Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oman ROP - unofficially - decriminalises prostitution in Muscat?

As even the Times of Oman confirms, there is a LOT of prostitution in Muscat. Reports are common of effectively well known brothels being run as 'Health Clubs', or places in Ruwi or Al Khuwair where cheap residential units are used as a base for hookers plying their trade.

For a while, a couple of years ago, men could be openly observed as a matter of public knowledge (see Muscati's old blog), queuing up in their cars for 'chinese takeaway' right outside the Ruwi Sheraton. You could see it as you waited for the lights to change. They had been downstairs in the night club, but the Sheraton had closed for renovation, so they just moved the action outside. Eventually it was soooo obviously the ROP moved them on I guess.

It was noted in several comments on the last post that addressed this issue that:
A) Prostitution is so common in Oman as to be verging on ridiculous;
B) Given the ratio of frustrated males to available females, either due to the men being single Asian expats or unsatisfied generally unmarried locals, it was a better thing that the men could get some relief this way anyhow.
C) That legalisation of the working girls (coupled with supervision, health checks, taxes and protection from human trafficking and exploitation) was probably a much better way to go.

The comments (unconfirmed) even reported a brothel "Health Club" being guarded by ROP, but I suspect it was not ROP but 'SSS', the State sanctioned and monopoly uniformed 'rent-a-cop' outfit, who happen to be owned by, err, well, the ROP Pension Fund.

It seems that effective decriminalisation of prostitution is unofficially official ROP policy. When asked why, seeing that it would be so easy, the Royal Oman Police didn't go out and arrest the girls (by, say, an ROP officer in plain clothes asking them for a quote), a Major from Oman CID (who will remain anonymous) explained:

"Look. You are an educated person, you understand that these women keep a lot of other crimes at bay. The guys at the top have discussed this issue and wondered what stand to take. Overall, it's a lot more work for us if we put these women away"

[Note: he means, by 'more work', that if there were not such services available, other and less consensual crime would escalate dramatically, eg forced prostitution, rape, sexual assults, and violence by frustrated single men].

Now this is just a hearsay statement by some ROP guy. He could be totally making that up. But it makes sense I guess.

In fact, once you think about it, it's the only thing that makes sense, as how else could such obvious well known prostitution, from the famous mid-market Muscat "Holiday hotel", via the many 'health clubs', to the upmarket Golden Tulip Hotel in Seeb, survive? Of course the ROP know. But as long as no-one makes too big a deal, the thing most consistent with the facts is that the official policy is tolerance. Maybe the Muscat Municipality official quoted in the Times' article who was promising (in a few months) to close the health clubs down hadn't got the memo.

What about exploitation?

Now, some of the girls my sources talked to confirmed they are effectively freelance. Women here as economic refugees, choosing to work in the sex trade. They are here as 'housemaids', who pay their sponsors in the usual free visa way (20-50 rials a month), pay their own apartment, and do 5-7 customers a night. This is, to be frank, down-market hustling. Full service charges for a nice, well behaved regular can be as low as 10-15 rials. For something quicker and less intrusive, 5 rials. We're not talking "Pretty Woman" here folks.

The sex trade, at the best of times and in the regulated West, is a damn hard, dirty and dangerous job. Here, well, it must be hard to imagine. But generally the business of selling sex services anywhere around the globe is plagued with women who are commonly trafficked and forced into prostitution; vulnerable homeless/abused children or drug addicts with few other options; or women who are prayed upon as effective sex slaves by primps and madams, people who take most - or all - of their hard earned money. Many others working boys and girls are anyhow natural clients of drug dealers, as a means to escape their terrible reality, or as means to fund their expensive habit.

The problem with the ROP's allegedly pragmatic and laissez-faire approach is that it would be a true cop out.

This would be akin to, say, American approaches in the 1950s, where cops informally managed the vice trade to keep it from the public, and allowed organised crime to operate as long as they kept the peace.

Such a 'benign neglect' approach will naturally, over time, drive corruption of the police, as people move to capture the economic rents available through effective informal taxation, either by Police directly, or through pimps and brothels paying for protection.

For some poor SE Asian street walker doing 6 customers a night at, say, 15 rials each, the gross income is about 2500 rials a month. This is equal to over 10 times the median wage for Omanis, let alone Asian expats. Even a junior ROP constable, after completing probation of 4 years, earns a base salary of just 700 rials and will, by then, already be in debt to the eyeballs. Both the Omani sponsor and/or the ROP will be highly incentivised to 'tax' most of that income.

