Online prostitution and trafficking.

Author:Farley, Melissa
Position:VI. Sex Buyers', Traffickers', and Pimps' Use of the Internet B. Message Boards through VIII. Concluding Thoughts, with footnotes, p. 1066-1094 - Miscarriages of Justice
  1. Message Boards

    There is seamless communication between pimps and sex buyers, ensuring delivery of women to the men who want to buy them. Increasing numbers of online sex buyer communities support predatory behaviors and exchange information regarding where and how women can be bought. (181) The Internet facilitates communication between sellers (pimps and traffickers) and sex buyers (johns), enabling pimps and traffickers to respond rapidly to men's demand for purchased sex. By enabling men to evade arrest for soliciting prostitution since they can remain hidden, indoors, and anonymous, the Internet is sex buyer-friendly. (182) Its anonymity has created a private environment in which it is possible to engage in prostitution with a lower risk of arrest, fewer legal penalties, and less public exposure.

    With private messaging, warnings about police undercover agents and stings can be broadcast to brother johns. (183) Atlanta sex buyers for example discussed their awareness of law enforcement's infiltration of online conversations in their forum:

    GreekFan: We have always known LE looks at this Board and others. But as indicated, talk is not illegal. Only trusted mongers and PM [private messaging] gets the job done. Watch your back people, always. There is no substitute for that.

    Blazer: for all you newbies, elly (184) monitors and POSTS to this board so watch yo' six. They usually ask dumbass questions that make it obvious that they are elly in the first place, like, can you tell me where to go to monger in Cobb, I mean names and numbers please, or **** like that. The danger is ever present, however, and we must stay aware. (185)

    Sex trafficking industry businesses such as Room Service provide background checks that help sex buyers avoid arrest for prostitution. (186) A customer can pay a fee to have a background check run. (187) Then when the sex buyer contacts a prostituting woman, he can provide access to his background check that is now anonymous. This arrangement allows women in prostitution to screen out undercover police officers while enabling sex buyers to avoid blackmail that might be possible if a woman had his personal information. (188)

    Two cases illustrate sex buyers' use of the Internet to locate women and evade arrest. Southwest Companions, a members-only website and chatboard, had 1400 members including many professors and a former University of New Mexico president who served as leader of the site's "Hunt Club." (189) His job, in effect online pimping, was to recruit women in prostitution to travel to the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area. (190) According to reports, the website featured the ability to share information with other johns about police stings, to provide "physical descriptions and cell phone numbers of undercover police to help members avoid arrest." (191) The Southwest Companions website provided training videos on what to do if arrested for prostitution and posted sex buyers' evaluations of women's prostitution performances, including prices and rankings of the women. (192) Several of the arrested men were charged with promoting prostitution, conspiracy, and tampering with evidence. (193) Charges against the men running the Southwest Companions online prostitution ring were dismissed by a judge who ruled that the website was not physically a brothel, (194) illustrating the challenge of applying laws that were written before the Internet was invented. '"Sometimes states' laws are too specific and were written years ago, long before the Internet,' said Scott Cunningham, a Baylor University economics professor who has written about technology and prostitution. 'That's why we are seeing some successful challenges to laws when websites are involved.'" (195)

    The Minnesota Nice Guys, a self-named sex buyer group, was organized by a pimp who was a former assistant county attorney. (196) The pimp received high ratings on Theeroticreview (TER), a sex buyers' message board, for providing attractive and compliant women to sex buyers, often trafficking undocumented immigrants. (197) The attorney/pimp was charged with 6 felony counts of promoting prostitution. (198) Although the pimp admitted weakness of character, the judge seemed to empathize with his "medical fragility" and sentenced him only to probation. (199)

    Global communications forums on the Internet provide an anonymous social support network for predatory men to share their experiences, legitimize their behaviors, and mentor inexperienced sex buyers. The Internet plays a crucial role in validating the norms, cultures, and beliefs of the sex buyers' subculture. A language that normalizes sexual predation is developed in online chat rooms and bulletin boards. Because of the stigma of the words johns or tricks, online sex buyers refer to themselves as mongers, trailers, or hobbyists. (200)

