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Four women net big bucks posing as online pimps

A COUPLE of computers, 17 mobile phones and pictures of Japanese porn stars were all four middle-aged women needed to make hundreds of thousands of yuan posing as pimps on QQ, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported yesterday.

The women, all in their 40s and with only a primary school education, used a QQ group to trick men into paying for prostitutes that didn’t exist.

Operating from Hubei Pro-vince, a tip-off led to their June 26 arrest by Longgang police.

The women targeted men in Guangdong, mostly factory workers, according to yesterday’s Chinese-language media reports.

The scam was a family business. Three of the women are siblings and one is a sister-in-law, according to Longgang police.

The scam began to unravel May 10 when a man surnamed Jiang told officers in the Ailian Police Station in Longgang that he had been cheated out of 7,500 yuan (US$1,210) when trying to buy sex through QQ.

Police found that the QQ account received more than 10,000 messages a month.

Each woman used several phones, some of the phones with voice-changing software installed, to communicate with men they wanted to scam.

Initially the women named prices of up to 1,000 yuan. After receiving the money, they would call the man and ask for another 2,000 yuan as a deposit to guarantee the safety of the prostitutes.

“Most of the victims realized they had been cheated at this stage,” said a police officer, surnamed Wang.

“But when the men who had paid a deposit demanded a refund, the suspects would demand the victim spend 6,800 yuan to 8,800 yuan on a membership card.”

Wang said that one man in Henggang, Longgang District, was cheated out of 22,000 yuan.

Most of the men involved were in their 20s or 30s, according to police.

A police task force found the suspects in Wuhan and Tianmen in Hubei Province.

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Improve libido and sexual function

Eurycoma longifolia is a medicinal plant found in South East Asia. It is commonly called Tongkat Ali or Malaysian ginseng, and is traditionally used as a general health tonic, adaptogen, and “anti-aging” remedy to help older individuals adapt to the reduced energy, mood, and libido that often comes with age. Decoctions of Tongkat Ali roots have been used for centuries as an aphrodisiac for loss of sexual desire and function, as well as to treat a range of ailments including post-partum depression, malaria, high blood pressure, and fatigue.

In modern dietary supplements, Tongkat Ali can be found in a variety of products intended to improve libido and sexual function, restore hormonal balance (cortisol/testosterone levels), enhance sports performance, weight loss, improve physical and mental energy, and overall quality of life.

Eurycoma longifolia contains eurypeptides, a 30-39 long amino acid chain, 4300 dalton molecular weight, that are known to have effects in improving energy status and sex drive in studies of rodents. Eurypeptides has been suggested as influencing the release of “free” testosterone from its binding hormone, sex hormonebinding-globulin (SHBG).

Benefits

Enhance sports performance

Promote anabolic state and reduce catabolic state

Maintain normal high free testosterone level

Maintain healthy cortisol level

Promote overall wellbeing and hormonal health

Enhance sexual function

Reduce stress and improve mood state

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Low testosterone levels may influence longevity

Doctors have noted for some time that low levels of testosterone in older men are associated with a number of signs and symptoms of aging. These include fatigue, an inability to concentrate, lowered libido and, for men with central adiposity or excess fat around their waists, an increased risk for diabetes.

One long-term study of older men is being done through the University of California at San Diego. It has followed men from the town of Rancho Bernardo since the early 70s. Twenty years ago, these men had a thorough medical exam that included taking blood samples to measure testosterone levels.

"We had 800 men that we measured the testosterone on, and they were followed yearly by mailers," says Dr. Gail Laughlin, one of the researchers with the study. "Every four years these men came back to the clinic and their health was assessed in various ways. "

The researchers obtain death certificates on a regular basis for men in the study who have died.

Laughlin says a 20-year analysis showed that men with lower levels of testosterone over time had a 23 percent greater chance of death than their contemporaries with normal levels of the reproductive hormone.

"We looked first to see if it could be explained completely by differences in either body size or central adiposity or lifestyle characteristics including physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption," she says. "None of these factors explain the association."

Laughlin says at the same time, men who had higher than normal levels of testosterone did not live any longer than men with normal levels.

She stresses that the lesson from this study should not be that men go out and start taking testosterone as they age. "This is an observational study, and all we have found is an association," Laughlin says. "Until we can do the randomized placebo controlled trials, we don't even know that testosterone is safe for men."

Laughlin says her group is applying for funding to perform just such a trial. She recently presented her research to The Endocrine Society and an article based on the findings will be published later this year.

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Int'l sex trafficking - Korea's open secret

By the time Lee, a 30-year-old Korean sex worker in Melbourne, called for help in 2010, she'd been forced into prostitution in two foreign countries and piled up a huge amount of debt.

She says loan sharks, bar managers and even clothing shop owners in Busan conspired to induce her to borrow $20,000. They sent her to brothels in Japan and Australia, where she was forced to have sex with up to 10 clients a day.

Hong, a 26-year-old North Korean defector, thought she would be working in a karaoke bar singing with customers and borrowed $6,000 for a broker to arrange a working holiday visa and for travel expenses last year.

Her manager, also a defector, told the woman her passport would be returned once the money was paid back. Hong earned $70 per session at a brothel.

"The people who arranged my travel, they were close to each other," she said. "I was on the outside. I was desperate to make money because I had just given birth."

Social workers say the cases show the deceptive tactics traditionally used to recruit and control victims, who are sometimes forced into the overseas sex industry in places also including the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Dubai and Macau.

