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 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…
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.
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
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.