On April 22nd, 2015, Bucharest hosted, at the Parliament building, the international conference “Politicians and Civil Society against human trafficking”. The event participants on behalf of Western European civil society organizations warned that legalizing prostitution has made impossible to combat human trafficking. They also said that no more than 10% of sex workers are doing this on their own free will, stressing that this idea is an ideological assumption of the sex liberation movement and it is simply not true. They also announced statistics according to which as much as a third of sex workers in big Western cities are Romanian. Here is a presentation made by an organization who wished to remain anonymous in order not to compromise its reaching-out mission.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Our organization is an initiative for people in prostitution, in a capital in Western Europe.
I want to start with a quote. It is taken from the book Paid for by Rachel Moran, a former prostitution and now journalist:
Women in prostitution do not wake up one morning and choose prostitution. It is chosen for them by poverty, social disadvantages, past sexual abuse and pimps, loverboys who take advantage of their vulnerabilities and the men who buy them for sex of prostitution.
Our organization does streetwork, goes indoor to bars, nightclubs, brothels and studios. Every week we meet between 60 and 80 and sometimes even more women and also some men who are working in prostitution. Just before Easter we had extra outreaches and met about 768 persons in two weeks, 266 of them were from Romania, which makes 34%. Our estimation is that only around 30% of them have a Roma-background. These numbers from our Easter outreach confirm our previous observation that around one third of the women working in prostitution are from your country, Romania, and most of them are between the ages of 18 and 25.
We have a drop-in center and offer counseling and psycho-social assistance. We refer those who do not have any health insurance to medical care and we offer German classes. Our focus is to support the ones who want to leave prostitution as well as to rescue the ones who are victims of human trafficking. We network with two shelters in Vienna and with shelters in different countries of origin. We do public relations and work in prevention. The NGO is part of an EU-Civil Society Plattform against Trafficking in Human Beings and is also member of a Platform against human trafficking in our country.
We do lobby work and want to be a voice for the voiceless. Over the past years we have done a lot of research with the focus of gaining a better understanding of the people working in prostitution.
There are many cases where it is very clear that we deal with human trafficking – but the grey zone is much bigger and there are many cases that are not very obvious at first sight.
“Why does she stay with him?” This question we are asking ourselves over and over again. One day I walked over to Lavinia after having witnessed many times how awful the man who watched her day and night treated her. She had to work nearly the whole day, it didn´t matter whether it was raining or snowing, often she wasn´t even allowed to take a break for eating or smoking. I told her directly: “This guy is your pimp!” I will never forget the sad look in her eyes when she answered: “Yes, but I first gave him permission!” They have two children together and he forced her into prostitution by threatening to kidnap their daughter and to then leave her abandoned on the streets. At home in Romania he has his official family, wife and children. Fortunately, Lavinia was able to escape later and the police from our country and Romania worked together and could even rescue her daughter.
Another girl, Roxana, told us, that her parents never liked her boyfriend. They started their relationship when she was 17. At the day of her 18th birthday he brought her to Western Europe. He had prepared everything and from then on she had to work on the streets. “Every evening I cry,” she told us,” I only do this job, so that we can buy a house in Romania one day. His brothers are bad, they offend their girl-friends when they don´t earn enough money, but he is so nice.”
Just some weeks ago we met Dorina, who begged us for help. She is from a very poor village from the Eastern part of Romania and has two children. Her husband is handicapped and has no work. One day a woman from her village told her about working in prostitution in our city. She decided to go and work there only for a short time. But – a couple took her into their apartment, took her papers, threatened her and she had to give them all the money she earned. Later, after we were able to rescue her and bring her to a safe place, she told us “This was worse than a prison, I wouldn´t wish this for my worst enemy. But now I´m free!” She was lucky, not everyone is!
Every once in a while a young woman opens up to us and says truthfully that her so called boyfriend doesn´t keep his promises, that she is not allowed to call her parents, that he takes all the money for himself and only feeds her with hope for a change etc. Usually though, next time we meet only one week later, she shows up with beautiful golden jewelry and suddenly he is “so nice” again.
The woman thinks it is her fault, that she works in prostitution and is always pretending to the men, that she likes what she is doing. But in reality she is fighting with guilt and shame, feelings of disgust, fear of violence all the time. It is an ugly job, not even worth to be called a job. Researchers have come to the conclusion, that more than 85% of the women working in prostitution have suffered sexual abuse in childhood. They come from dysfunctional family backgrounds and poverty and feminization of poverty are further enforcements that trap a person in prostitution. Very often when we are out in the middle of the night or we visit women in a filthy brothel or club, we lget to ook at the wonderful pictures of their children. Many of them have children, one, two or three. And they care for them! They even sacrifice themselves for their children or their own mothers who need an operation. In many cases the family doesn´t even know, what she is working. But- where are the fathers? Where are they? They are not paying alimony!
Modern-day slavery and pimping is a system of manipulation and exploitation. It often involves psychological violence more than physical violence. It is all about exploitation and it is all about an industry that only exists because of the demand. We have some clients who were even sold by family-members. Anna from Bulgaria had a horrible childhood and was often beaten so much, that she had to go to hospital. Her mother sold her to a Roma pimp, when she was 17. Another young girl, Maria was betrayed by her sister and sold into prostitution at the age of 16. Many women drink a lot of alcohol or take drugs, otherwise they are not able to survive this “job”.
The system of prostitution is evil. There are different levels of authority and control. Often when we are out on the streets we watch the expensive cars parking close by. Often when we talk to a newcomer only after two minutes her phone rings and someone asks who we are. Although nearly every woman is in company with a guy, we found out that at the same time there is someone behind and claims protection money, sometimes 1000,00€ a month. In small studios and clubs the women has to pay half of her income to the owner, it is a 50/50 arrangement. In brothels the women have to pay between 300 and 800€ a week to rent the little room where they receive their clients.
There is a great need for prevention! It is not only about training-programs and creating job-opportunities but also about education. How much worth does a female person have? Are men allowed to buy women? Are men allowed to act out their perverted sexual phantasies on vulnerable young beautiful women? It is an issue of gender-inequality!
One question is this: Is Prostitution a job like every other?
I still remember Loredana. There was so much sadness in her eyes when I first met her in a brothel at a time, when people from Romania were not allowed to work as an employee. “I was allowed to come into your country, but this is the only thing, I´m allowed to do?!” This is still the same with asylum-seekers, as long as they are in the process they are not allowed to work only as self-employed, often the procedure lasts for years. And in our country prostitution is a self-employed job.
In Western Europe we have two different mainstreams, one is defending prostitution as a normal job, the other is against prostitution and wants to follow the Swedish example where the law sentences the buyers.
I want to challenge us all to have a look to the facts –
It could be your daughter – it could be your sister…
I want to finish with another quote from the book “Transforming Trauma” by Anna Salter: A pimp was asked what are the criteria for him to “choose” a woman:
Beauty – yes. Sexual experience -you can teach that faster than you think. The most important aspect is compliance. And how do you achieve that? You get compliance, when you find a woman who has had sex with her father, her uncles and her brothers, – you know, with someone who they love and are afraid to lose, so that they are afraid to stand up for themselves. Then you just have to be a little bit nicer to the women than they were, but also more dangerous. They will do anything to make you happy.