Italy: Enact legislation that prevents sex trafficking and exploitation - Equality Now

Italy: Enact legislation that prevents sex trafficking and exploitation

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“Instead of shutting us in brothels and profiting from us (…) the state should put an end to this suffering.” - Heaven*, sexual abuse survivor, exploited in a brothel from age 14.

“I say no to the opening of red light districts and the decriminalization of pimps and brothels owners and yes to strengthening punishments against traffickers and pimps who exploit women.” – Adelina*, kidnapped from Albania and trafficked into street prostitution in Italy.

Right now, Italian lawmakers are discussing law proposals that would make things worse for people in prostitution, violate their human rights, and undermine efforts to reduce sex trafficking and exploitation. Parliament is seriously considering legislation to decriminalize pimping and brothel-keeping; create legal “red light areas”; criminalize those selling sex outside of these areas; and require public registration and exorbitant fees for people in prostitution (Bill No. 1201, the ‘Spilabotte Bill’). Alarmingly, according to our partners, it also proposes secondary school lessons for young men and boys on how to “safely” use people in prostitution. Rather than teaching young people about gender equality and healthy relationships, the proposed curriculum teaches them that it is ‘ok’ to buy sexual access to another person if you have the money for it. And, by normalizing the objectification of women and girls, it also contributes to a culture where violence against them is tolerated.

In effect, the proposed legislation would stigmatize people in prostitution, normalize exploitation, and allow the Italian government to promote and profit from trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Help us stop this from happening! People in prostitution should never be criminalized or otherwise punished, and states should never promote and profit from their exploitation.

Equality Now and our Italian partners Resistenza Femminista and IROKO are calling on the Italian government to reject these and similar proposals and instead enact legislation that addresses the root causes of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

In Italy, the vast majority of those in prostitution are women and girls, primarily from disadvantaged backgrounds and poorer countries such as Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, and China. Many have been trafficked, and they are constantly exposed to serious safety and health risks. Women and girls like Adelina and Heaven:

Adelina was kidnapped in Albania and trafficked into street prostitution in Italy for four years. While in street prostitution, she didn’t meet a single woman who was there voluntarily, all had pimps or traffickers. She was deported from Italy but re-trafficked into the country several times, one time sold by an Albanian border guard. She eventually escaped and bravely testified against her traffickers, resulting in 40 of her abusers being imprisoned.

“We cannot accept that politicians are making law proposals which violate basic human rights while so many human beings are reduced to slavery.” – Adelina

Heaven, from Italy, suffered childhood sexual abuse, including rape. When she was 14 years old, she confided in a woman who took advantage of her vulnerability and exploited her in a brothel. This woman who lured her in was soon replaced by another, more violent pimp who continued to exploit and abuse Heaven.

“He was obsessed with me because I was underage, one of the youngest in the brothel. He raped and punched me several times. I lived in terror and thought I couldn’t escape from that world anymore.” – Heaven

Additionally, Italy’s current financial crisis and austerity, which are disproportionately affecting women, are increasing Italian women’s vulnerability to exploitation because many are unemployed or working precarious, low-paying jobs. Treating prostitution as a state-sanctioned employment alternative for women with fewer resources could force some of society’s most vulnerable into it for lack of other options. For example, some members of Resistenza Femminista have told us about male business owners asking them to perform sex acts in exchange for employment.

Italy is obligated by international and European law to combat trafficking and exploitation, including to reduce the demand that fuels exploitation. The proposed measures directly violate these legal obligations. The decriminalization of pimping or brothel keeping has been a failed experiment. As the Telegraph has reported, in Germany and the Netherlands, it has only served to empower pimps, brothel keepers and buyers, and in the Netherlands and Switzerland several legalized street zones were shut down after being overrun by organized crime and trafficking. Legalizing such activities, or trying to move prostitution indoors, doesn’t make it safe or free from exploitation. This is a myth, as Equality Now’s Survivor Stories series and Resistenza Femminista's Voci di Sopravvissute consistently show.

Join Equality Now, survivors like Heaven and Adelina, and the many signatories to Resistenza Femminista’s statement against ‘Spilabotte Bill’ No. 1201, in  advocating for Italian lawmakers to protect human rights, not violate them. We need legislation that targets the roots of the problem by criminalizing pimps, brothel keepers and those who buy sex, while decriminalizing and ensuring support for people in prostitution, including exiting if they wish to do so. Known as the “Swedish” or “Nordic” Model, this approach is quickly gaining traction in Europe and beyond.