National police, however, insist the problem is minimal.

The conflicting accounts raise questions over the scope of sex trafficking in Korea, where the sex trade accounted for a whopping 1.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2007. Critics assert that the government's dearth of relevant data reflects its ambivalence toward victims of prostitution, who are supposedly protected under law.

National Police Agency (NPA) Inspector Lee Hyun-il, in charge of human trafficking cases, has a starkly different take on the extent of the problem. "It's almost nothing. We are a Tier-1 country and abide by the relevant protocol," he said, citing the U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

The International Labor Organization estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide and 4.5 million of them are sexually exploited. Korea's controversial 2004 Special Prostitution Law sought to curb sex trafficking, but experts say it falls short of comprehensively defining the crime.

Busan's approach

Busan, like the rest of the country, is rife with diverse forms of prostitution, which is technically illegal.

In the beachside resort area of Haeundae, bargirls sit with customers in swanky room salons, often offering "second round" services. Elsewhere, brothel managers sit on stools in the street, beckoning passersby into well-worn red light districts. Massage parlors and outcall services abound.

What's interesting, however, is that Busan police have developed a reputation for being proactive on human trafficking. The related division there receives calls from at-risk people from across the country and abroad. This doesn't jibe with the notion that Koreans are not trafficked for prostitution.

Its related division has investigated some 100 cases this year. It receives calls from domestic and international victims and from sex industry workers who wish to admit that they have been involved in prostitution.

Busan police booked 150 loan sharks, brokers and sex workers in the overseas sex trade in 2011, said Nam Jae-woo, head of Busan's human trafficking investigation team, in an interview with the Women's Human Rights Commission of Korea. Around half were forced into prostitution because of debt.

The 2004 Act on the Punishment of Procuring Prostitution, seeks to eliminate prostitution and sex trafficking and to protect the rights of victims of prostitution.

One police source said the central government doesn't grasp the dynamics of trafficking, citing its plan to ban those who have been arrested for overseas prostitution from leaving the country for three years.

"Some women who have been overseas, who may have been trafficking victims but who fear being stigmatized, they have moved on and started families. But if they have to travel overseas, they might be revealed," the source said.

Internet advertisements are a common tool for recruitment of overseas sex workers. The right ad says, "Here's a way to make money for tuition without relying on your parents... Making money this way is much easier in America than Korea." / Korea Times file

Shady practices

Lee, the victim, entered the "entertainment industry" as a debt-saddled college student. During her first night in a Busan room salon, a bar manager gave her a stack of cash for filling in for another worker. The manager soon introduced her to a private lender, who loaned her enough to pay off her credit card bills.

Lee says the situation changed instantly. The manager, once affable, demanded she buy expensive clothes and cosmetics for work.

Byoun Jeong-hee, an activist with anti-trafficking group Sallim, says the case shows how multiple parties work to exploit a vulnerable person.

Such managers ? called club "members" ? play a bridging role between the clubs and loan sharks.

The members tend to the administrative affairs of those in the industry and keep close tabs on the worker's debts.

"Establishments tell women that if they want to work, they need to buy expensive clothes that match the ambiance of the bar," she said. "Clothing stores, hike up prices and give a commission to the madams."

Many women who borrow from loan sharks join a "group insurance" system under which the entire group is responsible for repayment, Byoun said. If one member fails to pay on time, the group is forced to pay her share, creating a system of peer pressure.

Byoun added that teenagers, including runaways, are especially vulnerable to Internet predators looking to recruit. Sites such as Foxalba.com and Sunhijang.com are notorious for such recruitment.

"Not pretty? Not thin? Don't like to drink? No Problem!" one recently posted ad reads, before going on to promise $200,000 won an hour for work as well as cash advances.

Lack of information

However, one police inspector from Gangnam, southern Seoul, argued that high demand for young, attractive prostitutes gave sex workers leverage over management.

"Many of the women work in the industry due to individual reasons, such as to buy luxury bags, or to pay back their credit card debt. Maybe it is different elsewhere, but we haven't seen many trafficking cases," the inspector said.

Experts say the disparity is partly because of a lack of reliable statistics on the number of victims of prostitution. The say the situation gets vaguer because the 2004 prostitution law fails to define the force or coercion that can take place within the industry.

"Without a detailed definition of human trafficking, it will be interpreted in a narrow manner," said Kim Jong-chul, an attorney with the Advocates for Public Interest Law.

"They might interpret it as the act of forcibly putting somebody under control and transporting them."

Choo Kyung-seok, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, said in order to tackle the problem, law enforcement and social service providers need to get on the same page.

"The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) take a look at the process of trafficking including sexual, physical, emotional and verbal exploitation of the domestic and migrant sex workers, while law enforcement focuses on the illegal aspect of domestic prostitution or migrant sex workers,'' he said.

Others say many wrongly perceive trafficking to involve physical bondage. There is also the misperception that those who enter the sex industry willingly cannot be victimized.

Matt Friedman, a Hong Kong-based expert with counter-trafficking organization Liberty Asia, stressed modern day slavery involves "emotional shackles" that can't always been immediately seen.

"In the counter-trafficking world, if (a woman goes into the sex industry) and she's cheated, trapped and enslaved, it's the same as if she was a complete victim…Once a person loses control of their destiny, are forced into a situation where they don't get paid (appropriately) and have to work, they belong to us in the counter-trafficking world.''

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