Anna Zobnina, the Strategy & Policy Coordinator for the European Network of Migrant Women (ENoMW), interviews Dr. Ingeborg Kraus, a German psychologist who specialises in trauma. They talk about the trauma experienced by people in prostitution, the situation in Germany during the coronavirus crisis, and the group of German MPs who want to change the system they have with regards to prostitution – a system of legalisation and regulation – and close the doors once and for all of the ‘brothel of Europe’.
This video was originally published on ENoMW’s Facebook page on 20/05/2020 as part of their Migrant Women Reality Watch series of live Facebook broadcasts. You can watch theoriginal video here.
This is an article written by Valentina Pazé, a professor in political philosophy at the University of Turin, and translated by Ruby Till for Associazione Iroko. It was originally published on 26-05-2020 in Volere La Luna. You can find the original Italian version here.
Prostitution: a job like any other?
The sex industry is among the sectors of the economy that have been hit hardest by the recent lockdown. Shendi Veli reminded us of this in her article on 12th March in Il Manifesto, talking about the fact that so-called sex workers had been abandoned during this pandemic. She presented the classic demands made by proponents of “decriminalisation”: from the recognition of prostitution as a legitimate form of work, to the legalisation of practices linked to prostitution, its aiding and abetting (favoreggiamento), currently illegal in Italy, and even at times cited in cases against those who rent houses to women in prostitution or live with them (according to an incorrect interpretation of the Merlin Law, criticised by Silvia Niccolai in Né sesso né lavoro. Politiche sulla prostituzione, Milano 2019, pp. 70-117).
In her contribution to 27esima ora on 22nd May, Luciana Tavernini showed us the other side of the coin: “Calling prostitution work is a way to convince people that everything, even going as far as access to internal parts of the body, can and should be sold, and at best we can fight to increase the price. This is an old trick that aims to hide exploitation by disguising it as work.” And so, rather than supporting the legalisation of those who profit from the prostitution of others, we should look to the section of the Merlin Law that provides for training and work placements for women who wish to change their lives. Who wish to get out of a ‘business’ that the overwhelming majority of them have ended up in out of necessity, and in some cases even force and duress (victims of trafficking), certainly not out of choice.
In these unprecedented times of crisis due to Covid-19, we have taken the difficult decision to close our office in Turin to protect our staff and beneficiaries, but we continue to offer active support in terms of signposting and accessing relevant services and can be reached by email or over the phone.
In Nigeria we are supporting correct messaging of the crisis amongst vulnerable people. Some of the women we support have sewn face masks and prepared home made disinfectants that we are distributing to those who cannot afford to buy them. We have also purchased various food items, which we are distributing to indigent families, widows, and other vulnerable groups, and continue to fundraise to keep this service going. You can see some pictures of our distribution in the gallery.
Iroko and its beneficiaries are far from alone in this struggle, as outlined in thisMigrant Women Press article on how migrant women in particular are affected.
This is the story of Adelina, an Abanian woman trafficked into prostitution in Italy as a child. Since then she has been an advocate and activist for women and girls in prostitution, in the hope that she can prevent others from experiencing the hell she went through.
“Unfortunately, it all started with my kidnapping in Albania. I was about 17 years old and I was just walking near my house when a car came close to me and they grabbed me and took me to a bunker. There, the group started to rape and beat me. I had never had sex before. This is when my hell began. This is what a person who is raped and doomed to a life in prostitution lives: hell.
Before that I was a normal girl from a normal family; poor, but normal. I went to school, I went to the swimming pool – I was even part of a swimming team because I was such a good, fast swimmer.”
This documentary is a particularly challenging watch, but it’s a necessary one. Try not to fall into the trap of dismissing the phenomenon of trafficking as something that happens ‘somewhere else’, but recognise the clear theme among all women trafficked and prostituted around the world: women and girls don’t choose prostitution. Prostitution chooses them. As Lauran Bethell puts it, “trafficking is the exploitation of vulnerability”, something which is ever-present in prostitution, whether on the streets of Bangkok, in a posh hotel room in Las Vegas, or in a brothel in Amsterdam.
“Even the people who promote prostitution will put out helpful fact sheets on how to avoid getting killed. They don’t say it exactly that way, but they put out a fact sheet that says:
-When you go into a hotel room when you’re servicing a john, drop something on the floor and kick it under the bed, so you can look under the bed to see if there’s a gun or handcuffs there -Don’t wear a scarf because that can be used to strangle you -Don’t wear super high heels to an escort out-call because you can’t run fast enough
This is information coming from people that are promoting prostitution as a good job.”
Can you think of any job or profession where these kinds of tactics are necessary to avoid physical violence and even death?
Why does prostitution continue, even thrive, in our modern ‘enlightened’ societies where we claim to protect human rights above all else? Money. It’s as simple as that. By legalising, or even just turning a blind eye, to prostitution, we are not protecting a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. We are protecting a man’s right to buy a woman. And as long as there are men willing and able to pay money for women and girls, there will be organised crime networks trafficking and selling them.