A better approach, for society and the girls, IMHO is perhaps to decriminalise, tax, and regulate. Everyone with a brain knows that making the sale of sex illegal has never stopped sex being sold. Yes, continue to try to minimise demand, as religion already does, and how realistic education of the typical side effects of regular unsafe sex with prostitutes might do further. And criminalise the parasites - pimps and traffickers. You can even criminalise the customers if you want.

The options and arguments either way are nicely summarised by wikipedia:

Attitudes and legal issues [to Prostitution
Roughly speaking, the possible attitudes are either:
1) "Prostitution should be made to disappear":
a) prohibitionism (both prostitutes and clients are criminalized and are seen as immoral, they are considered criminals): the prevailing attitude nearly everywhere in the United States, with a few exceptions in some rural Nevada counties (see Prostitution in Nevada).

b) abolitionism (prostitution itself is not prohibited, but most associated activities are illegal, in an attempt to make it more difficult to engage in prostitution, prostitution is heavily discouraged and seen as a social problem): prostitution (the exchange of sexual services for money) is legal, but the surrounding activities such as public solicitation, operating a brothel and other forms of pimping are prohibited, the current situation in the United Kingdom, France and Canada among others;

c) neo-abolitionism ("prostitution is a form of violence against women, it is a violation of human rights, the clients of the prostitutes exploit the prostitutes"): prostitutes are not prosecuted, but their clients and pimps are, which is the current situation in Sweden, Norway and Iceland (in Norway the law is even more strict, forbidding also having sex with a prostitute abroad).

2) "Prostitution should be tolerated by society":
a) legalised and regulation: prostitution may be considered a legitimate business; prostitution and the employment of prostitutes are legal, but regulated; the current situation in the Netherlands, Germany and parts of Nevada (see Prostitution in Nevada). The degree of regulation varies very much, for example in Netherlands prostitutes are not required to undergo mandatory health checks (see Prostitution in the Netherlands) while in Nevada the regulations are very strict (see Prostitution in Nevada).
b) decriminalization: "prostitution is labor like any other. Sex industry premises should not be subject to any special regulation or laws", the current situation in New Zealand; the laws against operating a brothel, pimping and street prostitution are struck down, but prostitution is not regulated nearly at all. Proponents of this view often cite instances of government regulation under legalization that they consider intrusive, demeaning, or violent, but feel that criminalization adversely affects sex workers.

In some countries, there is controversy regarding the laws applicable to sex work. For instance, the legal stance of punishing pimping while keeping sex work legal but "underground" and risky is often denounced as hypocritical; opponents suggest either going the full abolition route and criminalize clients or making sex work a regulated business.

I think it's fair to say no country has yet solved the ethical, societal and political problems of prostitution. But nowhere has a 'blind eye approach' proved the best option. While convenient in the short term, I don't think in the long term it is healthy for anyone: sex workers, cops, customers, the state coffers, or society.

But perhaps, we should be discussing how to deal with it (focused on results based arguments and not moral 'thou shalt not' aphorisms.) Not pretending it doesn't happen.

Oh, but this is Oman. We don't do intelligent fact-based adult discussions about important issues and what to do about it, do we?



  1. The law of supply and demand is a funny, funny thing. Considering how often the average woman gets propositioned here (often over a patriarchal shoppong cart brimming with Pampers), it is unsurprising that some consider the option for fun and/or profit. If for profit, I just wonder why we don't consider our professional skills beyond the oldest one. Education means a woman should have options, not?

  2. UD we all know this but what makes it so hypocritical is that this is a Muslim country and like Dubai... kissing in public or affairs are punished in a draconian manner!

  3. lots of viewpoints here - not many saying they are happy with it

    and here a poor woman whose home's entrance is used as a place of advertising / cruising / negotiation / pick up - perhaps in that order

  4. The age old problem. Given that prostitution has more or less been around since Adam was a cowboy, it is fruitless, nay, pointless to even attempt to stamp it out. Look, less face the facts - guys, especially single, but not exclusively (coz married guys count too), need to get their rocks off. It's a biological/quasi-psychological requirement. I'll also risk some criticism by saying that many females actually enjoy lots of sex just as much as guys do (hence nympho).

    So, bottom line, decriminalize and educate over the health risks because the need for sex by individuals will NEVER go away.

  5. Yes, current policy is better than what is happening in UAE now like
    "An indian guy and bangladeshi girl were having sex in a closed vehicle, were caught, will be punished and deported" or the "Indian guy and his girl friend both working for emirates who exchanged text messages will be punished and deported". (The messages were handed over to police by the lady's hubby who wanted a divorce).
    At least some of the crimes like vicious attacks on children as happened in UAE mosque may not happen.

