Cable by Dazzlepod US Embassy Diplomatic Cables from WikiLeaks Released 251287 Cables (Sep 2, 2012)
SECRET (11322)
Reference ID 08MUSCAT138 (original text)
OriginEmbassy Muscat
ReleasedAug 30, 2011 01:44
CreatedFeb 17, 2008 04:38
DE RUEHMS #0138/01 0480438
R 170438Z FEB 08
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/13/2018 
Classified By: Ambassador Gary A. Grappo for Reasons 1.4 b/d 
  1. (C) Summary: Contacts suggest that prostitution, 
particularly among women working in massage parlors and 
dance clubs, is a growing problem in Oman.  The Royal Oman 
Police (ROP) has arrested and deported women for engaging 
in prostitution, but the government has not prosecuted to 
date any alleged brothel owners or recruiters for 
facilitating the sex trade.  The government claims that 
there is no evidence of human trafficking among 
prostitutes; however, contacts in foreign missions tell 
poloff that some of their nationals have been subjected to 
sexual exploitation.  End summary. 
- - - - - - 
- - - - - - 
 2. (C) Prostitution is a taboo topic in Oman, and the 
government rarely provides official information on 
prostitution or related issues.  The lack of information 
makes it exceedingly difficult to gauge the actual size or 
nature of the commercial sex trade in Oman.  Contacts among 
expatriates and non-official Omanis tell poloff, however, 
that commercial sexual transactions are occurring in 
hotels, bars, brothels, and in some massage parlors and 
health clubs that increasingly have appeared in certain 
cities in Oman in recent years.  The majority of women 
allegedly involved in the sex trade are from China, 
Morocco, Eastern Europe, India and South Asia.  There also 
are some Omani prostitutes, contacts say; veiled Arab women 
reportedly often demand a higher price on the market. 
- - - - - - - - - - - - 
Prostitution as Choice? 
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 3. (C) While a few government officials privately admit 
that commercial sexual transactions take place, they 
contend that prostitution does not pose a major criminal or 
social problem.  Assistant Attorney General for Technical 
Affairs, Mohammad Darwish al-Shidi, told poloff that the 
Public Prosecutor initiated only 24 prostitution cases in 
2006, many of which the government eventually dropped for 
lack of evidence.  Most of the cases were against 
individual women, the majority of whom were registered as 
maids, he said, who had "chosen" to engage in prostitution 
as a way to increase their monthly income.  Al-Shidi said 
that there has been no evidence to date to suggest that 
criminal networks are running prostitution rings or that 
women are the victims of human trafficking for sexual 
exploitation.  If there had been such evidence, he stated, 
the government would have charged those responsible under 
Articles 220-222 of the Penal Code, which assign a prison 
sentence of up to five years for those found guilty of 
forcing a women to have sex with a third party or earning a 
living off of her prostitution.  Finally, he opined, if 
there had been strong evidence of trafficking, the Public 
Prosecutor would have handled the case as one of 
enslavement under Article 260, which carries a prison 
sentence of up to 15 years. 
- - - - - - - - - - - - 
Claims of Exploitation 
- - - - - - - - - - - - 
 4. (C) Diplomats from some labor exporting countries tell 
poloff that some of their nationals have claimed to be 
victims of forced prostitution and sexual exploitation. 
These women's claims of abuse, however, rarely result in 
formal charges against their pimps or employers, the 
diplomats say.  Suhod Sinsuat, Administrative Officer and 
Attache (protect) in charge of assistance to Philippine 
nationals, told poloff of a 2006 case in which a woman who 
was working legally in Oman as a maid claimed that a man 
abducted her from in front of her sponsor's house and 
forced her to work as a prostitute in a Muscat brothel. 
The woman finally ran away to the embassy's safe house and 
recounted that she had been forced to have sex with clients 
seven to eight times per day for five Omani Riyals (USD 13) 
per encounter.  The women further claimed that the owner of 
the brothel never paid her.  Sinsuat said that the 
Philippine Embassy reported the woman's story to the ROP, 
which investigated the claim, detained the brothel managers 
and eventually closed down the brothel.  However, Sinsuat 
declared that the ROP never formally arrested the managers 
or owners of the brothel, and that the government did not 
MUSCAT 00000138  002 OF 003 
pursue the charges against them for their activities.  As 
the case languished, the Philippine Embassy eventually 
repatriated the woman, and the Omani government dropped 
charges because the claimant had left the country. 
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Alleged Exploitation in Massage Parlors... 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
 5. (C) Diplomats in other foreign missions also have 
informed poloff of claims of sexual exploitation, 
particularly among some women who work as masseuses in 
health clubs and as dancers in hotel bars, which many 
contacts claim may act as fronts for prostitution. 
Naddaphong Lathapipat (protect), a consular and welfare 
officer in the Embassy of Thailand in Muscat, estimated 
that during 2007, an average of two Thai women per week 
sought shelter at the Thai Embassy's safe house, each with 
similar stories of abuse.  The women, he said, claimed that 
recruitment agencies in Thailand had promised them jobs in 
clinics or tourist resorts as masseuses with good 
salaries.  They then traveled to Oman as tourists with the 
promise that their Omani employers would get them a work 
visa once they were in country.  The women reported that 
their prospective employers - both Omani and expatriate - 
generally met them at the airport and took their passports, 
but never changed their visa classification to allow them 
to work legally. 
 6. (C) The Thai women claimed that their employers and 
customers used the women's illegal status as a way to force 
them into sex, Lathapipat related, which customers 
regularly expected during a massage session.  If the women 
tried to refuse, the customer or employer would remind the 
women of their illegal status and threaten to turn them 
into the police if they did not comply.  Lathapipat also 
said that some women reported being physically confined to 
the massage parlors, often forced to work - providing both 
massages and sex - without pay or time off. 