That leads us to the solution. Block the business model. By criminalising both the pimps and the everyday buyers in prostitution, while offering support and exit services to the prostituted women, the abolitionist model essentially creates a very, very bad business environment for pimps and johns. Traffickers and pimps see Sweden, where this model is implemented, as a bad market. It also has a social implication in the way that people view and value women, creating “an atmosphere of safety, an atmosphere of dignity in the country.”
Sweden has the lowest rate of trafficking in the European Union.
IF YOU WANT TO STOP TRAFFICKING YOU MUST STOP PROSTITUTION
“Art is a way to look at the world”. This is the motto that drove the organisers of the event entitled ‘Rosso Indelebile’ (indelible red), a mobile artistic line-up in Turin from 23rd November to 7th December 2019, from local organisations Artemixia and Eikòn. It celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is on 25th November every year. Rosso Indelebile, brainchild of the artist and curator Rosalba Castelli, is an art project made up of educational conferences, a collection of contemporary art, meetings in schools, sessions on the prevention of gender-based violence and live performances of music, dance, theatre, reading, photography and video making. Its aim was to expose gender-based violence, tell stories of the damage it causes, give voice to those who have experienced and witnessed such violence, from children to women to trans persons, encouraging victims to speak out and believe in their power to overcome the perceived shame and indignity of what they have suffered. Multiple forms of violence exist and nobody is truly exempt from it during the course of their lifetime and nobody, therefore, should feel alone in their search for a way out.
Iroko was invited to take part in the opening night of this two-week-long event, on 23rd November, an evening entitled #25novembresceglitu (which translates as ‘on 25th November you choose’), organised in collaboration with M.A.I.S.
After the success of our initial course of three sessions on access to healthcare with a group of migrant women, we decided to invite them back for a further two sessions to go a bit more in depth. We noticed that many of the participants seemed keen to talk about specific aspects of their health or that of their family and they had medical questions that we were unable to answer. So, together with MSF Italy we invited one of their nurses who works in Rome to facilitate these sessions with more of a specific focus on health, rather than just access to services. This also allowed our own staff and other practitioners who work with migrant women to better understand some of the services these women use and what their rights are.
This project was aimed at women and so the two topics we chose were maternal health and family planning. The first of these two supplementary sessions focused on maternal health, taking into consideration the whole journey of pregnancy, including the choice about whether or not to take the pregnancy to term, the tests that are offered, giving birth and the first months of motherhood. Not only did we look at how the local services support women and families through this process, but also how those services work and what is involved, what a woman can expect when she is starting a family.
Those of us who work or have worked in the third sector, among victims of violence and their oppressors, will understand the highs and lows that come with the experience. When we come into daily contact with the injustices our society continues to permit – all too often disproportionately against women – the lows are inevitable.That is why we have to embrace the highs! For our colleague, Ruby, the opportunity to attend the Brussels’ Call Conference on 16th October was one such occasion. There is something extremely moving and powerful about being in a room full of feminists and abolitionists, about being surrounded by successful, determined and compassionate women, of all ages and from all walks of life.
The conference, part of the Brussels’ Call campaign for a Europe free from prostitution, was held at the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the EP’s ‘Resolution on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality’(also known as the Honeyball resolution), which represented a turning point in the fight against the sex industry and its inherent violence. This resolution was the recognition that prostitution is a form of violence against women and called for measures to end the demand for sexual exploitation. The conference explored the reality of prostitution across Europe and included contributions from some of those most directly affected and those still fighting for change.
As anyone who has lived in Italy will know, accessing services can be extremely complicated and tiring, and navigating the bureaucracy involved can be challenging. For migrant women this challenge is amplified by a linguistic and cultural barrier and, unfortunately, an even greater barrier of fear among those whose migration status is uncertain. Perhaps most important among these services is the healthcare system. Access to healthcare is a basic right and public healthcare is guaranteed for every person in Italy, but fear and misinformation frequently prevent women, and as a consequence their families, from exercising this right.
This is why, this October, we began a pilot project in collaboration with YWCA-UCDG Torino and Medici Senza Frontiere (MSF) Italy to inform and guide migrant women in access to healthcare. During three sessions, lead by Valentina Reale from MSF Torino, with a group of women from Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo we explored the different ways migrants, regardless of their status, can access healthcare, in particular reproductive and maternal healthcare services.
We might say that for Iroko 2019 has been the year of the bee. We started getting to know the complex world of bees and beekeeping this February, thanks to agronomist and beekeeper Davide Lobue. He introduced some of our beneficiaries to this vast field, allowing them to dip their toes in and gain some understanding of what it means to work with these creatures.
For around 10 sessions a selected group of people, most of whom were women and almost all from Nigeria, participated in a mini-course on the theoretical side of beekeeping. Some of these sessions were held in an apiary, also allowing the participants to come into contact with the bees. Alongside reactions of fear, curiosity and surprise, it was a positive experience for all, an insight into the world of bees.