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 epople 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
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.
We are happy to hear that some German politicians are recognising the failures of Germany’s prostitution regime and endorsing the Abolitionist Model as an alternative. Below we have translated an article into English, which quotes two members of the German Union parties.
Effectively combatting human trafficking Criminalise buyers in prostitution
In response to discussions within the SPD (Social Democratic Party) parliamentary group about making the purchase of sexual services punishable by law while offering the prostitutes themselves impunity – two pillars of the ‘Nordic model’ of prostitution -, deputy chairman, Thorsten Frei, and the rights and consumer policy spokeswoman, Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, both of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group, said:
Thorsten Frei: “In reality, for many women prostitution means that they are attracted by false pretenses, exploited and abused for years in the most serious ways. That is why we are committed to adopting the ‘Nordic model’ in Germany as well, because within this model the buyers, but not the prostitutes, are liable to prosecution. Numerous European countries – Sweden, Norway, Iceland, France, Ireland and Northern Ireland – are already using this model. We must ensure that there is no room for degrading services such as sexual flat rates. We want to effectively continue the fight against forced prostitution and trafficking that was started by the previous legislature, without criminalizing the prostitutes themselves. For this, we will approach our coalition partner, from whose ranks this proposal has been made, and hope that they support this project. “
Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker: “Self-determined prostitution is the exception in practice. In many cases, prostitutes are sexually exploited in unimaginable ways. We should also be concerned as a society when the image many men have of women is characterised by sex. A paradigm shift is therefore necessary. Germany must not be the brothel of Europe.”
CAP International held their third world congress in April this year in Mainz, Germany, with the title Prostitution: Neither Sex Nor Work. The event was hosted by SOLWODI, a German member organisation, Armut und Gesundheit e.V., and organised with the support and participation of the whole abolitionist movement in Germany.
The Congress was opened by a Survivors’ Day on the 2nd of April, where an extraordinary group of prostitution survivors from Germany and all over the world called on German’s authorities to fully revisit their harmful public policies on prostitution. The international public conference followed, on the 3rd and 4th, with over 300 participants and 40 speakers from 30 countries. Iroko’s Executive Director, Esohe Aghatise, was among them, standing alongside the most important figures in this movement, survivors. The conference addressed the realities of prostitution and sexual exploitation in the world, their severe impact on health, and their consequences on sexual violence and gender inequalities. The event being hosted in Germany was also a key feature, which highlighted the extremely preoccupying situation in a country that has come to be known as the “brothel of Europe”.
Watch the video below to see some highlights from the event or listen to this podcast by Vancouver Rape Relief’s, recorded at the congress. In this episode, VRR asked women from different abolitionist groups, including Esohe Aghatise, to dispel prostitution myths.
In 2014, in the framework of its campaign ‘Together for a Europe free from prostitution’, and at the eve of the vote of the EP resolution on gender equality and prostitution (Honeyball resolution), the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) developed a leaflet responding to the most frequent assumptions on prostitution. 18 myths are therefore looked at from a gender equality and women’s rights perspective. From “It is the oldest profession in the world” to “We must combat trafficking, but prostitution has nothing to do with it”, EWL’s leaflet wants to provide human rights evidence-based answers to the reality of prostitution and trafficking in women in Europe and in the world.
The leaflet also comprises a comparison of the Swedish and Dutch policies, after ten years of implementation, based on official reports and studies. The last page summarises the demands of the Brussels’ Call, which has been signed by more than 200 organisations from all over Europe and beyond, including IROKO. In 2014, 54 MEPs had already signed it, from different countries and political groups.
The Italian law no. 75 from 1958, which carries the name of Senator Lina Merlin, has turned 61. This law, as we know, abolished brothels – 560 of them when it was approved -, the embodiment of State regulation of prostitution. It abolished the keeping of records of prostituted women, freeing them from the heavy stigma and providing an opportunity for them to escape from prostitution. Essentially, this law aimed to avoid any woman being forced, coerced or encouraged to get into or to remain in prostitution.