  6. The funny thing about health clubs is that 95% of it are owned by high ranked officers in the army and the police so complaining about it is pointless. It's funny how a country preaches morality and justice yet our family contracting business was forced to close down because of a royal decree that states you can't work in the private sector and run a engineering consutling office yet these disease spreading business are free to run amok just so the big shots found another way to gather the wealth once again out of the backs of the common folks.

  7. "(by, say, an ROP officer in plain clothes asking them for a quote)"

    This is called entrapment ... it is illegal in the west. Probably not the case in Oman.

    When I first got here and inquired about the reason for the abundance of the "Chinese red balls", I was advised that it was partly to lessen the number of young locals from crossing the border in search of the same. I guess, as you expressed in your post, the idea is to relieve sexual frustration.

    I personally think that, like most countries in the world, the ROP has realized that prostiution is inevitable. So instead of letting it be underground (with all the other problems that come with that), they have decided to keep it semi-legal and in plain sight so that they can monitor it better. I think the approach in itself is not bad. But it needs to be a little more regulated as to not propel out of control.


  8. Are you suggesting the italian solution to the problem, showing an italian road sign?

  9. Dragon- trying not to be too cynical- but why discuss this? When the ROP wants our opinion, they will tell us what it is.

  10. I've just read The Restless Quills account and it would seem that the ROP isn't prepared to do anything as the sponsers of these girls are too powerful. It follows that to legallize prostitution wouldn't go down well with them as the amount of money they could demand from the girls would be presumably regulated.

    I suppose finding out who these sponsors are are naming and shaming them would really bring the Omantel censors from under their rock

  11. OK so you've illustrated that it's extremely common and "unofficially tolerated". But does that mean we should go on and legalise it, regulate it, and simply allow it??!

    Although many Omanis/expats do seek lots of prostitutes, that doesn't mean it should be allowed. Nor that it is "correct" or "alright" just because many do it.

    Oman is a Muslim country, and prostitution is outright forbidden in Islam. The fact that many Muslims actually sleep with prostitutes means that those particular individuals either have a wrong understanding of Islamic teachings, they aren't practicing it correctly, or simply they don't care. Whatever the case is, Oman remains a Muslim country and prostitution must be fought against in one way or another.

    For the customers, perhaps an awareness campaign, more education, more lectures, but simply put about a strategy. And for the prostitutes, the ROP/top officials shouldn't tolerate/accept it, they should be harsher in dealing with them - impose fines, imprisonment, threaten to deport them, again another strategy to be formulated.

    But to legalise and regulate it??!! Seriously?!

    You can't simply say prostitution is inevitable and we have to accept it. We already know the severe negative impacts it can have on society. No matter how much it is regulated, police won't be able to go as far as looking in the bedroom of the prostitute/customer.

    In the end it goes back to our principles and ethics. If I accept that an Omani stranger sleeps with a prostitute, I might as well accept it that my son is that stranger, or my daughter is that prostitute. It's all sick. As long as I don't accept it for my own family, I shouldn't accept it for any other Omani.

  12. Good to see the hypocrisy UD - your banner ad currently advertises "Girls in Oman; thousands online now". A bit of self-censorship might be in order.

    Al in Oman

  13. I don't get why what that Major from Oman CID said is the only thing, as Mr. Dragon said, that makes sense! Even if we know that "[putting] these women away" wouldn't solve anything, why not to try?

    It reminds me of the American prohibition of Alcohol in 1920. I was surprised to read about such a thing, but it did make sense to me, even though it was doomed to failure.

    What stand to take, he said. I think it's really.. odd?

  14. Stimulus

    Great comment. Much of the logic I agree with.

    But please explain the statement:
    "We already know the severe negative impacts it can have on society. "

    As its already illegal and happening, surely those supposed negative effects are already happening?

    Perhaps we should also make going to Thailand if you're single illegal too?

    I tend to hold the opinion that what 2 consenting adults want to do behind a locked door, in private, is their business. If cash changes hands, perhaps the taxman should be interested.

    If we know it's going to happen, and indeed want to moderate side effects on other people, then we should regulate. And you can't regulate what is illegal.

  15. Fully agree with Stimulus comment.
    We must not overlook the basic facts about Oman being a Muslim country and all the subsequent implications this fact will have on trying to figure out resolutions to this issue.

  16. I admire your view Mr Stimulus and if it was a perfect world, then all would be fine. I agree that its neither "correct" or "alright" but the reality is it has happened for a few thousand years and will continue to, and it doesn't matter at the end of the day what religious following there is (and I mean any religion not just the predominant one), there will always be those who don't completely follow doctrine.

