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While so-called prostitution websites facilitate sex trafficking, banning them is not the answer

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prostitution websites facilitate sex trafficking

A cross-party group of British lawmakers last week called for the UK Government to follow in America’s footsteps by banning so-called prostitution websites, which are widely used by human traffickers to advertise the services of sex slaves. Suggesting there is mounting evidence that sites such as Vivastreet and Adultwork are fuelling an increase in the sexual exploitation and trafficking of vulnerable women, many of whom are smuggled into the UK to be forced into sex work, members of the All-Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade urged the UK Home Office to make the owners of these sites accountable for profiting from sexual exploitation.

The move comes after US President Donald Trump signed a bill that gave prosecutors and victims of sexual exploitation the power to take legal action against websites that host adverts for sex work. The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) allows criminal and civil actions against a website if its conduct violates sex trafficking laws. Prior to the act coming into force, classified website Craigslist closed down its personal listings in a bid to make sure it did not face prosecution, arguing it could not risk jeopardising all of its other services in the event that its personal pages were misused. Reddit also took down pages relating to the sale of services that involve “physical sexual contact”.

On both sides of the Atlantic, sex worker advocates have said outlawing these types of websites is a disastrous idea, and will actually put prostitutes and trafficked persons in greater danger. Critics of the new US law argue that banning so-called prostitution websites prevents consensual sex workers from safely screening potential customers, and could actually aid traffickers by further isolating their victims. Many sex workers and trafficking victims use internet forums to access information and resources, raising fears that outlawing them could stop them from taking part in important conversations about education and safety. Speaking with Motherboard at the end of April, just after FOSTA had been signed into law, Laura LeMoon, co-founder and Director of harm reduction non-profit Safe Night Access Project Seattle, said she had seen evidence that the bill had actually increased sex trafficking, effectively pushing sex workers back into the hands of pimps.

In the UK, calls for a British equivalent of FOSTA have been met with similar opposition. As MPs debated the issue last week, a coalition of sex worker advocacy groups protested outside Parliament, describing the proposals as a “Trump-inspired” effort to remove sex workers from the internet and put them into “more exploitative and harmful situations”. Writing for the Conversation in response to the debate, academic Belinda Brooks-Gordon told readers that banning so-called prostitution websites will simply drive sex workers underground or onto the back streets, placing both trafficked and consensual prostitutes in greater danger. A recent study conducted by the University of Leicester found that online tools and social media platforms had actually improved the safety of sex workers, “enabling independent working and greater control over working circumstances, and improving safety strategies”.

But despite the wide-ranging criticism of FOSTA and opposition to discussion of the introduction of a UK equivalent, it is indisputable that the internet plays a key role in facilitating the crimes of sex traffickers. In both America and the UK, trafficking gangs have routinely used classified listing services to advertise the sexual services of their victims. In Britain, sex traffickers regularly set up so-called “pop-up brothels”, where prostitutes are forced to work for short periods of time before being moved on to avoid police attention. Trafficking gangs use websites such as Vivastreet and Adultwork to advertise the services of their victims as they move from location to location, making it easy for them to set up shop in new areas. In February, Airbnb teamed up with US anti-trafficking charity Polaris in a bid to prevent the service being used by human traffickers who sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls. Days later, police in the Canadian city of Toronto warned that traffickers were renting out Airbnb properties and using them as pop-up brothels staffed by victims whose details were posted on classified listing websites.

While there is little doubt that organised crime networks are using online personal listing services to sell the sexual services of trafficking victims, all manner of other online platforms are all too often used by criminals to facilitate a range of different forms of criminality, be it people smuggling, drug dealing or child sexual exploitation. Rather than banning online services that are used by consensual sex workers, the UK Government would be better advised to avoid following America’s lead and instead work with the industry on developing new methods to better identify cases in which personal listings are being used by sex traffickers. Pursuing the US model will only result in pushing sex trafficking further underground, and consensual sex workers being exposed to greater risk. As banning so-called prostitution websites will do little to tackle the problem of sex trafficking, legislators should look to address the root causes of the problem, rather than one of the symptoms.

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Global UN-backed crackdown on illicit tobacco comes into force in September

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A treaty backed by the UN intended to disrupt the global illicit trade in tobacco products will come into force on 25 September, marking the introduction of a range of new measures agreed by a coalition of nations in response to the growing illegal cross-border trade in counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes and rolling tobacco.

The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products was developed as a response to the growing international illicit trade in tobacco products, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) says is a significant threat to public health.

In a document outlining the scope of the treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control explains how the illegal trade in tobacco products boosts access to and lowers the price of cigarettes, thus fuelling the tobacco epidemic and undermining tobacco control policies.

According to the UN, the overnight elimination of the global illicit trade in tobacco would result in governments across the globe receiving an immediate revenue boost of at least $31 billion.

Elsewhere, studies have suggested that ending black market sales of tobacco products could save in excess of 160,000 lives a year from 2030.

To date, 45 countries and nations from the European Union have ratified the treaty, but the UN has said it expects many others to do so over the course of the coming months.

