Social network sites: hotspot for sex trade
Published on October 1, 2013
DUBAI Sample these…
“Are you an escort that uses Facebook as well? If so join the Escorts on Facebook group. A great way to find your clients for discrete encounters…,” a post on Social Networking for Service Providers reads… “Want a girl…? I have many nationalities… Asians, Westerns, etc… we are in Jumeirah Beach Road… feel free to pop in at any hour…. However we can also send you girls to your places… the rates are Dh1,000 for one hour, Dh3,000 for an entire night…and 3,500 if it’s your place,” Sophie, a woman claiming to represent Dubai Escort Service, answers our call, her voice betraying a heavy Asian accent… “Become a safe successful escort,” Join Escorts on Facebook Group advertises as Consulting/Business Services…
Another call — this time to a Dubai-based Indian escort agency also on Facebook and “specialising in air hostesses and models” — elicits a similar response from a man. “We have in-call girls for Dh2,000 and out-call girls for Dh3,000. You can call anytime. We are in Karama…”
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc, are fast becoming hotspots for escort agencies, companions call girls and gigolos to ply their illegal trade in the UAE, an investigation by The Community revealed. Following a crackdown on their websites, a large number of escort services have now flocked to these popular sites to market themselves and hook up with potential clients in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman and Sharjah. Some have even set up their own Facebook homepages and groups with local cellphone numbers of their representatives displayed prominently alongside titillating images.
It’s not a hoax. And it takes no more than a phone call on the various etisalat and du numbers listed on the social networking and video sharing websites to prove it.
A call to a number picked from a Facebook post about the ‘availability’ of a ‘model’ had us talking to an agent called Rania. “Where are you putting up, Sir? We can have her sent to you this evening, or even now, if you want. She’s game for anything,” Rania said. A search on Twitter and Facebook kicks up scores of escort agencies and adult entertainment groups in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Not one to be left behind, prostitutes working independently, too, have left the streets and joined social networking sites, by-passing agents and madams who’d otherwise take a share of their earnings. Social networks are being used as a mean of advertising, promotion and client acquisition. According to one user, “The social network can be developed easily while keeping the user masked, thus confidentiality.”
In fact, an escort agent requesting anonymity said she is “soliciting more clients since she moved business on Facebook”. Not surprising, considering a whopping 45 per cent of the UAE’s population has an account on the social network goliath. Here are some other incredible facts: the UAE ranks among the top 10 nations in the world in terms of Facebook penetration. More than 60 per cent of Facebook users in the country are male, 50 per cent in their 20s. The growth is highest among youth between the ages of 15 and 29, who make up around one-third of the total UAE population. Twitter too commands a huge presence here. The UAE is home to around 40 per cent of all Twitter users in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. At least six escort agencies are on Twitter in Dubai alone, some with over 200 followers. The tweets are explicit and accompanied by a local number. One such tweet was from Kerry claiming to be from Malaysia. “Come honey, I will give you a juicy time,” she said, rattling out the direction of her apartment in Discovery Gardens when The Community called her. However, the real gamer in the dark world of escort services is YouTube. To augment visibility, escort agencies have uploaded videos of their girls along with steamy Hollywood and Bollywood clips. While scenes and themes change, the only thing that remains constant on the screen is the local contact number.
Posing as a client, we dialled a number posted on a YouTube upload on escorts. It was promptly answered by a woman who identified herself as Rose. “Where do you want the girl, in your apartment, or in a hotel? SMS me your e-mail address… I will send you the pictures of all our escort girls. You can choose and decide.” There are also services for the ladies — gigolo or male escort — posts on women who use them, as well as what might be called “special interest groups” on Facebook (warning nudity). For internet regulators, the ease with which ‘pleasure providers’ are able to connect
with ‘clients’ is worrying, considering their efforts to keep cyberspace clean. For years now, the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) is the government-appointed body responsible for ensuring that internet subject matter and imagery involving sex, racism, hate crimes and terrorism are not disseminated in the country. It faced some tough challenges but it always rose to them — coming down heavily on websites advertising escort services and those offering personal dating services. But for once the TRA appears to have been stumped. It classifies the use of social media for the flesh trade under the Prohibited Content Categories, specifically “Dating”. “The licensees are required to block access to these types of pages and they are actually implementing that on many of them. If any internet user reported such pages to the licensees, the licensees will block it in accordance with the current procedures. Depending on the type of the case and the violation, there are other authorities who are responsible for prosecuting offenders and violators which the TRA fully cooperate with and support to enforce the laws,” a TRA spokesperson said.
According to a Dubai Police official, if they come across a cyber-crime related to Facebook they will certainly investigate it. “It depends on the case and the complaint. Since Facebook’s main office is in the US, there are a lot of complex laws to deal with. But, most importantly, we have to first look into the complaint, and then we’ll go from there,” he said. Curiously, in New York too, prostitutes are relying on Facebook to engage clients. Sudhir Venkatesh, a sociology professor at Columbia University who has been analysing prostitution trends in the Big Apple estimates that the average escort in New York now finds 25 per cent of clients through Facebook.
Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities forbids users from posting content that is pornographic or contains nudity. It doesn’t have a pecific policy dealing with prostitution but Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for the social networking website, says they take a hard stance against illegal activities. “We’ll take down content, disable accounts, and take further action including escalating illegal activity to law enforcement. We strictly enforce this policy through proactive investigations and response to user reports,” he was cited as saying in a US media report. On Twitter all content is the responsibility of the person who originated it. “We may not monitor or control the content posted via the services and we cannot take responsibility for such content,” says a note on Twitter.
Meanwhile posts such as “I am the sexiest thing you’ve ever had…available for your most carnal desires… Call 056-1X6 X9 XX…now” continue to pour in…