    That's reality i'm afraid, and to deny that means that the blinkers are on, not off. If you can convince each and EVERY muslim in Oman not to engage in this activity, i'll eat my hat! Prostitution is inevitable, history shows that. Accepting it? Now that's a different matter.

  17. I’m sure the negative impacts are already happening, yet with the “hush hush” policy in Oman I wouldn’t know to what extent nor the details (perhaps you could enlighten us with your sound investigative techniques?). But what I meant by those impacts is that they may include one or more of the following:

    -Prostitutes getting pregnant and all the consequent impacts of that including abortion (you rarely see the customer marrying the prostitute for this reason, which in effect creates a distorted family structure)
    - Husbands cheating on their wives – prostitution makes this easier;
    - Increase of orphans (or kids with unknown parents);
    - Increase of AIDS;
    - And as you mentioned “generally the business of selling sex services anywhere around the globe is plagued with women who are commonly trafficked and forced into prostitution; vulnerable homeless/abused children or drug addicts with few other options; or women who are prayed upon as effective sex slaves by primps and madams, people who take most - or all - of their hard earned money.”

    Those are the ones I can recall at the moment...

    I’m talking about enforcing a principle/law in Oman as a Muslim country, on both Muslims and non-Muslims living in it. To make it nearly impossible to get a prostitute locally. Outside Oman (e.g. Thailand) won’t be our responsibility anymore. But raising awareness locally would help reduce Omanis going elsewhere for prostitutes.

    In contrast, If we legalise it, this business will grow making it more attractive for Omanis to do it locally (cheaper) rather than go elsewhere. And that would even increase prostitution more with all its negative effects. At least them going to Thailand reduces the harmfulness of prostitution locally. In the end, even though lots of Omanis use prostitutes currently anyway, this number is still conservative in comparison to the number if prostitution becomes legal/allowed. Being stricter with the business will reduce the number even further.

    My point is, prostitution is not a “right” individuals should have. It eventually affects society in one way or another – more negative than positive. If it is widely spread now, we shouldn’t “let it be” and try to control the negative outcomes. We should stop it all together effectively – a key word here – as currently it is merely illegal, but obviously “unofficially accepted”.

    It's Ms Stimulus ;)

  18. Stimulus

    Buts not a question of simply considering the negative impact of prostitution. We need to also consider the negative effects of the approach you suggest - which was what the CID officer was referring to.

    By heavily clamping down on prostitution, or at least, prostitutes, it:
    - forces the trade underground where it is even more likely to be plagued by trafficked women and unsafe sex practices;
    - makes it easier for the pimps and clients to threaten the women, as they can be blackmailed with imprisonment and deportation;
    - increase the price, encouraging supply to meet the demand;
    - leaves lots of otherwise unrelieved males harassing women, or even molesting them;
    - encourages the exploration of male/male sex, as occurs in prisons;
    - makes it harder to educate people about the issues;
    - further encourages police complicity and the associated bribery and corruption.

    So I don't think its as easy as you describe if your objective is to minimise the negative effects on society. It might make you feel good to 'ban it', but that doesn't stop it, especially when the act is mutually consensual and usually occurs in private.

  19. UD

    Thanks for your lengthy responses, appreciated.

    You’re absolutely right, negative impacts aren’t the only thing to be considered; but my comment was in response to your question “explain the statement… severe negative impacts …” Anyway, my objective was to ban prostitution. HOW this banning will take place, what strategy(s) to use and its implementation approach will need to consider many aspects in including the points you mentioned.

    As a general response to the points you made: every policy/strategy has some sort of difficulties/negative outcomes. But whether the scope of these difficulties or ineffectiveness of the strategy overrides the sought benefits from the main objective is the real question.

    Having said that, I totally agree that what you said may or may not happen. Simply put, those are the risks of outright prohibition of prostitution. But each “risk” should be analysed: the probability of it happening and the impact it may have on society, compared with the situation when no prohibition occurs. And overall, I think the risks you mentioned are minor compared to the benefits sought after banning it.

    If prostitution is allowed, more people will have sex with prostitutes. Surely this increases the number of unsafe sex practices? The market would demand more prostitutes, and hence there will also a bigger risk of trafficked women. If a prostitute gets threatened for deportation/imprisonment, or policemen get bribes, so do lots of other jobs which are illegal – this is not a sufficient reason for allowing it. The unrelieved males will harass/molest either way (and this could be a sub-target in the strategy: increase awareness, more education on Islamic teachings, help single men financially in order to get married, and lots of other approaches).

