A local women's rights group has called on authorities to tackle sexual exploitation of trafficked women by prosecuting purchasers instead of prostitutes, applying trafficking law to strippers and offering gender sensitivity training to police, journalists and children.
The Mediterranean Institute of Gender studies (MIGS) made several other suggestions to tackle human trafficking and the rampant sex tourism industry in both north and south, including making legislation on trafficking gender specific and having an independent organisation, like MIGS, monitor and evaluate the National Action Plan on Trafficking.
MIGS' recommendations come ahead of their report on human trafficking due this week, which paints a detailed picture of Cypriot men's sexual habits.
For example, according to the MIGS survey, all 20 respondents (aged of 18 to 70) had visited a prostitute at least once in their lives and their recollections reveal the ubiquity of prostitutes throughout the island.
One interviewee from the south reportedly told MIGS his barber arranges girls for him, while another said a girl came free with two bottles of champagne.
A third said: “You see the commodity, there are many from different countries, you choose based on what ethnicity you want, you pay (and) you have your job done.” It is not known how many prostitutes are trafficked into the Republic of Cyprus.
In the north of the island, a thriving sex tourism industry has been set up to cater for Turkish sex tourists, who are typically older businessmen travelling in groups from Istanbul.
According to Centre for Migration, Identity and Rights Studies' Mine Yucel, the sex industry in the north is thriving for two reasons:
Firstly it is cheap - with online pimps offering package deals including air fares, taxis, drinks and sexual services more cheaply than just the sexual services in Istanbul.
The second main reason for choosing the north is the slack policing compared to Istanbul, where clients run the risk of police raids or, as demonstrated earlier this year, clandestine video cameras.
According to Yucel's research, many sex tourists even believe that prostitution is legal on the island: “The men who come to Cyprus do not ‘need' (the sexual services) but instead see Cyprus as the fun and casino island... They come mostly for fun.”
Another surprising fact about prostitution, according to research cited by MIGS, is that one in five people trafficked for sexual exploitation is male.
Asked why their research did not interview any customers of male prostitutes, MIGS Director Suzanna Pavlou said the focus of their organisation was on female trafficked prostitutes, that men were mostly trafficked for labour and that prostitution was a gendered phenomenon.
The primary findings of MIGS' research show that the purchasers are not a homogenous group. Instead they come from a variety of socioeconomic groups and ages and “many of them were in relationships... married... have children... or are divorced.”
Pavlou's report said few men knew or cared whether the women they visited were trafficked or exploited: “The only commonality is that the women were forced to cooperate no matter what are the requests.”
As one interviewee said: “I don't care about their situation...all I know is that I pay for sexual services, to have a good time and I don't care as to whether they are victims or not. I want to enjoy what I pay for.”
In the coming weeks MIGS will launch a video campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking for sexual exploitation, and possibly hold an awareness event.