The treaty aims to secure the supply chain of tobacco products, and will require the establishment of a global tracking and tracing regime within five years.

Other provisions to ensure control of the supply chain cover licensing, due diligence, record keeping, and security and preventive measures, as well as measures in relation to online and telecommunication-based sales, duty free sales, and free zones and international transit.

Commenting on the treaty, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The illicit trade of tobacco products creates a shadowy market that not only destroys health, but also fuels organised crime and deprives governments of tax revenues.”

Speaking after the British government ratified the treaty last month, the Exchequer Secretary to the UK Treasury Robert Jenrick said: “Illicit tobacco costs the UK economy £2.5 billion ($3.25 billion) a year. That is why we are cracking down on this unlawful trade, which denies vital funding for our public services and can lead to health risks.

“The introduction of these new global standards will build on our work to make it harder for organised criminal gangs to profit in the future.”

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Irish health authority launches cocaine harm reduction campaign

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cocaine harm reduction campaign

Ireland’s health service has launched a new harm reduction campaign for cocaine and crack users as use of the two drugs soars in the country.

The new HSE campaign is intended to educate users on how to reduce the potential harm associated with snorting, smoking or injecting the drug.

Speaking after it was revealed that use of crack cocaine in particular has been on the rise in and around the city of Dublin, Irish drugs strategy minister Catherine Byrne said the effort is designed to be more of a health warning “rather than preaching to people” who use drugs.

Data from the HSE suggests that Ireland is ranked fourth in the EU when it comes to per-capita usage of cocaine, and that three out of every 10 people in the country aged between 15 and 64 say they have used illicit drugs at some point in their lifetime.

While the campaign stresses that it is always the safest option not to consume illegal drugs of any type in the first place, HSE warns users to only buy cocaine from trusted dealers, not to mix the drug with alcohol, and to always carry a condom while high due to the effect cocaine has on people’s sex drive.

Crack users are advised not to use homemade pipes, avoid smoking whole rocks, and to seek professional help if they feel depressed after coming down.

“This is a very important campaign, focusing on providing information and raising awareness about cocaine among drug users and health professionals,” Byrne commented.

“Recent figures which show an increase in those seeking treatment for cocaine use is of real concern.

“This evidence supports what we are hearing from some services on the ground that cocaine use, and in particular crack cocaine use, is on the rise.”

At the end of May, Ireland’s Health Research Board (HRB) revealed that the number of people seeking treatment for cocaine use had risen by 70% since 2012.

Commenting on the sharp rise in the numbers of people seeking help over their use of the drug, Dr Suzi Lyons, Senior Researcher at the HRB, said: ‘Since 2014 there has been a steady increase in the proportion of cases reporting cocaine as a main problem drug, rising from 8% (708 cases) of all cases in 2013 to 12% (1,138 cases) of all cases in 2016. This rise is seen in both new and previously treated cases.

“There has been an increase in the proportion of cases who were female, from 14% in 2010 to 23% in 2016.”

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Police shoot two rhino poachers dead in South African nature reserve

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rhino poachers dead

A pair of suspected poachers have been shot dead during a gun battle at the Loskop Dam Nature Reserve in Mpumalanga, a province in eastern South Africa

The two wildlife criminals were killed during the shootout with police on Saturday evening, during which one officer was injured.

A police spokesperson said specialist investigators were dispatched to track the two suspects down just after 21:00, resulting in an exchange of fire that ended with the death of the alleged poachers.

Officers at the scene recovered a rifle fitted with a silencer.

News24 quotes police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo as saying: “The team involved in Saturday night’s incident must be praised for having put their lives on the line, as do many of our police officers on a daily basis to protect life and property.

“One of our members was shot and wounded in the leg, and two poachers were shot and killed. No arrests have been made as yet in connection with this particular incident.”

Naidoo added that local police are committed to helping communities protect the country’s nature reserves, which are regularly targeted by poachers.

Following the poachers’ deaths, the South African Police Service (SAPS) promised to continue its efforts to fight wildlife crime across the country.

“We continue to call upon our communities to support the South African Police Service in our effort to protect the natural resources of our country, so that our children and children’s children can enjoy them for generations to come,” it said in a statement.

News of the poachers’ demise came just weeks after at least two members of a wildlife crime gang were killed and eaten by a pride of lions after they broke into the Sibuya Game Reserve in Eastern Province, South Africa.

Workers at the park found the remains of the poachers alongside a number of guns and an axe in the reserve’s lion enclosure.

It is thought the men had broken into the park with the intention of killing rhinos and stealing their horns.

In a statement, Sibuya reserve owner Nick Fox said the poachers had come prepared with a powerful rifle along with a with a silencer, an axe, wire cutters and food supplies for a number of days.

Rhino horn is widely sought after in a number of countries in Asia, where many people wrongly believe it has medicinal properties that are able to cure a range of conditions from a hangover to cancer.

Rhino horn can fetch nearly $100,000 per kilo on the black market, making it more valuable to criminals than drugs such as cocaine and heroin, or even gold.

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