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.
You can also watch the interview with Marie Merklinger, a German survivor activist, which we conducted as part of these webinars.
“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.
In early 2020 we had the pleasure of meeting Liliam Altuntas, a Brazilian woman resident in Turin who is a survivor – or, as Liliam puts it, a warrior, a fighter – of trafficking and prostitution, an activist with Resistenza Femminista, and the protagonist of the book I Girasoli di Liliam, written by the psychologist, Teresa Giulia Canòne. Sadly, for the time being, the book is only available in Italian, but here Liliam tells part of her story – which we have translated from Italian – and what it means to her to have come out the other side, as an activist for herself and for other women.
I know what it means to hide your past… a past full of mistakes.
Sometimes not even your family want to talk to you. Nobody wants to talk to someone who does drugs, who steals, who constantly tells lies, to hear about the person I was…
Today I can truly say who I am. I am a black woman, a foreigner, even though I don’t think the word ‘foreign’ makes sense, because we’re all made of the same stuff, we all have the same bodily functions. Being in prostitution has weighed heavily on me, being someone who went from one bed to another with different men, satisfying their fantasies… For a long time I was forced into it, and then I continued because I believed that I was destined to die alone, without knowing real love…
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 the original 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 this Migrant 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.