#NotYourRescueProject: How a white middle-class academic masqueraded as the women he trafficked and pimped

Molli Desi was — until recently — one of several women and girls trafficked from the Indian sub-continent into the UK sex industry and pimped from flats in Kingston and Surbiton. Their names include “Beauty,” “Kama of Kingston,” “Rani Desi,” and of course “Molli Desi.” These women and girls were marketed to sex-buyers under the moniker of “sacred prostitutes”: servicing men wasn’t just “sex work,” it was their spiritual mission and they were highly trained. The men who bought them, however, complained on punter websites that they were unable to speak English and were utterly unenthusiastic. These men did not report the trafficking of these women and girls to the police.

Molli Desi

Desi made a lot of money for her pimp/trafficker. But she was also a boon for his ideology. This is because her pimp/trafficker was the sex-trade’s foremost ideologue, Dr. John Davies. Davies is now serving 12 years imprisonment for a £5 million charity scam. More recently, he lost his appeal before three judges for the conviction for offences that earned him a further three years in jail. Disturbingly, these crimes relate to possession of multiple weapons including stun guns disguised as mobile telephones and canisters of CS gas. I therefore write with urgency. Why did Davies arm himself with these weapons, and where are the women and girls he trafficked and pimped?

I have discovered the creator of the hashtag campaign #NotYourRescueProject is Dr. John Davies, masquerading as Desi. This hugely damaging campaign continues to be instrumental in enabling liberals, leftists, and others who should know better, to smear feminist sex trade abolitionists such as myself as Victorian, anti-sex, racist colonialists, driven by class prejudice, hell-bent on controlling the sexuality of “sex workers.” It is also a handy platform from which to abuse and gaslight survivors who give very different accounts of male violence in prostitution. Moreover, it is has become a legitimate “body of peer-reviewed research” to thwart social policy which would otherwise provide prostituted women and girls exit from prostitution and hold the men who profit from their abuse to account.

“I believe it is very important for sex worker voices from the emerging world to be heard unmoderated by any special interest,” “Desi” has written. “I believe enabling sex workers with rights and especially the right to organize their own resistance is what is most needed.” “Desi” further argued that although there is some abuse within prostitution, that is caused by, “sex work being a marginalized occupation.” In other words, violence against women is supposedly caused by feminist abolitionists like myself.

Those campaigning for blanket decriminalization of the sex trade love #NotYourRescueProject. As pro-prostitution activist and former pimp Maggie McNeill wrote on her blog, “By late afternoon an article about it appeared [at the Georgia Straight], and by the next day prohibitionists were frantically attempting damage control by interjecting their own myths, denunciations, and accusations (the sex workers were really ‘pimps’ or clients, were “not representative”, etc.) into the stream.”

On the pro-sex trade website, Slutocracy, an author claims that, “This problem of ‘rescue’ is global.”

Dr. Laura Agustin, author of Sex At The Margins: Migration, Labour Markets, and the Rescue Industry coined the term “rescue industry” to describe feminists opposed to the sex trade. The author at Slutocracy incredulously suggests that we are profiting from our politics, writing, “There’s a lot of money to be made with sex workers’ bodies.”

The same article condemns feminists critical of the sex trade:

“It is heartbreaking to learn that one of the biggest issues sex workers face is white middle class feminism… With some aspects of feminism endangering them (the European Women’s Lobby want the harmful Nordic Model to be made Europe-wide, and many feminists support and campaign for the Nordic model and criminalization) it’s no wonder that some sex working women and sex worker allies don’t want to identify as feminist.”

Do the pro-sex trade lobbyists really believe that the Molli Desi character is genuine, and that she truly is the founder of #NotMyRescueProject? From Bustle:

“At the beginning of January, a loose coalition of sex workers and allies got together virtually to decide on a hashtag that would give this issue visibility. They finally decided on the hashtag #NotYourRescueProject. The two main faces behind the hashtag are N’Jaila Rhee and Molli Desi, both of whom are sex workers. They consulted with sex worker rights advocate Melissa Gira Grant and activist Suey Park of #NotYourAsianSidekick fame. Within a few days, the hashtag was trending.”

It is odd that a girl trafficked from the Indian sub-continent, whom I know to be poor, uneducated, and illiterate would have the time or the inclination to maintain a high social media profile: blogging and tweeting as a highly articulate “sex worker’s rights” activist who was well connected to key players in the pro-prostitution world, including the aforementioned Maggie McNeill who invited Desi to guest blog an exhaustive series of essays on the topic.

It is odder still that Desi would tweet and blog photographs from the Esher house where Davies lived; or share his peculiar interests: cars illegally parked in disabled parking spaces, the anthropology of Devadasi women and girls, Hungarian politics and geography centred around Szeged, and migration theory. But I have irrefutable proof that the Desi “sex worker’s rights” campaigner is in fact Davies. The girl he trafficked from Bangladesh has had her image stolen from her, and experience totally colonized by this conman, and the pro-prostitution movement.

John Davies

My investigation into the life and crimes of Davies led me to the West London suburbs of brothels in Surbiton and Kingson, and to Davies’ local pimping operations, as well as his decades-long involvement in human trafficking. I also have business records and have traced ISP addresses of various websites used by the women and girls he trafficked and pimped back to Davies and his alias’, including John Shelton. But one of the most shocking aspects of this story is how Davies not only hid behind the respectability of academic trafficking denialism within the notorious Centre for Migration Studies Department of Sussex University, he also doubly exploited the women he pimped by appropriating their entire identities and creating fake “empowered sex workers” under their names.

On “her” blog, Desi writes:

“Criminalizing clients will create huge problems for sex workers as our bodies will become the forensic locale of investigation. The police will have the right to survey my body and invade my vagina for evidence, they will confiscate used condoms and search my phone to see who called me.”

Not only did #NotMyRescueProject create a media storm within pro-prostitution activism, it has also been swallowed by the academy, thereby going full circle back to the very institution that allowed its creator, Davies, to masquerade as an “empowered” Bangladeshi “sex worker.”

Reference to the campaign was cited in an influencial book entitled, Missionary Positions, A Postcolonial Feminist Perspective on Sex Work and Faith-Based Outreach from Australia (September 2017), which argues that feminist abolitionism is rooted in puritanical, white Christianity.

The genesis of the campaign was to attack all opposition to pimping and sex buying. It was the brainchild of a pimp, trafficker, and sex buyer. Since the imprisonment of Davies in 2015, Desi’s Twitter account has lain idle. Where is she now? And where are the other girls and women he abused?

Julie Bindel is a journalist, a feminist campaigner against male violence, and the author of The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth.

Julie Bindel

Julie Bindel is a journalist, a feminist campaigner against male violence, and the author of The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth.