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Escort Website Block: How Outdated Ideas About Sex Shape Media Governance in India

Frank N. Martinez 847 Burning Memory Lane Churchville, PA 18966

With the Ministry of Home Affairs indicating that escort websites need to be blocked, India needs to aim for a more inclusive legal design for the Internet, one not driven merely by fear of recreational sex.

In June, an expert committee under the Ministry of Home Affairs recommended the blocking of some 240 websites offering female escort services. The block came in the wake of an order by a Mumbai magistrate, which raised the concern that websites offering escort services actually facilitate sex work and pimping in the guise of offering such services. In this manner, once again, content on internet is sought to be censored for the “protection” of “vulnerable groups” like women and children.

This isn’t the first time such an attempt has been made. Readers will remember the Kamlesh Vaswani petition brought before the Supreme Court in 2013, which sought to ban pornography on Indian web and had most free speech activists with their panties in a twist and most free speech activists and feminists at least a tad confused.

The common thread in both these attempts to censor the web, of course, is sex (be it either porn or prostitution- consentless or consentful- sex always feels a bit salacious). And this is where one begins to wonder: What really is so discomfiting about sexual expression or about expression hinting at the sexual that it always has lawmakers rushing to shut it down, and that it always leaves regular thinking joes like us torn between protecting women from exploitation and protesting against the state’s intrusion into our expressive qualities?

Nevertheless, howsoever uncomfortable the taboo topic of sex might be, it has already been well argued why employing the mechanism of website blocking under the Information Technology Rules, 2009 (popularly, “The Blocking Rules”) is a legally unsound strategy. But what I want to do is poke at the question of what is so compelling about sexual content on the internet which provokes the state to make it as inaccessible as possible? Because even if one discounts The Blocking Rules, there still exists Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 that is often used to book people for transmitting sexual content and for advertising escort and entertainment services on the Internet (see for example, thisand this).

It runs as follows: “Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form. -Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees.”

All this in effect implies that sexual material in human expression, which can only be surmised in 19th century Victorian vocabulary such as “lascivious” and “prurient” tends to deprave and corrupt persons and when published or transmitted in “electronic form” must be punished quite severely. But why in electronic form, and why on the Internet? Or, what is different about sexual expression on the internet that it is sought to be so specifically curbed by Section 67?

Online sexual expression

To answer that question quite simply, nothing much. Sex has always been scary subject in legal design, irrespective of media technology it is transmitted on. From print to film to now the Internet, obscenity, which may loosely translate to a “purposeless” depiction of sex, sexual expression has a history of regulation which is probably as old as the taboo-isation of sex itself. But let’s stay in our heady, modern times and sample this: Section 67 of the Information Technology Act is modelled largely on Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code enacted in 1860 which reads that a publication shall be deemed to be criminally obscene if “it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect, or (where it comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items, is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt person, who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.”

How exactly this particular section is to be interpreted has been clarified and evolved through various judgments that independent India has seen over the decades. But what all these interpretations have in common is their underlying fear of the possibilities of recreational sex. The year 1964, for example, saw the judgment of the Supreme Court in Ranjit Udeshi v. Union of India where the fear of the depiction of sex without purpose led to the ban of the noted writer, D.H. Lawrence’s book, Lady Chatterley’s Lover from this country’s bookshelves. A relevant part of that judgment reads:

“In our opinion, the test to adopt in our country (regard being had to our community mores) is that obscenity without a preponderating social purpose or profit cannot have the constitutional protection of free speech and expression, and obscenity is treating sex in a manner appealing to the carnal side of human nature, or having that tendency.”

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In this manner, obscenity or a depiction of sex in print “without a preponderating social purpose or profit” (which is what recreational sex is about), has been deemed to not fall under the constitutional realm of free expression. One can come to film and even a completely different outcome (viz. a decision to not censor), to find only a similar fear of recreational sex moulding legal principles. 1996, which saw the Supreme Court declaring (in Bobby Art International v. Om Pal Singh Hoon), that scenes of nudity and rape in the film, Bandit Queen would be protected under the constitutional right to freedom and expression, is an excellent example of this phenomenon. The judgment explains its rationale as follows:

Bandit Queen tells a powerful human story and to that story the scene of Phoolan Devi’s enforced naked parade is central. It helps to explain why Phoolan Devi became what she did…”

The key phrase here is “helps to explain”- it is only because the depiction of nudity in this cinematic media serves as a tool to explain what the judgment later calls “the consequences of a social evil” that it is allowed protection as free expression under the Constitution. In other words, it is because the relevant “obscenity” is “purposeful” that the film’s sexually suggestive scenes become lawful…It is because the depiction of sex in the movie is not merely recreational, but actually serves a larger illustrative point of use to (a certain formulation of) society that it becomes acceptable in law.

