by Shamindra Ferdinando
In an interview with the Sunday Island last week, Lugoda who quit a UN assignment in Sierra Leone to take over the CCD in January this year, discussed a range of related issues, particularly a series of successful operations conducted by the Range Vice Squad. The squad has carried out about 50 raids this year.
"They are authorised to carry out anti-vice operations in the entire district," he said, directing ASP Ravindra Karawita to summon officers of the vice squad to his office. "They will be able to tell you more. Ask them whatever you want," he said as Sub Inspectors, Neomal Fernando, officer-in-charge of the squad followed by Deepal Indika and Prasanna Nagasena entered his spacious office.
"Let me tell you an interesting story about a woman running a brothel. She looks after wealthy clients. She started small but over the years succeeded in gaining the confidence of the Colombo elite. When I was the officer-in-charge of the Wellawatte police station, she operated one apartment in a leading shopping mall.
"On a directive from the top, we raided her apartment in 1989. Despite a series of precautions taken by her to prevent a possible police raid, we managed to use a decoy and then storm the apartment as the decoy gained entry. We interrupted a man who was having sex with a lovely girl. There were subsequent raids. But our action did not make her put up shutters. Instead she runs three apartments today. We recently raided two of her well furnished premises."
The officers directly involved in the raid explained the way they carried out the raid. "People running brothels take maximum precautions," Nagasena said, describing what was one of the most successful raids carried out by the squad this year.
Nine prostitutes were among 12 suspects arrested during the raid in May. Regular customers were able to get a 24-hour service. As a part of the strategy to foil successful police raids, the would-be clients were screened before they were admitted. There were other safeguards in place. But they did not manage to foil the raid.
"We keep the place under routine surveillance," SI Fernando said. But thats no guarantee that they will abandon the lucrative business.
Madurapperuma Appuhamilage Nimalsiri Kalingawansa alias Moratu Saman was notorious for his craving for prostitutes. An SLAF deserter, Saman extorted money from owners of brothels and massage parlours. He primarily targeted brothels and massage parlours in and around Moratuwa where he had the right to have the service, of any of the girls at any given time. Girls entering the trade had to offer themselves first to Saman. No one dared to oppose him and his men.
"But he was not the only one," Lugoda said, pointing out that many others of his kind who did as he did. "That was a part of their bravado. They loved to brag about the women they had and they could have. They love luxury vehicles and beautiful women," he said.
Some of the gangsters spend lavishly on women. Baddegana Samarajeeva of the Presidential Security Division (PSD) was one of them. Ajith was another. In one instance, a notorious gangster and several of his associates were seized from a brothel they used to patronise on a regular basis, taken to a lonely spot, their hands tied to their back and shot in the head. Their bodies were set ablaze several years ago. Their rivals, allegedly on the orders of Nawala Nihal, carried out the multiple killings.
There were cases of brothel operators seeking the help of local gangsters to prevent their girls from going solo or joining other prostitution ring. "Once they join a particular ring, it is not easy to quit it," SI Fernando said.
Displayed in Lugodas office are photographs of some of the most wanted men. The photograph of Saman who died in a hail of bullets in the middle of last month was among them.
Over the past few years, some of the flesh traders have begun running what Lugoda described as mobile brothels. "We have detected 28 of them this year," he said, directing the officers involved in the actual operations to describe them.
It was a well organised racket. Apart from the locals, Chinese, Thai, Indian and girls from the former Soviet Republics are the key players.
How did they operate? "They operate in groups. A few women and the person who runs them do business from posh vehicles. Customers have to contact them over the phone. Once they established contact, the customers are asked to come to a given location. Sometimes, once they reached the point of rendezvous they are directed to another place. That is part of their strategy to identify the customers before they make the deal. They too monitor the movements of their customers. They wanted to make sure they are not dealing with cops or decoys. But we continue to carry out successful operations," SI Nagasena said.
"Once contact is made, our decoys are allowed to pick their choice and then make the payment. Payments varies. It can be anything between Rs. 2,000 to 5,000 for a local woman or upto Rs 10,000 for a foreigner. For how long? "One hour. Charges varies for extra hours. But they always treat their regular customers exceptionally well."
Customers have the right to take the women to a place of their choice or pick a place recommended by the operators, Lugoda said, as ASP Karavita added that they were aware of the presence of North Indian girls in Colombo. "But we havent made any arrests yet," Karavita said.
If customers agreed with their choice of a place, sometimes five star hotels, they give transport. Most of those in the trade use cars now. Earlier they preferred vans but there was evidence to suggest that they continued to switch vehicles. Some of them use certain rent-a-car service.
