Gangs involved in organised prostitution are luring customers through internet, text messages and mobile-based applications, taking advantage of a loophole in the law which is silent on regulating the proliferation, promotion and advertisement of prostitution on digital platforms. This also means the “online onslaught” is increasingly rendering redundant Garstin Bastion Road (GB Road), Delhi’s famous red light zone.
This correspondent recently received a WhatsApp (a popular internet-based messenger application) message from someone who claimed to have been providing “world class escort service with guaranteed customer satisfaction”. When contacted, the service provider gave an elaborate description of the various services being provided, including “chatting with a girl”, “bold relations”, etc. The charges for such “services” range from Rs 1,000 to Rs 8,000 for a night.
Apart from this, there are several websites that function under the name of either massage parlours or escort services, but a visit to these websites gives a completely different picture. Websites like nightan*els.com, exoticap*le.com, ka*al.co.in, among several others, openly list their various “explicit services” along with photographs of girls. When one of the websites was contacted, a person told this correspondent, “We have all sorts of girls, Indian, Nepali, Russian, models, airhostesses—depending on your budget.” “We cannot tell you everything over phone, you will have to come to Nehru Place near Eros Hotel and you can choose whatever you like,” he added. The prices for the “services” range between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 for two hours, to around Rs 30,000 for a night.
Several massage parlours and spa centres across the national capital also claim to provide “extra services” with “happy endings” after their massages for an extra payment. The deal will be struck directly with the masseur. Massage parlours are advertised widely through text messages, WhatsApp groups, websites, emails and mobile applications. Several mobile applications on Android and iOS (mobile software) promote or advertise prostitution in some way or the other.
Even a well known mobile application and website, Ju*t Dial, helps one find a nearby 24x7 massage parlour, along with their contact numbers. The contact numbers listed are usually of pimps, who readily share photographs of the available girls on WhatsApp and the prices are negotiated accordingly.
The Cyber Crime Cell of Delhi police has little knowledge about all this. An official admitted on the condition of anonymity, “We do not have any knowledge that such things are happening. These things go unreported because people do not like to talk about such things in the open. From the time we have opened this branch, we have not received any complaints on such issues.” He further added that the internet is a borderless space and to monitor all content with a handful of staff is a daunting task.
Pawan Duggal, an advocate and expert on cyber laws, told The Sunday Guardian, “The problem is that the Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 does not have any references to sex services or ‘companion services’. The only provision that exists is Section 67 of the IT Act, which makes publication or transmission of obscene electronic information an offence. Thus, these people are masquerading these services under the garb of massage parlours and escort services; even the police is not being able to take any action. They have understood the loophole in the law and are taking full advantage of it.”
According to police sources, there have also been cases of people being cheated by these “service providers”, either by asking them to deposit an amount of money to their account or share their credit card or debit card details for a “service” or “registration”, but none of these incidents gets reported fearing “negative perception” in society.
“The escort economy needs to be effectively regulated, as gangs are having their way as they know people would not report such matters. The law, however, recognises these escort services as intermediaries and asks them to exercise due diligence, but it is not well defined nor well followed,” Duggal added.