Unfreedom even in the Internet age

All this has been about depictions in media, of sexual content, in general. But what is the peculiar position that advertisements for escort services on the Internet occupy? As per the unspoken rationale of the ban order, escort services advertisements on the Web hint at “solicitation” under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 and therefore may be justifiably blocked. A sense of what “solicitation” might mean here can be derived from the wording of Section 8 of the Act: It refers to the act whereby a person in or within sight of a public place “tempts or endeavours to tempt, or attracts or endeavours to attract the attention of, any person for the purpose of prostitution.”

So in effect, the blocking order is an attempt to prevent solicitation for the purpose of prostitution.

Now, the word “prostitution” has a long history imbued in the negative, and it is in the context of this negative connotation that the construction of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act can be located. This negative connotation arises from the understanding of sex work inherently as victimization and debasement of women. What the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act then does is conflate the concept of trafficking with sex work, because it chooses to wallow in the negative historical baggage of the word “prostitution.” The statement of objective of the Act lays down that it is enacted “for the prevention of immoral traffic,” yet in its provisions, it is “prostitution” that is sought to be prevented. This is because the Act assumes that all sex work and related solicitation arises out of trafficking, or happens without consent, or is forced. Through this process of conflation of sex work and trafficking, the legitimacy of sex work is denied.

What is the world-view which allows for such conflation? It is certainly rooted in the lack of possibility of recreational sex that allows for equal voluntary participation of both actors within it. If one views recreational sex as an act which is inherently and always abhorrent to women, one can only perceive women who engage in recreational sex, or sex work, as victims. In this world view they are not equal participants in sex, and therefore cannot ever be given the recognition of dignified labour.

This world-view about sexual relationships is of course, is deep rooted not just in our everyday thinking but consequently, also in our laws. And it is on the basis of this very world view that the ban on escort websites on the Internet is sought. The question then is why are we bent on repeating the same narrative of the impossibility of recreational sex – a narrative which not only strips women of their sexual desires and derides their creative labour as sex workers, but also only ever manages to paint women as victims and never as mindful actors whenever the topic of sex comes up- even on a new media like the Internet?

When I ask this question, I am not at all trying to state that all sex work is voluntary, un-coerced or divorced from trafficking. And I am not trying to deny the exploitative experiences of women who actually have to face trafficking and prostitution, and I am not trying to deny the existence of those stories either. But what I am trying to do is provoke thought about how sound is the approach which law takes in designing solutions for these exploitative experiences. The approach of blocking escort websites, for example, very much follows the spirit of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act in reinforcing the same world-view about sexual relationships — a world-view without the possibility of joyful, recreational sex — which is the same world-view that makes the exploitation of female sex workers lucrative in the first place through a denial of their labour.

This being the 21st century, shouldn’t we aim for a more inclusive legal design for the Internet- one not driven merely by fear of recreational sex? But also a legal design which actually offers a solution for exploitation of women’s labour by addressing the most fundamental cause (a cause which is social in nature), viz. exploitative sexual mores, rather than getting sidetracked by the idea of a “problematic technology” which only promotes immorality?

Smarika Kumar is an independent legal researcher and was formerly with the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore.

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Oakland, California: Your 'Unit' Can Now Be Enlarged By A Crazy Injection

Pete C. Condon 4311 Meadow Lane Oakland, CA 94612

It's pretty commonplace for people to be so dissatisfied with a part of their body that nowadays they just go ahead and undergo cosmetic surgery. Rhinoplasty for your nose, liposuction for your flab, lift this, snip that, you name it and there's a procedure for it. This includes your penis, by the way.

The question remains however, is it really worth? Does societal pressure or personal insecurity trump the idea of a needle injecting botox into the most prized and sensitive part of your body?

