Bribe to Survive: Sextortion and LGBTQ Discrimination

In February 2019, a gay man from Krasnodar, Russia named Stanislav arranged to go on a date with a young man he had met on a dating app. When he arrived at their agreed-upon location, however, the young man was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Stanislav was greeted by police officers, who later beat him and threatened him with criminal prosecution unless he paid a bribe. Just a year earlier, another man, Fedor, similarly found himself on a “fake date” with a man he had met on the same dating app, which ended with him being forced to pay police a US$2,500 bribe after also being beaten and threatened with prison. In both cases, Russian prosecutors refused to carry out any investigations of extortion or police misconduct.

It isn’t just in Russia that police have begun turning to online dating sites and other forms of technology to entrap their victims. By arbitrarily seizing cell phones or creating profiles to set up “fake dates,” law enforcement officers around the world (including in Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Moldova, just to name a few places) have been able to obtain screenshots and photographs to blackmail LGBTQ people into paying them bribes. Not only are victims coerced into paying these bribes to end their torture and humiliation, but they also do it in response to threats of having their arrests publicized on national television, or revealed to their family and employers. In this way, laws criminalizing homosexual activity are imposed not only, or even primarily, to enforce moral ideologies, but rather to expand opportunities for the corrupt extraction of money from vulnerable communities.

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Corruption’s Queer History: Stonewall’s Seedy Underside

A little after midnight on June 28, 1969, New York City police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a seedy bar in Greenwich Village known for catering to a mostly LGBTQ crowd. Such raids were not uncommon—in fact, the Stonewall Inn had already been raided just four days prior to that now historic evening. But for some reason, that particular raid on that particular night had touched off violent clashes between police and Stonewall’s patrons, becoming a watershed moment for the LGBTQ civil rights movement in the United States. Indeed, the Stonewall Inn is now a national monument, and the anniversary of Stonewall is commemorated every year with Pride parades around the world.

In the days following the riots, however, the Stonewall Inn was in utter disarray: graffiti sprawled on its boarded-up windows read: “GAY PROHIBITION CORRUPT$ COP$ / FEED$ MAFIA.” That brief and blunt statement captures an important truth about Stonewall, one that is important for understanding both the historical context of the Stonewall uprising, as well as the intersection between anti-LGBTQ discrimination and corruption that persists today: The riots weren’t only about police discrimination—organized crime and corruption also played a fundamental role.

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Argentinian Judicial Reform: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

On February 1, 2022, several thousand demonstrators marched on the streets of Buenos Aires to demand judicial reforms. The march was supported by Kirchnerist groups (so-called because of their support for former Presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) and by President Alberto Fernández, a Kirchner ally who has been pushing for judicial reforms since his inauguration in 2019. Frustrations with Argentinian courts, however, transcend partisan divides. Polls indicate that about 70% of Argentinian adults believe the judiciary is corrupt, which is not very surprising given the recent string of high-profile judicial corruption scandals. Just last year, Judge Walter Bento was indicted and charged with running a large-scale corruption network. Likewise, in 2019, Judge Raúl Reynoso was sentenced to 13 years in prison for bribery and narcotrafficking. Judge Carlos Soto Dávila was similarly indicted in 2019 for accepting bribes in drug trafficking cases. Not only is there extensive evidence of judicial corruption, the Argentinian judiciary seems entirely ineffective at holding Argentina’s notoriously corrupt political class accountable: appallingly, only 1% of all corruption cases in Argentina ever result in an actual sentence.

In light of the Argentinian judiciary’s clear corruption and legitimacy problems, judicial reform seems like a step in the right direction. However, President Fernández’s plans for transforming Argentina’s judiciary, which he rearticulated this March, may actually worsen corruption rather than rectify it.

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