LE NOSTRE VITTORIE
by Alessandro Luna and Luca Pagani
“At the beginning, when at the end of February they started talking about this situation, I was one of those taking it lightly, I wasn’t believing it and I thought it was some kind of conspiracy.
I never thought that this was happening for real ”. The person talking is E., a 30-year-old escort, which lives in the province of Milan. Since the lockdown was imposed in Lombardy, she must, as a lot of others in her sector, deal with restrictions. “I do some webcam jobs, I’m getting by as I can, but despite the economic issue, it is also about keeping my mind busy. The majority of the people who start this job, or however we want to call it, are doing it also because they are suffering from some kind of depression. At least as far I’m concerned I’m not doing it only for the money, it’s a way to feel calmer .”
For the braver, the quarantine restrictions don’t represent an obstacle. “ Some people don’t understand the seriousness of the situation, some clients are even offering to pay an extra for seeing me during the lockdown, but I’ve always said no. Also, a few of my colleagues are not respecting the rules.” The ones in the worst situation are those that do not have a home to stay in without facing costs. ”People who rent rooms and bedrooms to the girls are taking advantage of the situation by not lowering prices. They know that they have no income, there is no point in making them still pay for the room.” Those that like E. work in prostitution, from one day to another are facing alone the restrictions introduced by the government to deal with the spread of the epidemic. Indeed, while before the restrictions a prostitute waiting for clients on the roadside was not too noticeable, today working in the social desert has become almost impossible and it is easy to get caught by the police and receive the famous fine for “not compliance with the rules”.
“Some people don’t understand the seriousness of the situation, some clients are even offering to pay an extra for seeing me during the lockdown, but I’ve always said no. Also, a few of my colleagues are not respecting the rules. ”
- E., 30 years old
E.'s story confirms that there is no specific line of action, each one is trying to react in the best way they can to the pandemic. Virtual sex work, made by girls which were not used to attract clients with skirts and heels on the roadside, but with elaborate and picturesque ads on many escorts' web sites, has been answering in three different ways to the hard impediments which the Coronavirus emergency has imposed to the business. There are, in the opinion of the website Escort advisor, some that simply stopped working because the money earned and put aside in their years of activity, for now, is enough to allow them to keep living quite serenely. Another category - of which E. is part - is the one of those sex workers who turned to smart working and who has converted their performances, not without any discount or sweetening of the prices.
The same website reports that 20% of the sex workers that were happy to meet you in their home now are converted to the new role of “camgirl” for a fee.
“ I don’t organize meetings, I’m doing everything online: online sex, online striptease. I work with a webcam. Many men are willing to see me, I’ve put online ads on different websites of various nations. Currently, I have clients in London, in Naples, in Barcelona, they ask me to meet them in person, but I say no, I ‘m working only as a camgirl.” This testimony is from K., a 28-year-old from Argentina. She is proof of how the market is reinventing itself, overcoming the boundaries imposed by the laws against the virus and ensuring the survival of sex-workers. “I’ve always worked. Obviously, I’ve put something aside and I have not asked for the 600 euros to the Inps. Now I keep working, I’m making 300 euros a day and this is allowing me to move on. ”
The third category is the most hit by the emergency. It is made up of those that have started recently, exploited girls that used to live under the tyranny of some kind of “protector ” that, not interested in the workers' conditions (as they are easily interchangeable), does not guarantee a standard of life which allows them not to ask for support from the institutions.
“We are hungry and nobody is helping us. Before, on the road, we were working, now we end up sleeping in cardboard boxes. Without clients, we are not able to pay rent for our rooms. You can die from coronavirus even without having pneumonia.” Those are the words that Gloria, who arrived a few years ago from Nigeria, has told a journalist of the Italian newspaper Repubblica while she was in the queue waiting for a hot meal at Rome’s Caritas. The charity mostly feeds those who work on the road and are now completely broke and talk about waking up with “hunger cramps.”
In this field there are many victims of coercion. Indeed, many people are victims of trade, a phenomenon with very complex connotations and which sees in Europe a privileged theatre.
The world of sex workers - obviously not only linked to the womens, on which we are focusing in this analysis - and the one of human beings trade are different sectors and require to be addressed in different ways. However, the collocation of the two phenomenons inside of the same criminal field from the jurisdictions in many European nations unavoidably brings to a greater confusion on the matter. In particular, it ends up with an increase of the contact points.
According to the Eurostat data examining the biennium 2015-2016, 20.532 victims of trade have been recorded across the countries member of the union. The same study underlines that the two majors fields of interest for criminal organisations keep being sexual exploitation (78%) and work (15%). Those numbers are referred only to the proven cases from the judicial authority or ONG’s activity. In the same document, it is highlighted how the real number of victims is considerably higher, as there is no data on the link between the number of identified and unidentified cases. In a study conducted by an internal organ of the European Parliament, it is reported that an optimistic statistic suggests that 1 prostitute out of 7 in Europe is a victim of traffic. Some member states - there are no specifications about which ones - have valued that between the 60% and 90% of their prostitution market is involved in human trafficking.
“A lot of victims of human trafficking are abused if they don't pay. In this situation they are even more vulnerable, as they are forced to go on the road looking for clients to pay for food and rent”, says Pia Covre, activist and representative of the Committee for civil rights of prostitutes.
20.532 victims of trade in the biennium 2015-2016 across the countries member of the union.
