WikiLeaks has released tens of thousands of new US embassy cables, and I spent almost every waking hour of a whole day looking at the results. I don’t have the time to read everything, but you might be interested in getting a peek at how diplomats talk about both sex workers and relevant policies in foreign countries.
See the results for sex work, whore, prostitut*, stripper, porn, transgender, transsexual, transvestite, LGBT, lesbian, bisexual, and homosexual. (Most of the ho-related results are about the US Trafficking in Persons Report and horror stories that conflate all sex work with forced trafficking and slavery, or mention it alongside drug addiction as a social ill to fix.)
Some bits I found about sex work, plus one odd one about a trans woman:
Out of 10 mentions of the word “whore,” 6 are quotations of someone using it as an insult. Two are mentions of a women’s rights NGO called “Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Submissives).” Two more uses the term to refer to stigma.
A report on people organizing against sex work criminalization in Rwanda from a January 2010 cable. “Rwandan civil society is weak and neither its members nor the government fully understands its role. These recent efforts may be an indicator of increasing strength and organization.”
According to a January 2010 cable, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “German government funds” have been used to establish “rehabilitation centers for women engaged in prostitution.” (I wonder if these centers are anything like the forced rehabs in Cambodiawhere sex workers report violence, sexual assault, and even rape at the hands of their “saviors”?)
In a report on “women’s issues” from the Czech Republic in January of 2010, the author praises, without even a hint of irony, a government conference on reducing prostitution which had lectures on leadership from female entrepreneurs. (As though prostitution and female entrepreneurship are opposing concepts!)
A December 2009 cable from Kenya is surprised by a survey’s findings on gay/male prostitution. “…a 2007 Kenya Aids Indicator Survey found that male prostitution occurs throughout the country and that eighty-one percent of the clients are Kenyan. These findings run contrary to the perception that LGBT activity is concentrated in Coast province and initiated by tourists.” A 2009 cable from the Philippines reports something similar: “about 70% of prostitution clientele are local Filipinos, and only 30% are foreigners.” (Gasp! You mean it’s not just evil white Westerners, high on their internet porn “addictions,” who buy sex in foreign countries?)
A December 2009 cable from Tanzania explains how anti-prostitution laws are selectively used to persecute homosexuals. “Dr. Emmanuel Kandusi, Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights Promotion, told Poloff that 39 individuals arrested on prostitution charges on October 7 were targeted for their membership in gay and lesbian support groups. […] Gay rights activist and CPSS member Ali Semsella related to Poloff other incidents of harassment and arrest. For example, a group of seven individuals arrested in January on charges of prostitution continue to be held in remand prison because they could not make the Tsh 500,000 bail (USD380).”
An October 2009 cable from the Philippines covers how a police officer moonlighting as a pimp got caught in an NGO sting and convicted under anti-trafficking laws. The cop apparently said “that he was the club’s manager and that he had four underage girls working for him that they could take out of the club for sex. [He] told [the NGO workers] not to worry about any legal problems because he was a police officer and could protect them. He even offered to escort them to a hotel to ensure there would be no problems.” At trial, though, one of the teenage girls in question said that she had never been forced to have sex with anyone.
An April 2009 cable from Vietnam posts some snark on the subject of how to prevent prostitution in karaoke bars. It quotes an unnamed local blogger who suggests, “To prevent prostitution, all women entering a karaoke bar must be accompanied by boyfriend or husband; an official inspector will check her certificate of marriage or certificate proving girlfriend or boyfriend-ship.”
A December 2008 cable from Turkey makes a rare mention of sex workers’ rights activism, even going so far as concluding, “MEASURES TO CURTAIL LEGAL PROSTITUTION MAY EXPOSE PROSTITUTES TO GREATER ABUSE… While concerned about the plight of trafficked women in Turkey, these sex workers and advocates emphasized the need for protection, fair housing and respect for Turkey’s prostitutes, who are often abused by residents, clients and police.”
A September 2008 cable from Turkey reports that a trans woman helped overthrow the previous government. “Actress Nurseli Idiz, her manager Seyhan Soylu and lawyer Levent Temiz were taken into custody in Istanbul… Papers recall that Soylu, a transvestite, is believed to have organized a scheme which sparked a political scandal ahead of the ‘February 28’ process in 1997, and led to the collapse of the government of the Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan.” (When not plotting coups, Seyhan Soylu developed a reality TV show about pitting various faiths against each other in a competition to convert atheists.)