 7. (C) According to Lathapipat, the ROP has taken action 
against some of these establishments, after which it 
generally informs his embassy if there are Thai nationals 
involved.  For example, he said, in early December 2007 the 
ROP raided and closed two massage parlors for prostitution 
- one in the southern city of Salalah and another in Nizwa 
in Oman's interior.  During the operation, in which 
officers posed as paying customers, Lathapipat said that 
the ROP arrested four Thai women for engaging in 
prostitution and violating Oman's labor laws by working 
without an employment visa.  The ROP detained the Thai 
women, as well as a number of women from Morocco, Russia 
and China, for one week before deporting them in 
mid-December.  Lathapipat noted that according to his 
information, neither the owners nor the managers of the 
massage parlor were prosecuted. 
- - - - - - - - - - 
...and Dance Clubs 
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 8. (SBU) Contacts say that women who come to Oman to dance 
in hotel bars may find themselves in similarly exploitative 
situations.  Many hotels in Oman - particularly those rated 
at three stars and below - have one or more bars associated 
with them, a sizable number of which feature women (often 
grouped by ethnic or national origin) dancing on a raised 
platform.  Customers in many of these establishments 
reportedly can indicate their interest in a particular 
dancer and pay a bar employee to have the woman focus her 
attention on them while she dances. 
 9. (C) According to a contact who claims to have spoken 
with multiple women who are working as dancers in these 
bars, the process by which these women enter the country 
makes them particularly vulnerable to abuse.  In many 
cases, he said, a recruiter in their country of origin can 
pay the women as much as 1,000 OR (USD 2,600) up-front to 
work as a dancer in Oman.  However, the women have to repay 
this amount to their employers through their earnings, 
which they receive by capturing the attention of the bar's 
customers.  These women reportedly receive as little as 150 
beza (USD .40) of each riyal (USD 2.60) that a customer 
pays to have them direct their dancing towards him.  They 
often work from 9:00 pm to 3:00 am on weekdays and an 
expanded schedule on weekends.  The contact said that in 
some instances, the women asserted that their employers 
lock them in houses until the next day's performance, and 
that some employers use their leverage to force the dancers 
MUSCAT 00000138  003 OF 003 
into prostitution. 
 10. (C) A Moroccan diplomat told poloff that the ROP will 
inform him on occasion that it has detained Moroccan 
nationals in Oman as dancers on charges of prostitution and 
illegal work.  He said that most of these women, whom the 
ROP generally deports after a short period of detention, 
entered Oman on tourist visas or under a special 
three-month renewable visa for members of dancing or 
musical groups.  These visas, he said, are approved by the 
Ministry of Tourism and do not require the petitioning 
hotel or bar owner to obtain a work permit from the 
Ministry of Manpower (MOM).  Their defacto status as 
unregistered workers places the women outside the system of 
complaint adjudication and legal redress that the MOM and 
Oman's 2003 Labor Law can provide.  These women may end up 
working and living in the country illegally when their visa 
expires, the Moroccan diplomat said, which makes them 
particularly vulnerable - like the women in massage parlors 
- to becoming victims of sexual exploitation. 
- - - - - - - - - - 
Imprecise Estimates 
- - - - - - - - - - 
 11. (C) All of the diplomats with whom poloff spoke 
estimated that the number of victims among their nationals 
in Oman likely is small.  They admitted, however, that 
their missions do not know how many of their female 
nationals may be in country at any given time, let alone 
how many of them are possible TIP victims.  Many of the 
women working in dance and massage establishments do not 
register with their respective embassies upon their 
arrival, the diplomats complained.  The Moroccan diplomat, 
for example, asserted that he did not have statistics 
regarding how many Moroccan women enter Oman under the 
dance troupe visa every year.  Further, despite stories of 
abuse, his government had yet to approach Oman's Ministry 
of Tourism to get these statistics or discuss the process 
by which the Ministry issues these visas.  The diplomats 
also declared that some of their nationals enter Oman 
illegally.  A Chinese diplomat told poloff, for instance, 
that there have been cases in which local agents brought 
Chinese women into Oman via the United Arab Emirates (UAE) 
with false visas and travel documents to work in businesses 
advertising traditional Chinese therapeutic massage.  In 
several specific cases, he said, the women were deported on 
charges of prostitution. 
- - - - 
- - - - 
 12. (C) The government of Oman asserts that it soon will 
pass an anti-trafficking law that provides a national 
committee with the mandate to establish a comprehensive 
program to combat human trafficking (reftel).  The stories 
of prostitution in Oman raise a number of issues that this 
committee could address, including: researching possible 
links between prostitution and trafficking; and 
investigating why the ROP and Public Prosecutor have failed 
to pursue cases against brothel owners and those who 
facilitate the sex trade.  (Note:  According to the draft 
anti-TIP law, the Ministry of Tourism is not represented on 
the national committee, which could complicate research 
into how tourist promotion and services may contribute to 
trafficking.  End note.)  The committee might also work 
with labor exporting countries to develop strategies to 
screen foreign workers who may be headed for jobs with 
known links to prostitution. 
 13. (C) Given the government's reticence to deal with the 
roots of prostitution in Oman, such an agenda will likely 
take time to develop.  However, a Ministry of Health 
official seconded to UNICEF told poloff that the Ministry 
has applied for money from the United Nation's World AIDS 
Fund to conduct a sex workers survey in Oman.  While the 
Ministry's primary focus is on stopping the spread of 
HIV/AIDS in a high-risk population, the study would be the 
first official recognition that prostitution exists, and 
could help provide a platform for dealing with it.  End