Well, Dr. Norman Rowe seems to think so. He told The Daily Mail.

"In the last 10 years, we have seen the rise of so many "quick fix" operations like Botox - for the face, for the eyes... I spend so much of my day doing fillers on women's faces. I started to wonder: why can't I make it work for men?"

Hm, because faces and penises aren't exactly the same thing, but okay. Ultimately, the procedure is described as "a 10-minute Botox-style procedure can add 1.5 inches to the circumference of a man’s member." He also mentioned that there's no recovery time and NO pain. I'm sorry, but I have my doubts about the "no" pain element.

If you're interest as been peaked, you're more than welcome to take a look at his website, but I would tread lightly. I mean, it's not like you'll grow another one if something goes wrong.

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Springfield, Missouri: A world of nose jobs and tummy tucks

Kevin D. Garcia 3354 Twin House Lane Springfield, MO 65806

Trends in cosmetic procedures may vary globally depending on ethnic preferences, but the fundamentals of health and beauty are universal

Some 20 million surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures were performed worldwide in 2014, according to latest figures from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) which has more than 2,700 certified surgeons in 95 countries. Not a huge surprise that it was women who committed to the knife, needle and beam, with ISAPS reporting more than 17 million cosmetic surgeries globally, representing 86.3 per cent of the total. For non-surgical cosmetic procedures, Botox was top of the list for both men and women.

So what is everyone having done? Breast augmentation has the highest global tally among women, with liposuction second and eyelid reduction (blepharoplasty) the most popular surgery for men.

Women are opting for ‘mummy makeovers’, where two or three cosmetic surgery procedures are performed in one operation.

North America still leads the way with more than four million procedures carried out every year. An American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) 2014 survey showed 286,254 breast augmentations were performed. And 24.7 per cent of all Botox procedures in the world are in America.

Is the choice of procedures determined by geography? “What women and men are looking for in terms of cosmetic surgery does vary according to where they live,” says Martha McCully, an American beauty expert and founding beauty director of Allure magazine. “In New York City, youth-enhancing cosmetic surgery is popular. The standard is an eye lift performed in the doctor’s office, or neck or breast lift.” Ms McCully adds that there are “tribes” of different looks across the United States. “So if the look in Manhattan Beach, California, is to have perky but not large breasts, then there will be an awful lot of 40-somethings getting similar implants,” she says. “Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Malibu seem to show it off a little more than New Yorkers, in my opinion. On the Upper East Side of New York, if women don’t work but they want to maintain a look, they are going to the same surgeons for their eye lifts and breast lifts.”

On the other side of the world, there are a lot of people seeking non-surgical cosmetic solutions for sun damage and pigmentation problems, according to Shonagh Walker, a beauty journalist, based in Sydney. “Increasingly, women are opting for ‘mummy makeovers’, where two or three cosmetic surgery procedures are performed in one operation,” she says.

Globally we are now seeing the influence of new technologies and procedures, along with social and cultural influences, that have led to particular trends emerging. Iranians want rhinoplasty, Brazilians go for buttock enhancements, Germany has the most penile enlargement surgeries worldwide and in South Korea there is a trend to have a baby face combined with a womanly body (so-called bagel girls – baby faced and glamorous). And it is worth noting that more than a third of South Korean 20-somethings have had a cosmetic procedure of some sort.

Cosmetic surgery expert Wendy Lewis, who advises clients worldwide on cosmetic surgical and non-surgical procedures, says: “The internet is the great beauty equaliser for research, but ethnic traits are considered to be beautiful. In South Korea women look to reduce their cheekbones, using Botox to create a slimmer jaw line; in China women use Botox to reduce the circumference of their calves and in Japan nasal implants are still popular.”

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UK consultant plastic surgeon Simon Withey adds: “Twenty years ago it seemed there was a strong tendency for patients to request ‘Westernisation’ of features. Now patients are much more likely to identify with someone with similar ethnicity, but whose features they prefer to their own.”

Consultant plastic surgeon and founder of London clinic Cadogan Cosmetics, Bryan Mayou, who performed the first liposuction procedure in the UK 32 years ago at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, says he sees global patterns.

