Art reflects and sometimes even predicts changes in society. Recent incidents have shown that writer T.D. Ramakrishnan had a sense of the pulse of society in his novel Francis Ittykkora. The novel, published in 2009, takes place against the backdrop of interactions through a website that sells sex. The novel explores the history of the Christian community in Malabar through a 15 century merchant. A bunch of women in Kochi who sell sex through the Internet also play a significant part in the novel.

The Aluva police recently cracked an online sex racket here, suggesting that these are not the stuff of fiction alone. The police got hold of the racket in the city when they rescued a Bangladeshi girl who was forced into the online sex racket. She was brought to the city with the lure of a job and held captive for sex trade at a building in Aluva. Police said potential customers were directed to the racket through a website that advertised escort services.

The racketeers allegedly emailed pictures of the girl to various clients. The racketeer and the client would then discuss the price and a rendezvous point for the trade. Police officers said such services were now replacing the sex worker on the street.

Ramakrishnan started work on his novel in 2005, when the Internet for most people in Kerala was a slow dial-up connection that disrupted phone lines.

“I had heard about these websites when I was in Chennai. There were many takers for the service even then,” he says. Ramakrishnan then situated the web prostitutes in his story in Kochi.

The Internet has changed the way many sex rackets are run. Up until a few years ago, female sex workers decked up in jewellery and make-up could be seen at railway and bus stations. Many of them have now disappeared as more sex rackets move online.

“It is no surprise that sex work, like all other trades, moved online. Even sorcery, charms and amulets are now sold online,” says Mr. Ramakrishnan.

Online prostitution rings meet the demands of their customers, while offering them the anonymity of an Internet transaction. Sex workers and their clients are saved the embarrassment of waiting around in public places. “The Internet has lent sophistication to sex work,” said the writer.

Online racketeers are also harder to track, said a police officer. “Earlier, sex rackets used to operate out of safe houses. Now that it’s all online, their operations can be moved around easily,” he said.

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