An April 2007 cable from Korea reports that even though prostitution was criminalized in 2004, it still exists, and was only driven underground. “As pressure against the prostitution industry mounted, brothel owners began to shift their work to alternate venues such as massage parlors, barber shops and singing rooms although a few traditional red-light districts continue to operate. The Internet also became a popular method to arrange sexual encounters because it provided protection for business owners who wanted to keep a low profile.” Here’s an interesting tactic in the quest to end demand: “A serious debate on the issue erupted late last year as MOGEF introduced a plan where men would be paid if they promised not to engage in prostitution as part of the traditional end-of-year parties hosted by their employers.”
A September 2006 cable from Cambodia questions the effectiveness of arresting suspected prostitutes and forcing them into “rehab” centers. “Targeting sex workers alone is not a viable solution to ridding Cambodia of prostitution nor is it particularly effective in addressing trafficking in persons. The fact that no pimps or brothel owners have been held responsible after the raids on nine brothels raises questions as to the government’s motivations. Police could have done a better job identifying and arresting the pimps and closing down the brothels, instead of only rounding up the prostitutes and turning them over to AFESIP.” (AFESIP is an NGO founded by Somaly Mam, who has come under fire by sex workers in Cambodia for violence and abuse in her “rehabilitation centers.”)
A July 2006 cable from Armenia reports disappointment at the unexciting realities of “trafficking” of Armenian women. “We went to Vanadzor expecting to hear stories of illicit smuggling across borders and of girls lured into prostitution under false pretenses. What we heard was significantly more pedestrian… And while the prostitutes and the NGO employees we met said sometimes women are abused in the brothels, or aren’t paid in full, they said the greater part of women generally understand what they are getting themselves into, and may already have worked as prostitutes for years.” The cable concludes, “…fist-banging won’t change the fact that many prostitutes work simply to get food on the table, and that they believe they will be paid better in Turkey or the UAE. The Armenian government cannot improve a bad economy with stricter laws and harsher sentencing. While both are needed here, Armenia has to offer these women an alternative to turning tricks if it is to eradicate trafficking.”
Three cables from June 2006 talk about the sex trafficking scare around the World Cup in Berlin. One notes, “Over 20 NGOs throughout Germany have received government funds to conduct dozens of trafficking prevention and awareness campaigns.” It goes on to report on the raid of 48 Munich brothels in search of said trafficking victims, though it couldn’t find any. Another cable reports on raids in Hesse, where hundreds of police officers were involved in a massive sweep that saw 74 women detained. A police officer “pointed out that many women do not initially see themselves as victims but come to that realization after counseling and assistance.” […] “Regarding the large-scale raids on May 10, [police chief] Thiel said police findings demonstrate there has been no substantial increase in TIP and that the oft-repeated figure of 40,000 prostitutes converging on Germany for the FIFA World Cup is a gross exaggeration.” A third cable declares that in spite of being unable to find trafficking victims, the whole mess is a victory anyway. “Extensive pre-World Cup police raids of brothels and other venues around Germany (reported refs C through F) sent a clear message to traffickers that police are watching and likely dissuaded many traffickers from expanding their operations.”
A December 2005 cable from Turkey expresses concern about the growing popularity of trans prostitutes, giving a very detailed rundown on where trans prostitutes can be found. “Transvestites have taken over the streets. In recent years the rate of transvestite prostitution has increased, in particular on Istanbul streets. Until ten years ago, they were seen only on the Cevizlibag-Merter portion of the D-100 highway; now they are everywhere… On weekends there is a transvestite prostitute every five meters from Tarlabasi Boulevard to Harbiye.”
A November 2005 cable from Thailand paints popular vacation spot Pattaya as filled with prostitutes, fugitives, crazies, drunk Americans wandering into traffic, and “heartbroken loners”. “Thailand has one of the highest rates in the world of death by non-natural causes for Amcits. After Bangkok itself, most Amcit deaths in Thailand occur in Pattaya: this year 21 of the 106 non-natural Amcit deaths in Thailand have occurred there. The leading causes of death are traffic accidents (usually involving alcohol), drug overdoses (ranging from laced cocaine to using Viagra without a prescription), suicides (from heartbroken loners) and homicides… Many American fugitives have taken up residence in Pattaya over the years, along with people who should be getting treatment for mental illness, but are not.” The cable’s conclusion: “As Pattaya continues to grow, so will the numbers of American citizens that go there to work, play, retire, and die.” (Best tourism slogan I’ve ever read!)
