This week, Iroko made a submission to the European Commission’s inception impact assessment proposal for a legislative initiative on preventing and combating gender-based violence and domestic violence, in the hope that the EC will take the important step of recognising sexual exploitation as a form of violence against women. We must thank our friends and colleagues at the Brussels’ Callfor their support and input for this submission.
Below you can read our submission in full.
Iroko is an Italian-based NGO that has, for over 20 years, campaigned on behalf of and provided assistance to victims/survivors of domestic violence, prostitution, and sex trafficking.
As a frontline organisation we come into regular contact with predominantly migrant women, often victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, who come to us for support. These women describe violence experienced at the hands of men, especially sex buyers. This violence often corresponds to the internationally accepted definition of torture. Not surprisingly, they are often reluctant to talk about the trauma they suffered or are unable to put it into words. Our aim is to help them rebuild their lives, but we cannot do this alone. Recognition at every level of the violence and trauma they have endured strengthens their rights and status as victims of violence, in order to obtain appropriate protections as such. Legislation on all forms of VAW is needed to ensure that unacceptable behaviour is punished, and serves as a signal of what we as a society deem acceptable behaviour.
In her interview with Radical Girlsss to mark the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day 2020, Rachel Moran, whose own book Paid for: My Journey through Prostitution we consider a must-read for everybody, was asked about what advice she would give young women today. She talked about the modern challenges posed by social media and the way young women are constantly bombarded with images and messages about sexuality, as well as the importance of arming ourselves with information, learning from the feminists who have gone before us.
“We, all of us – young women and middle-aged women like myself – we need to respect our elders, and that’s something that I don’t see us doing often enough. Because there are women who’ve come before us, who have written extremely important texts and, honestly, if I had read – I’m not sure when Sheila Jeffreys’ The Idea of Prostitution was actually published, I think it might have been during the ‘90s. But I can tell you had I read that book before I got into prostitution, I wouldn’t have gone near prostitution. You know, because it lays out so very clearly the dynamics of what prostitution involves.
Can trafficking for sexual exploitation be separated from prostitution? We agree with Rachel that they are part of the same phenomenon: trafficking exists to feed the ever-growing market for women’s bodies. You can read our statement on why we must target demand for prostitution in order to tackle trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Associazione Iroko’s Statement on 18th October 2020,European Union Anti-Trafficking Day: End Demand to End Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation
Human trafficking is, by its very nature, an extremely difficult phenomenon to measure, and the data on the number of identified victims inevitably gives an incomplete picture of the scale of the problem. Between 2017 and 2018, a total of 74,514 victims of trafficking were detected in over 110 countries. The US Department of State reports 105,7876 identified victims worldwide in 2019, showing a clear increase year on year. The estimated total number of victims is much higher, with the ILO putting it at more than 40 million in 2016. Trafficking disproportionately affects women and girls, who – according to UNODC data – represent 72% of detected victims of trafficking globally. Moreover, sexual exploitation is the predominant form of trafficking.
Given the scale of this problem, we have written a statement to mark the day and outline what the data and what our experience have taught us about trafficking for sexual exploitation and how it can be combatted.
For the second year in a row, Iroko was invited to participate in the event Rosso Indelebile (Indelible red), a series of artistic events, which took place in Turin and focused on the theme of gender-based violence. For two years Rosso Indelebile has brought art to various shared spaces around the city not usually designated as artistic locations. Similarly, the theme of gender-based violence is part of our everyday lives and “cannot be enclosed in an auditorium, but must be exposed and talked about by everyone”, by society, as highlighted by Isabella Bulgheroni, a member of the organisation Artemixia, one of the organisers of the event, in collaboration with the NGO MAIS. The aim of taking art onto the streets is to encourage people to ask themselves questions, and potentially find the answers, stimulating both the individual and the collective to try and see the world from different perspectives.
Gender-based violence, specifically, is a pressing issue, with a “war being fought around the world”, as defined by Esohe Aghatise, the president of Iroko. On 29th September Iroko participated in the 2020 installment, attending an event dedicated to migration flows and trafficking – details of which are here (in Italian) – and bringing the testimony of a survivor of trafficking and prostitution, Liliam Altuntas, who has told her story through the book of which she is the protagonist, I girasoli di Liliam’ (currently only available in Italian).
