The Kerala police appear to have had some amount of success in busting a sex racket. However, physical red-light areas and women on street corners are increasingly disappearing into the virtual world and trafficking too may be on the rise.
Sex work in India spans genders and sexualities but the law is not just deliberately obtuse to these realities, it arbitrarily criminalises certain aspects of sex work. A sexual act between two consenting adults is permitted, but certain aspects of this such as soliciting clients in public places, pimping etc, are criminalised. Also, running a brothel is illegal.
Many cities have red-light areas but with a move towards gentrification, many of these areas are being re-developed. Whether because of this or independently, sexual dalliances are increasingly going online, as the internet provides a platform for people to look for loopholes in the law.
A simple internet search on free online classified ad services operating in India, such as Craigslist and Locanto, shows unsurprising results.
One simply needs to venture into the ‘beauty services’ category on the Bengaluru Craigslist to find hundreds of listings for ‘call girl services’ or ‘escort services’ in the city. Most of them have the same person or number as a contact, along with the picture of an escort.
The term ‘escort’ does not directly imply ‘sex for money’. It could simply mean a service where a person of the opposite sex spends time with the customer, dines with them, and gives company, and is therefore legal. Sex isn’t mentioned anywhere in most of these ads, and they have been worded in such a manner that a sexual act isn’t even implied, even if it does take place in reality. So although it is logical to conclude that most of these escort service providers are also engaged in prostitution as well, it cannot be verified.
That some of these are pimps and agents – illegal under Indian law – is quite obvious. This advertisement below, for example, pretty explicitly has ‘fun and sex’ as the title. Upon clicking, we reach a picture of a girl with the text reading, “sexy and auntys and hot collage girls are available (sic)”. Although there is no mention of any rate-card, figuring out that this isn’t a free service is no rocket science.
On the other website Locanto, there is an even lesser pretence of what it is engaged in. A search for ‘Female Escort’ lists some 18,319 results in Bangalore alone.
In this case, you not only have a classified advertisement with the name of a person providing women and girls for ‘full sex – full enjoy’, but it also mentions rates, timings, and a list of ‘sexual acts’ that the girl will be willing to perform. Accommodation is also provided along with “100% satisfaction guaranteed”.
Here are two more we found.
As the virtual world becomes the go-to place for trafficking and sexual services, the police have had to step up their efforts in sifting through legal and illegal activity, and also figure out ways to ensure that minors do not find their way into such sex rackets.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Cyberabad) in Hyderabad Jayaram, who handles the Cyber Crimes cell says, “Usually, we try to track down the websites itself and notice the kind of content that they are offering. If it is clearly explicit and openly declaring prostitution, we arrest the people behind it”.
On escort services being used to veil prostitution due to their legality he says, “If everything looks okay and one person is just escorting another, it is okay. However, it could eventually lead one to prostitution and we try our best to make sure that such situations do not arise."
In addition to the Kerala case, an online racket was busted in Goa this May, in Vadodara last October and in Bengaluru last February. But even then, such solicitors continue to operate without any problem, and must be reined in by the authorities. And also, all these classified websites must regulate the kind of advertisements that are posted on them, so that they are in sync with Indian laws.