SI Neomal Fernando explained the difficulties in tackling so called mobile brothels. "Sometimes it would not be easy to convince the Magistrates that they were involved in prostitution. We have faced problems," he said. Lugoda said that the prostitution rings have good lawyers on their payroll. They have good legal advise. They can easily afford expensive lawyers, he said, adding that he was not talking about the women who walk the streets.
Did decoys get the opportunity to have sex before uniformed men carry out the raid? Lugoda said: "Yes. But it all depends how soon we carry out the raid. If it is delayed, the decoys have the opportunity to have some free fun."
"What about the money? Did you recover what you pay the prostitute? "Yes. We recover the money," SI Nagasena said. "But there had been instances when we failed," another officer said.
Police headquarters bars the deployment of policeman as decoys in raids on brothels and massage parlours. Although the establishment of massage parlours has been legalised , almost all of them are fronts for brothels.
Lugoda said: "We use civilians as decoys. They acted as clients in raids carried out by us and various police stations."
The department banned the deployment of police decoys many years ago after protests by some wives of policemen involved in such raids.
SI Nagasena said: "We use our friends. Sometimes two in a single raid as in the case of the recent raid on a shopping mall. Two people were deployed as we targeted two apartments. They love it, particularly the opportunity to have free sex and the feeling of being a part of a crackdown." "I dont mind becoming a volunteer myself," I told him as Nagasena smiled knowingly.
Sometimes the decoys are asked to give evidence. But they dont appear in open courts. Instead they are given the opportunity to present their side of the story in the Magistrates chambers, SI Indika Deepal said.
Lugoda said: "We do not take clients to custody. But sometimes they too are detained if there is a requirement to subject them for tests for venereal diseases.
Why did women join the flesh trade? "It is no longer poverty alone. I have interviewed many, some of them had no option but to toil as sex workers. But many engage in the trade as it gives them a high standard of living. Their reasons for being in the trade are purely economical. There are cases of husbands willingly allowing their wives to work at brothels and massage parlours."
SI Deepal said that they have come across prostitutes who sell themselves to obtain medicines for family members or a relative suffering from an incurable disease.
"On and off arrests do not discourage them. Some earn over Rs 30,000 a month. They do not want to lose good regular income," Lugoda said, adding that some prostitutes, when they grow old, get hold of a couple of girls to run their own house of ill-fame.
Prostitutes and in some cases women working alone have distributed their visiting cards among the three-wheeler drivers. They bring them good business. In turn they get the opportunity of free sex. They also benefit financially as they charge the customers to take them to a spot.
Unlike the women who walk the streets, those who cater to wealthy clients always insist their clients should wear condoms. Most of them carry condoms and offer them to the clients as soon as they agree on the price.
The Family Planning Association regularly distributes condoms among the poor women as a part of the strategy to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of venereal diseases.
Brothels are run in the pretext of karaoke centres. Lugoda said that they have found out that some of these joints place advertisements in national newspapers to select minor employees, some as waitresses.
"Once they are recruited, they are forcibly employed as sex workers. In some cases, they are raped. Once that happen, they cannot quit their jobs. They are forced to continue but once they get used to it and started enjoying their newly found freedom and power thanks to a steady income, they will not hesitate to hang on. They may try to change their places of work, but will definitely remain prostitutes, call girls or whatever they are called."
The entry of foreign girls has increased the competition among major operators. According to SI Fernando, the number of foreign girls in the trade went up subsequent to the ICC cup or the mini-world cup held in Colombo last September. "Most of the girls who arrived in Colombo anticipating big business stayed," he said.
If they are caught, their visas would not be extended and subsequently deported, he said
ASP Karavita said that the Range Vice Squad conducts raids in areas where the local police have failed to take action. Responding to questions, he insists that the CCD has not been pressurised by interested parties to abandon anti-vice operations.
Raiding parties include women police officers, he said, pointing out that was done to prevent the accused of making false allegations against members of the raiding party.
Although politicians have not directly interfered in anti-vice operations, particularly targeting prostitution, their henchmen have clashed with police. Recently a gang allegedly connected to a local politician battled Wennapuwa police after police arrested several prostitutes. Gangsters made an abortive bid to rescue the women but some of them ended up in police custody.
Police officers engaged in anti-vice operations looked as if they really enjoyed their job. Its more fun than fighting the underworld or being deployed on guard duty somewhere in the north-east. Even if police headquarters bars the deployment policemen as decoys, would it prevent some cops grabbing the chance of enjoying some of the "perks of office?"
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