A November 2005 cable from the Czech Republic is pleased that left- and right-wing members of the Czech Parliament came together to reject a bill taking steps towards legalized prostitution. “Though clearly a positive development, the defeat of legalized prostitution still leaves the sex trade in a highly ambiguous position in a country where trafficking in persons remains a problem. Although the Czechs are clearly unwilling to legalize prostitution, there is also little will to adopt more stringent steps to criminalize the practice.” (Another 2005 cable on the subject mentions MPs being lectured by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, an international feminist anti-sex worker group, which also lobbied against San Francisco’s Proposition K.)
A bizarre August 2004 cable from Nigeria details the case of “juju men” (shamans/witch doctors) convicted of sex trafficking. “The two juju men, Prince Omoruyi of Ehengbuda shrine and Goddy Akhimeon of Uromi, were brought into the press conference and asked by NAPTIP’s head of investigation to describe the items on display, which had been confiscated from their shrines. Clippings of women’s pubic hair and fingernails would be kept in the shrine until the ‘curse’ was lifted. The juju men explained that they ‘blessed’ the semen of male customers of prostitutes in order to prevent the transmission of AIDS; a pile of semen-stained tissues was displayed among the evidence.”
An April 2004 cable from the Netherlands expresses annoyance at the country’s legalized prostitution, but notes we need their troops for our wars. “We don’t like their social policies, but even G/TIP admits the causal link between legalization of prostitution and trafficking has not been proven.” The cable author begs its reader to not downgrade the Netherlands’ ranking in the Traffickings in Persons index. Doing so would “undermine the forceful public outreach we have been making to strengthen the alliance. The Dutch are extremely valuable allies to us, providing troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and supporting us on transatlantic and global issues. In the next month, the government faces a delicate vote in parliament over extending Iraq troop deployment and the MFA Political Director told me Friday that a decision to put the Netherlands in Tier 2 would be damaging and could not come at a worse time.”
A February 2003 cable from Canada tries to clumsily quantify the amount of local prostitution and sex trafficking. Their methodology? Noting that there are 20 pages of escort ads in the phone book. “THESE ADS, UP FROM 17 PAGES IN 2002 AND 2 IN 1998, HIGHLIGHT WHAT A BIG BUSINESS THE SEX TRADE HAS BECOME IN QUEBEC.” The report concludes that motorcycle gangs are the kingpins running the sex industry in Quebec. The guesses in the cable reads like a 1970s sexploitation novel: “IN THE OPINION OF POST’S POLICE CONTACT, ONCE GIRLS ARE BROUGHT INTO A TRAFFICKING RING, THEY FACE A SLIPPERY SLOPE. VULNERABLE GIRLS, DRAWN TO OFFERS OF PROTECTION AND CARE, OFTEN THINK THEY ARE IN LOVE WITH THEIR “PROTECTOR.” COERCED INTO NUDE DANCING, THEN PROSTITUTION, THE GIRLS QUICKLY BECOME PART OF A SEAMY WORLD…”
2014 Update: The Carter cables
Though not nearly as big a list as my previous roundup of mentions of sex workers in US diplomatic cables, I did take a look though the latest Wikileaks release for the term “prostitute.” The Carter Cables, as they’ve been titled, are 367124 new items in the WikiLeaks Public Library of US Diplomacy.
An October 1973 cable from South Korea complains about how “unenlightened” and unconcerned with “individual rights” the country’s judicial system is because its prosecutors are appealing an initial “not guilty” verdict against two US soldiers who raped a local prostitute. The military seeks to get the men off the hook by finding possible technical errors in due process.
An August 1974 cable from the Netherlands reports on Christians living in tents protesting in the red light district, who claim they fear arson attack from “100 pimps”: “POLICE SPOKESMAN TOLD LEADERS BILL LOWRY AND JOE GREER THAT GROUP COULD PREACH GOSPEL ON STREETS BUT COULD NOT PREVENT PROSTITUTES FROM RECEIVING CUSTOMERS, WHO RESENTED DISTURBANCES IN VICINITY OF BROTHELS. HE SAID THAT POLICE WILL ARREST ANY MEMBER OF GROUP WHO VIOLATES DUTCH LAW AS WELL AS TAKE ACTION AGAINST ANY PROSTITUTE OR PROCURER WHO ASSAULTS MEMBER OF GROUP. IN RESPONSE, ACCORDING TO POLICE CONTACT, LOWRY AND GREER INDICATED THAT GROUP WILL CONTINUE TO PREACH IN RED LIGHT DISTRICT, BUT PROMISED THAT MEMBERS WILL OPERATE WITHIN FRAMEWORK OF DUTCH LAW… LOWRY SAID THAT HE HAD INFORMED POLICE OF RUMOR THAT 100 PIMPS MIGHT ATTEMPT TO BURN DOWN TENT SAME NIGHT.”