    I understand that prostitution is the oldest trade, and will never stop. But in my opinion, prohibiting it with a PROPER COMPLETE STRATEGY that addresses all potential risks is the best solution.

  20. Stimulus makes a mistake often made by religious people, no matter what religion: thinking that people with a different religion, no religion, or a different interpretation of the same religion, must all have it wrong.
    Thinking one is in a position to judge who is wrong and who is right, that one can determine if others have 'a wrong understanding of xxxx teachings' or 'are not practicing it correctly', has throughout history often been the main cause of sometimes very violent conflicts between religious people, even between those of the same religion. Who can really judge what/who is wrong or right?
    Prostitution might have some negative impacts. It also has some positive impacts. The same goes for banning or legalising prostitution. Who should determinde what is wrong or what is right? Personally I don't need, nor do I want, anybody to decide for me what is wrong and what is right.

  21. Its either a gay post or whore post or terrorist or gossip corruption scandals.

    I suspect that a group of people contibute to this blog... its too much b******t coming from one guy!


  22. Very impressive blog indeed..although you mention that unless its a big deal things would be under control for the male population of the country.. If you manage to spare time..kindly visit the Al Ghazal pub at the Intercontinental Hotel Muscat.. it has become a melting pot of gays, prostitutes and the ever hopefuls.

  23. well... so what... a country that has prostitutes... every place on this planet have them... and i dont remember hearing someone could stop it.
    i don't understand people protesting against things that don't affect them. if you don't like prostitutes just ignore them.
    i guess smoking did more harm to every community on this earth than prostitutes...
    go protest against smoking... ask ROP to block it.

    and as a reply to the last Anonymous post. there is a huge difference between gays and prostitutes. and if you think Ghazal is a melting pot of gays as you said... maybe you should stop going there...
    i just dont understand this... people are actually feeling threatened by gays???

    Safee Al-Saudi

  24. I would like the Muscatconfidential to note that I am have done a mountain cutting job at for one of the Leading Banks in Oman, In the letter of Intent Issued in December 2008 they mentioned Quantity within a Range (like from 1000 to 2000), however we started work before signing the Agreement, after one month they give us agreement to sign and we later on found out that they have not mentioned volume in the Agreement and mentioned fixed fee in the agreement. Normally in Mountain Cutting contractors goes on Volumes and price in Cubic Meters (m3). In Muncipality Drawing volume is 150 thousand in letter of intent it is Min.110 thousand and maximum 120 thousand. We have find all the mountain cutting and the consultanat never visited to see how work going on however once we finished they are not certifying our bills and asking bank what report they want and asking bank how much volume they put. by the way there is no such a word in the agreement says mountain cutting. Munciplaity has oked it and given us our insurance deposit back, and consultant signed on the same form . But still the bank is not ready to pay. We a small company needs help in this matter, should we go to the court , where should we fight, i am sure the law offices would be with the bank to search more business.

  25. Dear Safee,
    I am not threatened by gays or anyone else for that matter..i have lived and studied in a society which accepts whoever in whatever way and i have no issues with the gays and homos.. have u noticed how few bars and pubs are in Muscat..people needs more waterholes to get it out there..why have such restrictions on opening of pubs and whore houses and they let it run rampant's hypocritical..we rather make it legel..the reason for hosting the point is not coz i don't want to go to the PUB..its coz i give a dam..

  26. Should make prostitution legal, and have them tested for HIV and AIDS, Protect the citizen of Oman by giving condoms. I know its an Islamic country but facts are facts prostitution is taking place, and we cant just turn a blind eye on it, so might as well help the citizen and reduce the deadly disease

  27. Just looking back on this thread. I think Stimulus had a lot of good points.

    IF you want to 'ban' prostitution, there are a lot of things that need to be decided upon, and then consistently acted upon by Government and the population. These things are to address the many 'side effects' of a policy that criminalises prostitution. The detailed policy, and the effectiveness of these actions should be subject to measurement, and debate.

    My point is that we should look to the outcomes we want to attain with any public policy or law and focus on those, not simply attempt to control human behaviour by simplistic ideological diktat.

    If 'less Omani men visiting prostitutes' is the agreed policy goal, I'm totally OK with that. Hell, it's your country.

    What I question is the method. As the wikileaks article explains in detail, there are many different approaches that have been tried. I think the people should be free to debate these issues and help work out what the best thing to do is wrt results as a goal, not just make ideological motherhood statements in denial of reality.


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