Sex Workers In Italy Are Fighting For Special Rights..

On June 2 2023, on international sex workers day, Italian sex workers took to the streets of Bologna to ask for decriminalisation.

Sex workers in Italy gathered in Bologna for the first time in nearly two decades to discuss how the country’s sex work laws affect their daily lives.

In a nation where they believe there is a severe stigma associated with their profession, sex workers in Italy have been advocating for better rights for themselves for many years.

Numerous sex workers gathered in Bologna to seek for their rights and how the prostitution laws in Italy affect their daily lives. It was held symbolically in conjunction with international sex workers’ day, which commemorates the 1975 occupation of a Lyon church by 100 sex workers seeking better working conditions.

This year’s event, which came after a march through Bologna’s streets, was attended by groups, associations, and individual sex workers who are ‘sick’ of the country’s jurisdictional attitude toward them. Since 1958, when Italy shut down its “closed homes,” also known as “houses of tolerance,” it has been fundamentally hostile toward them.

In the late 1800s, these “houses” were built, and they allowed sex workers to meet their clients in a safe home that also served as their designated business location.

Notwithstanding, sex workers in Italy have been compelled to move to the streeta, where conditions are frequently hazardous.

A study of sex work and human and sex trafficking conducted in Italy in 2019 found that 79.4 percent of the country’s street sex workers are women. 19.6% of these are transgender women, one of the most at risk for gender-based violence.

Italy introduced the crimes of exploiting and aiding and abetting prostitution at the same time that it decided to shut down the “closed homes” with the Merlin law of 1958. This means that any third party other than a sex worker or their client can be prosecuted if they are found to be involved in making a profit from prostitution.

When it is used to combat sex trafficking and exploitation, this legislation can be beneficial, but it presents a great deal of challenges to sex workers. If it turns out that the landlord knew about their tenant’s job as a sex worker, for instance, they could face several years in prison.

Even though sex work has been technically legal in Italy for decades, sex workers complain that the legislation that criminalizes third-party involvement makes it de facto illegal.

“It’s a systematic repression of sex work enacted through the creation of crimes as aiding & abetting prostitution,” Covre told Euronews. “That means that people cannot work inside a home, and if they work in the streets they’re unlawfully occupying public land.”

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Sex workers gathered in Bologna are not requiring the ‘shut homes’ to be reestablished and sex work to be legitimized. But rather, they are requesting the regulation around sex work, which rebuffs outsiders, to be dispensed with, and for sex workers to have similar freedoms has some other specialist in the country.

“Our request is to decriminalise sex work,” one of the Sex workers said. “Sex workers are already punished by the legislation. If you add the fact that more vulnerable people can be sex workers, like migrants, refugees, or trans people, the situation becomes unbearably difficult.”

The workers are also calling for the stigma around the profession to be eradicated, and for the profession to be normalised and become socially respectable — so that they can pay taxes, rent a home, or file a complaint to police if they’re assaulted while at work without fear of being diminished or mocked.

“Breaking down the stigma means educating people about our lives and change the narrative around sex work, which it’s not ours. They are victims who are exploited for sex work, but there are also many who decide to do sex work freely,” one of them said.

“In our society the perception of sex workers is shifting, we’re slowly normalising sex, but we’re still very far from what we want. Sex workers are still considered victims to be saved or criminals to be handled. Not autonomous individuals,” she added.

“We’re standing next to you in line at the supermarket, at the post office, outside of school to pick up our kids; you might not know them, but there’s a sex worker in your network of friends and acquaintances.

The sale and purchase of sex work is governed by specific rules in some European nations, such as Germany and the Netherlands, where it has been legalized.

From an institutional perspective, this provides sex workers with a lot of protection, but it does so in a formal way that could make the job inaccessible to many, according to sex workers, which could have serious consequences. Whatever occurs beyond these guidelines is viewed as violating the law and is liable to capture.

Italy’s sex workers want the government to follow Belgium’s lead and decriminalize sex work like Belgium did recently. Under this model, consenting grown-ups can trade sex without carrying out any wrongdoing, while regulations against dealing, viciousness, assault and sex work including minors stay set up.

Credit: euronews

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