“There is a pattern and it changes not just on cultural grounds, but also on grounds of availability,” he says. “If a new procedure becomes available then people think they have a problem. For example, when it comes to using fillers in lips people didn’t realise they had small lips until there was a means of making them fuller.

“In terms of different nationalities, the Iranians in my view have splendid large, refined noses and look aristocratic, but many of them want a hump reduced. Middle Eastern men are more concerned now with their looks and want eyelifts, plus they tend to be pot-bellied and want liposuction.

“With my female Indian patients, the abdomen is bared in their clothing so that becomes a focus with many wanting liposuction. I see a lot of Russian girls who want bits of liposuction and breast surgery – many are newly divorced so they come in to get their confidence back. We also get a few Chinese clients who say they don’t trust Chinese surgeons.”

In terms of procedures worldwide, Brazil is second after the US. Buttock augmentation (gluteoplasty) is a national obsession and of the 319,960 procedures performed globally in 2013, 63,925 were by Brazilian surgeons, according to ISAPS. They even have a beauty contest called Miss BumBum and procedures are tax deductible based upon their ability to enhance mental and physical wellbeing. The public are intrigued by what their favourite star may or may not have had done

South Korea is ranked as having the highest number of cosmetic surgery procedures per capita globally. Double eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) is popular to create bigger and wider eyes. Jaw reshaping and rhinoplasty is also sought after. Cosmetic surgery clinics in Seoul have names such as Small Face, Wannabe and Magic Nose.

Germany has perhaps the most surprising cosmetic surgery trend with ISAPS figures showing 2,786 penis enlargement treatments were performed in 2013, which was significantly more than in any other country. Venezuela was second with just 473 procedures.

Tehran is often cited as the world’s “nose job capital” and in 2014 Iran was among countries with the highest number of rhinoplasty procedures per capita globally. “Around 200,000 rhinoplasties are performed every year in Iran, with a view to create a dainty slightly up-turned tip,” says Sultan Hassan, medical director of Elite Surgical. “It is almost regarded as an indicator of elevated social status with documented accounts of patients wearing their nasal splints long after the week recommended.”

But recently state-run Iranian television announced it wouldn’t use actors in films and TV shows if it was obvious they had undergone cosmetic surgery. However, according to Mr Hassan: “The public are intrigued by what their favourite star may or may not have had done. There is a relation between socio-economic affluence and celebrity media awareness with demand for cosmetic surgery.”

Cosmetic surgery adviser Ms Lewis concludes that despite some regional variations, the basics of what is considered attractive do not differ that much globally. “Healthy, even toned skin is considered beautiful no matter where you live,” she says. “Plus, women everywhere are still bothered about carrying extra weight on their tummies, waist, hips and thighs. For men, it is always more about good hair and a slim waistline.

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Moanalua, Hawaii: Botox Might Have One Surprising Sex Benefit

Lawrence D. Moffett 2498 Arron Smith Drive Moanalua, HI 96819

Botox, most commonly used for face flab and wrinkle-fighting, actually has a lot of uses that many people don’t know about. For example, a jab or two of the stuff in the pits puts an end to excess sweating, it helps people who pee a little when they sneeze not pee when they sneeze, and now, doctors have found yet another use for Botox, which might help the approximately 30% of men worldwide who suffer from premature ejaculation last a lot longer.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, it was revealed that temporarily paralyzing one of the main muscles necessary for ejaculation, the bulbospongiosus muscle, which runs from the bottom of your crack to the base of your penis, is very effective at delaying ejaculation.

In the study, 33 male rats received an injection of either .5 units of Botox, a full unit of Botox, or plain saline into the muscle, and the results showed that the rats that received the full unit injection of Botox took an average of 10 minutes to ejaculate, whereas the rats that received only saline lasted a measly 6.5 minutes, and the rats that were injected with half a unit of Botox ejaculated after 8.5 minutes, confirming the hypothesis that Botox does, indeed, make you last longer. Success!

During and after the study, the researchers didn’t observe any adverse side effects from the Botox, meaning this novel treatment could very well be widespread one day. In fact, clinicaltrials.gov is currently recruiting participants for the human trial of the study, but it goes without saying that most men would cringe at the thought of a needle going anywhere near their manhood.