    While allegedly serving as community discussion forums, message boards aimed at sex buyers ("hobbyists") and women in prostitution ("providers") are in fact sites where reviews of women in prostitution occur and where prostitution is facilitated. (201) Buyers post judgmental, often nasty reviews of women that pressure the women to act as if they enjoy the rape-like sex of prostitution. (202) Consequences from negative message board reviews are rapid and usually result in decreased earnings. (203) The message board rating system in effect coerces women to perform sex acts that they would prefer not to so that they can obtain good ratings and thereby maintain an income amount that is frequently set by pimps. (204) The women who perform acts of prostitution in such a way that they convince sex buyers they truly enjoy the sex of prostitution, or who permit the buyer to rationalize his behavior, are praised as providing a "Girlfriend Experience." (205) Research findings suggest that a surprisingly high number of sex buyers actually believe that women enjoy the sex of prostitution. (206) In a study of 110 Scottish sex buyers, 49% believed that women in prostitution were sexually satisfied with sex with johns more than half of the time. (207)

    Discussion forums such as theeeroticreview (TER) and bigdoggie groom men to buy sex. (208) These misogynist sites help sex buyers locate women and teach them how to relentlessly bargain down prices when they buy sex. (209) Reflecting a mistrust of women in prostitution, the men who control TER describe its message board system as

    the section where the guys get to review providers who advertise on the web. You can now know exactly what to expect before you make the call and spend your hard earned money. The bonus is that the opinions expressed are real and not sent in by the adult entertainers themselves. It's about time! (210) In August 2008 there were more than 500,000 reviews of 94,000 women in prostitution on TER. (211) Among other topics, TER offers discussion forums on how to buy sex from pornography actresses, legal concerns, and a special forum for sex buyers over age sixty. (212)

    The message boards facilitate the racist and sexist objectification of women in prostitution. Women are referred to as SWs [sex workers] and are almost always defined by ethnicity. (213) For example, "a week & 1/2 ago I was driving by 111th & saw 5 SW's. 3 BSW's & 1 WSW & 1 LSW." (214) Men use the term "mileage" to refer to women whose appearances reflect the damage inflicted on them by men who use them for sex. (215) "High mileage" means that women are older or unattractive. (216) A woman spoke about sex buyers who obsessively evaluate the sexual performance of every woman used in prostitution in special anticipation of writing about her for other men: "He's the type of john I religiously steer away from, and that's largely due to his immersion in review board 'culture.'" (217) What is it about "message board culture" that women in prostitution dislike?

    TER reviews are primarily based on [sexual] performance ... and appearance.... You, as a provider, are dehumanized. TER hobbyists, feeding on these reviews, see you as less than human. They are looking for 5-star blowjobs and model looks, rather than a human being with a personality. Instead of respecting your limits and preferences, they expect you to give them what it says you provided someone else in your last review. (218) Described by another pimp as "the most influential man in the prostitution business in America," (219) CEO of TER Dave Elms and other sex buyers have been accused of using the threat of poor ratings to extort sex acts, perform unsafe sex, or decrease prices. (220) Elms, who founded TER in 1999 with the goal of empowering sex buyers, has been accused of bribery and rape. (221) TER was acquired in 2004 by Treehouse Park, a company that currently operates out of the Netherlands--reflecting the global nature of the sex trafficking industry. (222)

    Sex buyers' posts promote the prostitution of the women as they lobby for their favorites. (223) Yet there has been resistance to the selling of women on message boards. (224) A British member of Parliament asked California's Governor in 2009 to shut down the US-owned punternet website that permits men to rate British women in prostitution. (225) While message boards are used to thwart law enforcement efforts with posts about where police stings are occurring and suggestions about how to avoid law enforcement actions, (226) at the same time, message boards can be used to monitor and prosecute criminal activity. The information on these sites can provide intelligence for police officers investigating prostitution and trafficking. (227) Message boards and online classifieds have provided an opportunity for sting operations. (228) Online john community sites such as TER can deter prostitution and trafficking when police monitoring of the site is publicized with posted messages such as "Police are present." This would likely create fear among sex buyers and pimps who would flee the site. Public exposure has been...

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