The Merlin Law can be seen as a pioneer for recent abolitionist laws, approved in various countries around the world and it serves as our point of reference to reflect both culturally and politically on prostitution itself.
In early February Iroko’s Executive Director, Esohe Aghatise, and two members of the team went to Madrid to attend CATW and the Commission for the Investigation of Harms Against Women’s (Comisión Para La Investigación De Malos Tratos A Mujeres, CIMTM) global conference entitled Centering Women and Girls in Ending Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation: The Architecture of the 5.2 Global Partnership. Not only did the conference give invaluable insights into the challenges facing this movement to end trafficking and sexual exploitation and some of the tools and projects in place to tackle them, but it provided an opportunity to come together with an inspiring group of women and men who work every day to protect the rights of women and girls around the world.
The conference consisted of 8 panels of experts, journalists, survivors, activists and many more, across two days, including speakers from all over the world. Among them were CATW’s Board of Directors, who began the conference talking about the successes and challenges they’ve seen over the organisation’s 30 years. Aurora Javate-de Dios highlighted the hypocrisy that many self-proclaimed feminist organisations demonstrate today, citing the example of the scandal surrounding Oxfam staff in Haiti in 2010, where representatives of a global organisation promoting human rights and equality were supporting earthquake victims one day and buying women’s bodies for sexual services the next. Janice Raymond recognised the huge contribution and strength that survivors have brought to this movement over the years. Ruchira Gupta brought forward a theme that continued throughout the conference: the question of language and the powerful role it plays. When asked what she would change given a magic wand, she proposed the removal of the concept of ‘consensual sex’ from our collective vocabulary, and its replacement with ‘welcome sex’.Read More
It took Rachel Moran 10 years to write her book Paid For: My Journey through Prostitution, where she recounts not only the seven years she spent in prostitution, but also offers an extremely thought-provoking and profound analysis of the phenomenon of prostitution itself, where various forms of social discrimination overlap. Discrimination based on gender and race is rife and disproportionately affects women, often the most vulnerable and marginalised in society. Having made this observation and reflection, the idea for her book was born, and the book itself, along with Moran’s activism, has become a political tool in the fight against prostitution.
“I’ve never heard a statistic as as the Canadian situation,” Moran tells us, “where 56% of prostituted women are indigenous Canadian, but only 6% of the nation is indigenous Canadian, as so of course only 3% of the nation is indigenous female Canadian. So we’re talking about more than half of the prostituted population drawn from just 3% of society. You can’t look at stats like that and not see that racism is running right through prostitution in multi-racial societies. A friend of mine who runs a facility in Minnesota, year on year deals with around 70% young African American girls, but this is in a state whose population is only 10% African American.”
“We all want to find ways for the women to be safe. But we know that the women and the men, the boys and the girls can never be safe in prostitution. We can only reduce the harm. That’s not good enough. We don’t talk about reducing the harm for sexually abused children or women who are raped. We talk about ending it. And yet, when you talk about ending the sex trade, many people laugh at you and say ‘we can’t stop prostitution’. I say ‘really? Do you not think that we can end poverty?’ and they’ll say yes. ‘Do you think that we can end child sexual abuse?’ ‘Well, yes.’ ‘Do you think we can end racism?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well why can’t you imagine ending prostitution? Men are not born with this innate desire to have sex with a woman who isn’t consenting. We call that socialisation and patriarchy. Of course there is no innate need for men to have one-sided consensual sex with a woman who doesn’t want to be there. The propagandists that spin the mythology that leads people to say legalisation is the only way, know very well that, if they say prostitution is inevitable, it’s always been here and it always will be here, people somehow absorb this and believe it. If I hear the phrase ‘the oldest profession’ one more time, I might have to do some damage. Of course it’s not a profession. Of course that isn’t the case. Children have been sexually abused forever. Does that make it natural and inevitable? Of course it doesn’t.”
Julie Bindel, Convention on the Sex Industry and Human Trafficking, Rome, May 2018.
To read Julie Bindel’s speech in full, as well as others from the convention, click here.