“Never forget that a crisis will suffice for women’s rights to be threatened. These rights are never granted. You need to remain careful for your entire life”
With the COVID-19 crisis, this quote from French feminist Simone de Beauvoir proved itself to be once again a tough reminder of an ugly truth. In the face of this unprecedented health emergency, European countries have adopted extraordinary measures such as extensive lockdowns, restricting freedoms and human rights in the process. First victims? Women, everywhere, enduring violence; from being trapped with abusers (many European countries have seen a rise of about 30% in emergency calls reporting male violence in the home) to not being able to enjoy their rights, such as the one to access safe and legal abortion.
In Italy, Government inaction has left women and girls facing avoidable obstacles to accessing this right, putting their health and lives at risk according to Human Rights Watch. This failure to ensure women’s sexual and reproductive health care is not surprising; it only highlights many European countries’ outdated restrictions and the harm they cause to women and girls.
The Gloria Steinem Equality Fund to End Sex Trafficking, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), SPACE International and The Sisterhood is Global Institute have written this letterto express the global support for Parliamentary efforts in Germany to adopt the Equality Model. Associazione IROKO has signed the letter and we give our full support to efforts in Germany and around the world to recognise that “prostitution is not work but rather a very harmful and dehumanising system, which fuels the sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls”.
Liliam Altuntas, survivor of trafficking and prostitution, told IROKO “reading this letter has really made me happy, especially because Germany is a country that’s very close to my heart. Because when I was trafficked, I was sold and brought to Germany. Hearing that there are people who support and make way for this kind of legal change is really important to me. It would represent a real response to the suffering that we have endured, so I’m very happy to join this fight and I’m sure that we will win.”
We encourage our friends and supporters to read and sign the letter.
Click here to watch an interview with Dr. Ingeborg Kraus, conducted by ENoMW‘s Anna Zobnina, in May 2020 just after the publication of a letter signed by various German MPs calling for brothels to remain permanently closed after the coronavirus lockdown.
In 2020 IROKO partnered with Resistenza Femminista to host a series of webinars on the theme of prostitution and the abolitionist model. During the 5 webinars we had the pleasure to host various experts who gave us invaluable insights into the violence of prostitution and the particulars of the various laws that exists around the world. Among these were Dr. Ingeborg Kraus, activist and psychologist specialising in the trauma of prostitution, and Sandra Norak, a survivor activist. Ingeborg and Sandra created this video for us, which explains the failure of the system they have in Germany, where prostitution has been legal and regulated since 2002.
In 2020 IROKO, together with Resistenza Femminista, organised a series of five webinars on the Nordic Model and the violence of prostitution. We were grateful for the invaluable contribution of survivors of prostitution during these webinars, which were a great success with the participants. Among the testimonies that we heard was Rosen Hicher, a French survivor who spent more than twenty years in prostitution and who, today, fights for the abolition of prostitution, alongside the organisation Mouvement du Nid. Rosen has fought for a long time for the criminalisation of buyers and the provision of real exit programmes for women in prostitution. Since the beginning, in 2013, she has supported the campaign for the legal change, which came into force in 2016, perhaps most notably through her March for Abolition.
“If there was nobody to buy women, no woman would think about selling the abuse of her body. I remember it quite well, the moment I decided to offer the abuse of my body and to sell this. And it really like crossing a border inside myself. I know now it was the first time I dissociated because it felt like I was changing the body, like I was watching myself crossing this border. And I felt it meant something. But I would never have crossed this border if there hadn’t been buyers, because that’s nothing you do just for fun. It has nothing to do with a fulfilled female sexuality.”
This is a quote from the testimony of Marie Merklinger, a German survivor of prostitution and activist with SPACE International, which she shared as part of our series of webinars entitled ‘Prostitution is Violence: Abolish the Oldest Oppression in the World’, which was organised by IROKO and Resistenza Femminista. She tells us about how she got into prostitution, the necessity of exit programmes for those who wish to get out of prostitution, and she explains why she promotes the Nordic Model as the best legislative system to combat sexual exploitation, to guarantee support to survivors. A necessary part of the model is the criminalisation of the buyers because the purchase of sex is a criminal act and should be punished, as exploitation is.
To hear the testimony of Rosen Hicher, a French survivor activist, click here.