be poor or economically insecure. Available clean water and nutritious food would not be givens, or easy to get, or reliably available. I'd be perceived and portrayed as a threat to the health and well-being of more privileged people. I'd be seen as someone who ought to endure serial rape and slavery but it would be called something else by the rapists and their apologists: it would be called sex, or sex work, or men having fun with me with my consent. I would not be safe. Violation, denigration, and other forms of violence would be a routine part of daily and nightly life. I would not have a place to sleep that was without threat of invasion, capture, and horrific mistreatment. I would not have any assurance of living another day. In the social-political sense, I would not be human to most people; I'd be invisible, unheard, and disposable.

In some political groups, there appears to be a pressing need to define something one way for everyone, regardless of how various people name their own experiences. For example, straight white men typically define prostitution as harmless and consensual and as something that ought to be legal for all involved. I find such a viewpoint spiritually callous and politically self-serving.

In various parts of the world, different conditions intertwine to make practices with the same name quite different in experience. I accept that each nation and state has its own historic, geographical, cultural, and social dynamics. Challenging and ending various forms of subjugation and terrorism by men against children and women require their own respective approaches. And of course women will define their conditions differently, in part because the conditions are different. So too are the structural locations of various groups of women.

Some identify and experience prostitution as slavery; some identify and experience it as sex work. It certainly is not for me to tell any woman how to define her experience. But engaged conversation can happen and I have asked several women, all young, how their respective plans to be a stripper, or a performer for a pornographer, gets them closer to achieving their longer-term goals. I ask them to consider the consequences of being repeatedly viewed or engaged with as an object of sexist men's desires. I ask them if they'd support their best friends making the same choices.

Promoting international human rights policy is a different matter than engaging with various populations about oppression. I'd argue that any human rights organization created to address globally oppressive conditions ought to be sure the most invisible and most silenced among us are brought into the center of our conversations, considerations, recommendations, and policies. If the organization is male-dominated, it ought to center the experiences of women. If it is majority-white, it ought to centralize the experiences of people of color. As I live in a society that is both, I see no reason not to center the experiences of women of color within and outside this country, especially groups of women generally invisible to the majority of U.S. citizens.

There are on-going efforts in various parts of the world to respond to the reality of prostitution as different populations experience it. There is often confusion among many about the difference between legalization and decriminalization as approaches; there are wide differences about who it is that is needing protection. 

For procuring and pimping men, the protection needed is a condom and appropriate laws making what they do legal. But those men want it also to be legal everywhere they prey. See this link for details on how 100 countries understand and legally deal with prostitution:

Legalization of prostitution sometimes means legalizing pimping and brothel-keeping, sometimes not. It sometimes means working to protect only traffickers and procurers from negative consequences, but not always. 

If pimps and procurers in 'First World' countries embrace their nations' efforts to legalize prostitution, or if it is already legal, the lack of accountability to committing rape 'at home' may serve to embolden their predation abroad. If it is not legal, they may travel to countries where it is, in order to commit those rapes with impunity. I support laws that render actions, such as the following, illegal and criminal: purchasing, renting, and physically and sexually abusing children and women--as those children and women define and describe it, not as it is defined for them by men or other more privileged people.

To frame prostitution primarily as a health crisis for predatory men in need of condoms and (even more) liberties is to abandon the human rights abuses endemic in places where trafficking, pimping, procuring, and brothel-keeping are done. Decentering or completely ignoring the perspectives and experiences of female and/or transgender human beings is wrong generally. But to do so from a position of structural or institutional power, even relative power, within human rights organizations, can too easily be utterly callous to the realities done to people who have identified their conditions as deplorable and atrocious.

I believe more privileged people ought to listen carefully to what less privileged people have to say about what is going on in the world. Not only that, but design their laws and policies to support the human rights of the least privileged. This blog exists to challenge and support the uprooting of core wrongs such as male and white supremacy, globalized exploitive capitalism, and 'First World' and anti-Indigenous colonialism, occupation, and genocide.

Newer approaches introduced in the last several years, such as one in Norway, identify a core problem when naming the problem of prostitution:

"A new law has come into force in Norway making the purchase of sex illegal.
Norwegian citizens caught paying for prostitutes at home or abroad could face a hefty fine or a six-month prison sentence, authorities say.
The prison sentence could be extended to three years in cases of child prostitution.
The Norwegian authorities say they want to stamp out sex tourism and street prostitution by targeting clients rather than prostitutes...
The tough new measures go further than similar ones introduced by other Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland.
There has already been a visible decrease in women working on the streets of central Oslo, local media report...
Prostitutes will be offered access to free education and health treatment for those with alcohol or drugs problems."
BBC News, "New Norway Law Bans Buying of Sex,", Jan. 1, 2009
This approach rises out of the work of activists such as Ruchira Gupta and the girls and women who are part of it. In part 2, I shall place her voice, and her experiences with those other women and girls, at the center of this discussion.

Part 2: click here
Part 3: click here