A March 1975 cable from Malta cable tells of international military solidarity in helping a US Navy seaman who murdered a prostitute secretly escape the country: “SEAMAN HAD BEEN CHARGED IN 1971 WITH THE MURDER OF A MALTESE PROSTITUTE BUT HAD BEEN FOUND TO BE INSANE BY THE MALTESE COURTS AND THEREAFTER INCARCERATED IN A MALTESE MENTAL HOSPITAL. OUR BASIC ARGUMENT WAS THAT SINCE NEITHER WE NOR GOM DESIRED ANY PUBLICITY CONCERNING THE SEAMAN’S EVACUATION FROM MALTA, WE THOUGHT THE SIMPLEST AND SUREST WAY WOULD BE VIA A QUICK TURN-AROUND USN FLIGHT TO THE RAF PORTION OF THE AIRFIELD HERE. GOM ATTORNEY GENERAL MIZZI, TO WHOM AMBASSADOR MADE HIS APPROACH, ACCEPTED THAT THIS WOULD BE BEST WAY OF AVOIDING PUBLICITY AND SOMEWHAT NERVOUSLY AGREED TO PUT SUGGESTION TO MINTOFF. WE RECEIVED AN IMMEDIATE AND VIGOROUS NEGATIVE RESPONSE: ‘NO USG MILITARY AIRCRAFT OF ANY KIND.’ AS SOME ADDRESSEES AWARE, RAF THEN CAME TO OUR RESCUE AND EVACUATED SEAMAN FOR US.”
Three 1974-1975 cables from Greece discuss some typical interactions between US soldiers and prostitutes. American sailors charged with beating and robbing prostitutes in two separate incidents: “TO DATE, GREEK PRESS HAS NOT GIVEN AS WIDE OR EMOTIONAL COVERAGE TO THESE INCIDENTS AS IN PREVIOUS INSTANCES OF ASSAULTS BY U.S. MILITARY PERSONNEL ON GREEK CITIZENS.” Five members of the US Army suspected in murdering an alleged prostitute in Crete. A follow-up to that report notes the group of men getting in “altercations” with cab drivers on the same name as the murder.
A July 1977 cable from Chad details the murder of a Florida man for attempting to rob a prostitute: “HE MET A LOCAL PROSTITUTE AT THE ‘LE SELECT’ NIGHT CLUB AND DECIDED TO GO HOME WITH HER… SOMETIME IN THE EARLY MORNING OF 1 JULY, SUBJECT HAD FINISHED WITH THE GIRL AND WANTED TO DEPART. HE BECAME INVOLVED IN A DISPUTE WITH THE GIRL ABOUT MONEY. APPARENTLY HE DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO PAY HER, AND SHE DEMANDED SOMETHING OF VALUE AS COLLATERAL. A SCUFFLE ENSUED AND SUBJECT PUSHED THE GIRL AGAINST A WALL, KICKED HER DOOR DOWN, AND RAN AWAY. BUT THE GIRL LIVED IN A WALLED COMPOUND, AND SUBJECT HAD TO SCALE THE WALL TO GET AWAY. WHILE HE WAS SCALING THE WALL, THE GIRL CALLED OUT THAT THERE WAS A THIEF. WHILE MR. TEOFANI WAS ON TOP OF THE WALL, PREPARING TO JUMP TO THE STREET BELOW, A NEIGHBOR THREW A LOCAL STYLE THROWING KNIFE THAT PENETRATED MR. TEOFANY’S CHEST OVER THE HEART. HE APPARENTLY FELL TO THE STREET, SUCCEEDED IN PULLING OUT THE KNIFE, STAGGERED A FEW FEET AND DIED. ACCORDING TO THE POLICE, SUBJECT WAS NOT ROBBED AS HAD ORIGINALLY BEEN THOUGHT.”