3,9 bilion of euro the value of the prostitution market.
12% the workers in the sector who contacted the Inps.
The relevance of the phenomenon of human beings' trade is also reflected in an answer for proposing different kinds of assistance. In Italy, many people work to provide support to the victims of human trafficking. Since the 80s, several assistance associations were born to provide social and economical support. In the locations where an ambulatory is available, also sanitary support is provided.
As Covre explains: “Several towns made government aid available to residents. Instead, for those that live in the city but are not residents, as in the case of the majority of sex workers, this poses the major problem.
Facing this difficulty is the task of associations which, for what they can, provide help to whoever is in trouble.
Pia Covre follows up by mentioning the work of the Transgenre Consultancy of Tower of the Puccini Lake which, besides offering services such as the one of psychological and endocrinological support, is facing the emergency that the community is living by distributing food, with the help of the Civil Protection. The solidarity chain started from these associations also includes citizens, who are invited to give their contribution through a fundraising campaign created by the Committee for civil rights of prostitutes.
Besides these real and proper emersion programs, there has also been an institutional answer. The Minister of Domestic Affairs has created a Green Number to provide information on services that the state guarantees to the victims of human trafficking, to direct those people to the most suitable socio-healthcare service.
According to the data reported by the Department for Pair Opportunities, from 2000 to 2012 more than 68.000 people have used services offered by associations or by the State. Out of these, 22.000 have been taking part in rehabilitation and social integration programs. The existence of services for assistance, and at the same time the lack of proper regulation in the sector - which, as has been said, is the biggest container of the victims of trade phenomenon - demonstrates an institutional schizophrenic attitude, or at least timorous, in trying to deal with the problem. This became particularly evident when analysing the legislative framework in which sex workers are moving.
On one side, the Italian law is trying to fight human trafficking. In 1998, article 18 of the single text D.Lgs. 286/98 for the dispositions on the matter of immigration regulations, dedicated to the residency for social protection reasons, states that the residency permit gets released to the victim in both cases: if they decide to file a complaint and if they can’t or don’t want to call on state regulations.
On the other hand, Italian law doesn’t allow to find a solution for the situation that sex workers live every day.
Concerning the Merlin Law of 1958, that today still regulates prostitution, professionals of the sector are obliged in a confused legislative limbo that neither criminalizes nor disciplines them. However, this market invoices at least 3,9 millions of euros every year, a number based on estimates from Codacons on an analysis on the sector in January 2018. “Most of those that in Italy do sex work are not in good standing” explains Pia Covre. She puts the accent on the issue of legitimation: “ There is no recognition of the work they do, just a few of them decided to open a VAT number as masseuses to be included in the assistance planned by the law “Cura Italia”. But there are really a few.
Opening this kind of VAT number is indeed one of the complex ways that allows, to the professionals using it, to have the right to the social safety nets or any eventual kind of economic help. However, the number of people that succeed in having them is very little.
From what can be assumed from the data, that are always unable to give a complete picture of the situation, it looks like only the 12 % of the workers in the sector, almost 2 millions of women, have tried to address the INPS’s website for having access to the 600 euros bonus which is planned for self-employed.
The association for civil rights Certi Diritti has appealed, subscribed from various associations to the Parliament. In this appeal, it is requested a concrete commitment from institutions on the managing of the COVID-10 emergency for the dark world of prostitution. The objectives are to extend the economic measures also to the people that do these kinds of jobs, to intervene also in cases in which irregular immigrants are involved and to create the conditions for the associations that work in those fields to operate at their best.
“The emergency at this moment is highlighting the failure of an emergency management which is not listening to the claims from civil society “, is what Leonardo Monaco, secretary and president of association Certi Diritti said. “Now like never before there is the need for the Parliament to meet, opening the debate and not only voting for the trust. With our appeal, we want to remember that these categories remained completely excluded from this debate”.
“I used to live in a reception house, I know how it works, I’m the first to say that there is a need to legalize the profession. It would be more rewarding in terms of money, most of the rivalry would disappear, each one would pay his taxes and the exploitation could be avoided”. Sex workers as E. are the first asking for the legalization of prostitution and they are doing it keeping in mind all those protections and rights that having a legal and recognised work brings and ensures. “There would be much more protection for our category, we should adopt a model as the Dutch one, in this way we would be protected if someone tries to molest us. At this moment if we are victims of harassment we can do nothing”. Research conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine proves how the criminalization of the sex work sector brings to a three times higher rate of being victims of harassment and a two times higher risk of taking HIV.
If the system of prostitution were legal, perhaps today the Caritas entrance halls would be less full and the girls that today are in those halls could have beneficiated independently of their incomes, without the need of splitting them with their “protector”. This figure,” the pimp”, is a clear derivate from the situation of the illegality of prostitution.
In a legal system a woman, if the client is refusing to pay, can call the police instead of her exploiter, without fear of being arrested. We would maybe have more rights for womens, while those who exploit them could be punished.
As Pia Covre says “There is the need to reconsider the possibility to recognise this job, only in this way it is possible to obtain protection and guarantees as should be for every kind of work”.
“There is the need to reconsider the possibility to recognise this job, only in this way it is possible to obtain protection and guarantees as should be for every kind of work”.
- Pia Covre
Illustrations by Gionatella Traslation by Marta Bernardi Revision by Alice Santini, Giulia Genovesi