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The ‘immoral traffic act’ cannot be used against a customer: High Court

KOLKATA: The Calcutta High Court has ruled that a brothel customer cannot be charged under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 unless it is established that he is financially exploiting the sex worker.

While quashing a charge sheet against an NRI businessman, the HC stated that based on the evidence presented in court, the NRI seems to have traveled into Kolkata from Dubai and decided to have sex for money. The HC stated that the investigation found no evidence that he had financially exploited the sex worker, frequented the location, or lived with the sex worker on a regular basis. The HC stated that unless this was demonstrated, proving he assisted and abetted the crime would be impossible.

The case involved an NRI businessman who claimed to have arrived in Kolkata from Dubai in January 2019. He claimed to have a backache and used the Internet to locate a massage shop on CR Avenue. He stated that as the masseur attended to him, police invaded the location and detained everyone, including him. He was later granted provisional bail.

According to police, the businessman was apprehended at a brothel. Ten persons were apprehended during the operation, including eight women. They said that the businessman was discovered in a compromising position with a sex worker. ‘What is punishable under the Act is sexual exploitation or abuse of a person for commercial purposes and to earn the bread thereby keeping or allowing premises as a brothel and also when a person is carrying on prostitution in a public place or when a person is found soliciting or seducing another person as defined under the Act,’ Justice Ajoy Kumar Mukherjee said on Monday. ‘I find no evidence in the case diary to suggest that the current petitioner makes a living from prostitution’.

The HC further stated that ‘prostitution per se is not forbidden under the Act, but it is also equally true that a ‘client’ may virtually incite prostitution and may exploit the sex worker for money,’ but this must be demonstrated during the investigation. In this case, the HC said, even the sex worker with whom the businessman was discovered told authorities there was no compulsion.


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