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.”

On 8th October, Moran came to Turin to talk about her book and the inextricable link that exists between trafficking for sexual exploitation, and prostitution. Alongside Moran was Ilaria Baldini, representing Resistenza Femminista, an organisation that we work with as part of the ongoing fight for the abolition of prostitution. Resistenza Femminista also translated Moran’s book into Italian.

At the event, which was held at the Dar Al Hikma cultural centre, contributions were also offered by prominent politicians – the honourable Fabiana Dadone, Anna Rossomando, the Senate vice-president, and Giampiero Leo, the vice-president of the Piemonte Regional Human Rights Commission, who will dedicate the year 2019 to women’s rights around the world.

We believe that the subject of violence linked to prostitution cannot be an issue that concerns only one political party or movement, but must be part of a cross-party debate. This is especially important in light of the European Parliament’s Honeyball Resolution of 2014, which recognises prostitution as a form of violence against women and that considering it ‘sex work’, with the consequent decriminalisation of the sex industry, is not a valid solution that protects vulnerable women and children from violence and exploitation. The resolution maintains that such a policy, in fact, has the opposite effect, contributing to the promotion and growth of the market for prostitution and increasing the number of women subject to violence and abuse.

“According to a study conducted by the German Ministry of families,” Esohe Aghatise shared during her introduction to the event, “more than 68% of the women in prostitution suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even more severe than that seen in people who have experienced war and torture.”

The murder rate among those in prostitution is 40% higher than the national average. However, Moran explains that there are also other causes of death “in and because of prostitution” linked to alcohol and drug abuse, and cervix cancer. She describes how she too struggled with drugs: “I was a hardcore narcotics addict by the time I got out [of prostitution]. These ways we use to cope, they kill us. I had multiple accidental overdoses from cocaine. […] It’s a miracle that I didn’t die.”

As a member of the anti-mafia commission and president of the Committee against trafficking, Dadone explained how Parliament’s work has been effective in its investigation of the routes, the habits and the organised criminals at the heart of trafficking in human beings, saying: “the foreign criminal organisations work alongside the Italian ones. We found out that victims are taken from the CAS centres by traffickers and sent around the region. The flows of money from non-European mafia groups are based on unofficial payment systems, so they are extremely difficult to track and expose.”

According to Dadone, targeting the demand for sexual services is fundamental, starting from the work of the National Anti-trafficking Plan, as well as training parliamentarians and public prosecutors in the phenomenon of trafficking. All of that requires investment on the part of the state, which, highlights Rossomando, has grown over the years: “the 8 millions euros per year became 15 million in 2016 and more than 22 million in 2017, committed to specific projects that guarantee victims of trafficking the permesso di soggiorno (a kind of ‘leave to remain’ or residency permit), psychological support, free legal aid, a protected hearing and the presence of a psychiatrist.”

Moran reaffirmed her position that what is for sale is not sex, but the power to gain access to sex. This is what happens in prostitution and is why when we talk about prostitution we inevitably talk about violence, based on the clear lack of equality between the parties.

Not only that, but the feeling of authorisation to perpetrate that violence becomes legitimised and justified through the ‘client’s payment. The victim then feels compromised, that they have participated in the violence they are subject to, and that renders it even more difficult for them to process their trauma. This often results in their dissociation of self, the creation of a new self. Judith Herman, a psychiatrist and trauma expert, says that prostitution is everywhere and everybody knows what it is, but we pretend not to. It is invisible today in the same way that at one time rape, incest, and domestic violence were invisible. They all form part of a patriarchal system.

The recent MeToo movement has shone light on the commercialisation of women’s bodies, oppressed by a society still driven by patriarchal norms and a cut-throat market where everything, even a person, becomes a commodity.

We maintain that there is an inextricable link between trafficking and prostitution, which is also backed up by statistics. More than 75% of trafficked women and children end up being exploited in the sex trade. These facts contribute to our ever-increasing conviction that the fight against these phenomena must begin by tackling the demand for sexual services, through the criminalisation of the client, the sex buyer.

The Nordic Model, also known as the Equality Model, as well as criminalising the client, includes as a necessary element concrete strategies for the exit from prostitution, which offer valid instruments of CHOICE for the women involved. Moran urges Italy not to repeat the mistakes made by Germany, which legalised prostitution and has now become ‘Europe’s biggest brothel’.