Violence is evident in Nepal’s adult entertainment industry
The adult entertainment industry is flourishing in urban Nepal, where the sex trade is still illegal, in the form of dance bars, hut restaurants, dohori (folk duos) clubs and small hotels. There are hundreds of adult entertainment workers in populous cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara.
In Nepalese patriarchal society, the industry is generally aimed at men, while most of the workers are women, some of whom are minors. The very nature of the industry and the patriarchal mindset of the clients pushes women workers in the industry into an inescapable circle of gender-based violence. Yet because the industry is gendered by nature, the issue receives little or no attention in the public debate, stakeholders believe.
However, to conclude the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, Onlinekhabar speaks with Tara Bhandari, one of the founders of Biswas Nepal, an organization working for the rights of adult entertainment workers, on the subject of vulnerability of these people in terms of gender-based violence.
What types of violence do adult entertainment workers face?
Working in the adult entertainment industry is fraught with risk and stigma. In this sector, female entertainment workers are more vulnerable to labor exploitation, sexual, psychological and physical violence. Sexual abuse, low and irregular wages, sexual harassment, deprivation of labor rights and police harassment are very common in this sector. The workers are humiliated by everyone.
The risk of internal and overseas trafficking and sexual coercion by customers are ongoing issues for adult entertainment workers in Nepal. Clients and sometimes even owners tend to manipulate them, promising them better employment opportunities, ultimately trapping them in sex trafficking.
Adult entertainment workers cannot walk openly in society and live with dignity. Many of them have to lie about their work when society looks down on them. Their work is not considered “decent”. Such social stigma attached to them has made their life hellish.
Although they are aware of this stigma, they choose to work in this industry due to the lack of other alternatives. Most adult entertainment workers come from very poor family backgrounds. Some are abandoned by their families, others by their husbands. Likewise, others are single mothers while others are survivors of child marriage. Because they are already powerless and unable to expose vulnerability, they are more exposed to all kinds of violence.
What do you think is the root cause of gender-based violence in the adult entertainment industry?
According to my observation, the main reason for the violence is a lack of government oversight. Apparently, the adult entertainment industry in Nepal is not organized and systematic. Workers do not receive contracts or wages as mentioned by the Labor Law of 2017.
As the law has not been enforced, they are more prone to violence and less likely to access justice. Neither the employer asks them for documents before providing them with a job, nor the workers receive legal documents. They are recruited solely on the basis of their appearance and the contract is made verbally. This trend frees owners of any liability to adult entertainment workers.
How does such violence impact the lives of adult entertainment workers?
This violence has physical, psychological, financial and societal impacts on them. They must suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, isolation, depression and more. Some even choose to end their own lives. Many others go through financial crises, family breakdowns among other problems.
But what about their access to justice? Is justice accessible to them?
They rarely go to the police to file complaints about the abuse and exploitation they face. Most of them endure violence, remaining silent as they have no legal documents to back them up.
Moreover, they are mistreated even by the authorities and often denied justice as there have been nominal changes in the mindset of officials towards entertainment workers. Thus, female entertainment workers do not trust the authorities.
However, there have been some positive changes in the authorities’ response due to the advocacy. However, it is very minimal.
But, there is very little discussion of violence against adult entertainment workers and their rights. Why is this so?
The adult entertainment industry and work are not considered decent in our society. They are not treated the same as people in other roles. Instead, they are ashamed. Hence, no one tends to listen to their voice and speak for them.
There are very few organizations like ours working to ensure their rights, dignity and safety at work. Yet, as very little has been done to implement the 2017 Labor Act in this sector, there is not much talk of violence against female entertainment workers.
Has there not been work to resolve this problem by the government and other stakeholders?
There is the new labor law. In addition, the Supreme Court issued a directive to formulate the law for the adult entertainment sector to protect women and girls working in this sector from sexual and economic exploitation.
In addition, Biswas Nepal has worked with stakeholders and consistently advocated to ensure the labor rights, dignity and safety of adult entertainment workers. There was also sporadic surveillance in dance bars, clubs and hotels. Local governments are also working on developing monitoring guidelines.
As a result of these efforts, some owners provided ID cards and transportation to the workers. The practice of keeping girls under the age of 18 has declined considerably.
What then remains to be done?
Specific law is needed to tackle violence and the problems faced by adult entertainment workers and systematically regulate this industry. They should enjoy the dignity and facilities like other workers. These workers should be paid a salary specified in the labor law.
All stakeholders must work together for this. There should be frequent monitoring of how this sector is functioning and how workers are recruited and treated by governments.
Local governments should be more responsible for this; they have to keep track of everything.
Finally, awareness must be widely disseminated to the public.