This isn’t the first time Botox has proved useful in the sex department, with studies showing that Botox, when injected into the muscles of the vaginal wall, is an effective treatment for vaginismus, which is when the muscles of the vagina involuntarily constrict, making sex very painful for her, and basically impossible for both of you. So yeah, even though it’s actually a form of botulism, Botox is pretty damn cool.

Long live Botox!

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Richmond, Virginia: Standing up for Saudi Arabia’s ‘Prostitutes’

John J. Cooper 3728 Worley Avenue Richmond, VA 23222

Last Sunday, history was made in Saudi Arabia when the recently sworn-in Shura Council, the country’s consultative assembly, held its first session with 30 women appointees participating for the first time.

Thanks to a Royal Decree issued by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz earlier this year, room has now been permanently made for women to take part in advising the government on issues that matter.

As such, Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council will never again be a “men-only” club.

While most Saudis rejoiced this historic accomplishment; the implementation of the decision was received with the contempt of some who resorted to micro-blogging site Twitter to publicly insult the recently-appointed women Shura members.

Derogatory terms such as “prostitutes” and “the filth of society” were used to describe Saudi Arabia’s finest female academics and technocrats.

These terms are already deemed foul and derogatory when coming from the man on the street. But those behind the appalling statements were Islamic teachers and Sheikhs; a slash of irony unleashed from the men who should otherwise be preaching tolerance, respect and compassion.

‘The Filth of Society’

Whilst one doesn’t expect all members society to behave in a similar manner, nor to necessarily respect the achievements of Saudi women; the idea here is that this shouldn’t legitimize the public defamation and insults we have witnessed.

Among the “tweeps” who resorted to insults was member of the Islamic Ministry for Da’wah, Guidance and Endowments, Ahmed al-Abdelqader.

“They thought they can mock the mufti by giving these ‘prostitutes’ legitimacy to be in power,” tweeted al-Abdelqader.

Following angry reactions by Twitter users whom objected the cleric’s foul language, Al-Abdelqader said: “We have heard and read many insults against (God) as well as mockery against the prophet, prayer be upon him, and none of those defending (these female) members was angered.”

Earlier last week, another controversial Saudi cleric also attacked the decision to appoint female members to the Council.

“Corrupt beginnings lead to corrupt results,” tweeted Sheikh Nasser al-Omar warning more of what he described as “Westernization.”

For his part, Dr. Saleh al-Sugair, a former teaching assistant at King Saud University slammed the assignment of female members at the council and tweeted: “The insolent (women) wearing make-up at the Shura Council represent the society? God, no. They are the filth of society.”

This wasn’t the first controversial statement by al-Sugair, who is not a cleric but a medical doctor known for extreme religious views.

Last year, he called for a complete separation in medical colleges between male students and female students.

Sharia is against defamation

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Last summer, two courageous young female athletes by the names of Wojdan Shaherkani and Sarah Attar agreed to become Saudi Arabia’s first ever female participants at the Olympics.

The decision, which was reached at the eleventh hour, saved Saudi Arabia from being excluded completely from the London 2012 Olympics.

At the time, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had insisted that all participating countries needed to have female representation; and even though Sarah and Wojdan knew they lacked the experience to win on the international level, they still agreed to take part and respond to the call of duty.

Instead of praise, the two young athletes received their share of derogatory terms, in a very similar manner to what the ladies of Shura Council had to endure last week.

Wojdan’s father (and her Judo instructor) had pledged to take those who have questioned the morality of his 16-year old daughter and insulted her to court.

As a professional and aspiring Judo player, Wojdan is likely to fight many battles for the rest of her life; however, of all those battles, this legal one has to be the most important, and it must be won.

Of course, the battle will be tough as it will require a much clearer and much stricter implementation of defamation and libel laws, probably under a specialized committee.

Whilst one doesn’t expect all members society to behave in a similar manner, nor to necessarily respect the achievements of Saudi women; the idea here is that this shouldn’t legitimize the public defamation and insults we have witnessed.

Women at the Shura Council should study this matter and make appropriate suggestions to the government to criminalize and penalize such libel acts.

What will definitely help such a move is that Shariah law is renowned for prohibiting defamation; and it doesn’t make exceptions if the perpetrator is a cleric or not.

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