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
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?