New Technologies and the Sex Industry

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New Technologies and the Sex Industry

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The internet provides a unique space and tool for sex workers.  Not only can it be used for advertising and fielding clients, it can become a true community in which sex workers can meet other sex workers, run ugly mug schemes, swap advice, share health tips and information, provide support, etc. (See an example here)  One group which uses the web particularly heavily is male prostitutes.  These sex workers have more difficulty in selling sex than women, 'traditional' set-ups do not cater for male prostitutes.  On their own homepages or in internet chat rooms male prostitutes can meet their clients.

In web forums clients can give feedback on sessions with prostitutes, and whilst when positive these reviews can really enhance business, (particularly if the sex worker has a homepage with photos)  the opposite can be true if a client gives a bad review.

Across Europe and the world the web is used to sell sex, sexual images and services.  Where advertising is illegal in a country, 'cyberspace' provides a space which is difficult to regulate and easy to use, lending itself to advertising of any kind, the sex industry in particular.  Clients are likely to be familiar with the internet as a tool as it allows anonymity and gives a sense of power, there are millions of sexual images available online.  One example of men using the web to share information on prostitutes is the World Sex Guide, which provides city-by-city information on buying sex across the globe.  It includes information on prices, the law, police habits, where to go, what to expect: in short all the information needed to find sex for sale in a foreign/new city.

There are obviously strong criticisms of the internet as a tool for sexual exploitation.  Donna Hughes claims many of the photographs on the web look like modelling shots, and suggests many women may not know their photos have been used on the net, whilst suffering the consequences of indignity and stigma if identified.  Hughes explains the anonymity factor of the web for sex users:  "Formerly men used to have to remove themselves from their community by three levels [to find extreme, violent pornography]. First, they had to go somewhere, physically, then know where to go, and then know how to find it. The Web makes it very easy to get that far removed very quickly."  In The Use of New Communications and Information Technologies for Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children she goes on to describe the reasons new technologies are attractive to exploiters of women and children.  TV (the large number of cable channels means low-budget filmed pornography is almost guaranteed to sell);  Postal services are still commonly used to anonymously distribute illegal materials (particularly child pornography);  Scanners and digitisers allow old materials to be enhanced or published on the web, thus perpetrators can make money without producing new materials (especially child pornography); DVD allows the creation of interactive movies shot from different angles and/or with a choice of plots so that the user can participate in the movie (Hughes points to the implications on expectations of real relationships);  Usenet newsgroups allow interested parties to exchange information on availability of materials; Websites are the most common form of static and streamed image distribution and often include bulletin boards on which viewers can comment on the sites.  Brothels can also be advertised, Hughes gives this example; Chat rooms (real time synchronous communication) provide a forum for 'child predators' (she describes the Baehring case in which a minor was contacted in a chat room and persuaded to leave her US home and travel to Athens (the perpetrator was caught and girl found after Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Florida, U.S. State Department, U.S. Customs, U.S. Postal Inspectors, the FBI, Interpol, U.S. Embassy in Greece, the Greek Consulate and Greek police were engaged in the search);  Webcams (videochat) make personal chat rooms visual, not only, the technology can be used to create pay per view virtual brothels or 'big brother' porn houses see the rape camp case; File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is an old but secure way of transferring files from one PC to another, now superceded by Peer to Peer Networking software which allows the crreation of an open, decentralized systemof indexed file swapping (examples of peer to peer networks include: Napster, Scour Exchange, Gnutella, Freenet, Imesh).  The software is so attractive because it is fast, high volume and untraceable.  Untraceability and anonymity on the web are added by anonymous remailers, encryption and digital cameras, whic allow practically anyone to capture illegal and/or exploitative images and transfer them anonymously to the internet and around the globe. 

The ubiquitousness of pornography pushes the boundaries: A site registered in Russia boasts to be 'the best and most violent rape sit on earth' with 'several 100s of rape pics' it advertises 'violent rapes, ass rapes, mouth rapes,  gang rapes, nigger rapes,  torn vaginas and tortured clits'.  Hughes observes "there is nothing that cannot happen on the internet".

"The Internet industry exists today because of the prostitution industry" writes Donna Hughes in The Sex Industry and the Internet Industry

Through financial and technological interdependence, the sex industry and the Internet industry have become partners in the globalization of sexual exploitation. In 2000, there were an estimated 280,000 sex industry sites on the Internet. Last year, the online 'adult entertainment industry' as the sexual exploitation industry is called, made US$1.7 billion dollars, with several Web sites making over US$150 million each"


But beyond this 'virtual' sex industry, how big is prostitution in the EU? How many sex workers work in the region?


How Many Sex Workers?





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