Le Lucciole: Sex Work in Italy

In a place where I know none of my neighbors, she was a familiar face. She was there every night, her bulging chest glowing beneath the streetlamp. Little black dress, big black heels, always. Blonde hair shellacked back into a tight bun, perhaps to make her middle-aged skin a bit tauter for prospective clients.

A man and his dog, out for a stroll one evening, stop to talk to her.

Another night, a guy watches her from across the street, leaning up against a pole.

All nights, I avoid eye contact because I’m scared of and for her. Because I don’t want her to think I’m judging her. Because she looks like she could snap me in two. Because I don’t know if that man across the street is her pimp or trafficker. Because most of us look away when we’re uncomfortable.

Lùcciola, firefly, is a “nice” way to refer to her in Italian; our version of lady of the night, I suppose. But you’re more likely to hear the vulgar puttana or troia — or, a new term I learned in the local paper is viado. Giorgio was so very specific in his op-ed, arguing that having those viados around is even worse in the summer because people are “forced to keep their windows open.” #MayISuggestAirConditioning

Treccani, an Italian language resource, translates viado (not an Italian word) as “transvestite or transsexual of Brazilian or South American origins who does prostitution.” Portuguese translations suggest it is a derogatory way to refer to a gay man. Who knows what was in Giorgio’s heart when he wrote that; let’s accept him as he is.

One night, I didn’t see Olga in her usual spot and I began to worry. It’s 10 o’clock; she should be here by now. Where’s Olga? Later, I saw that she had repositioned herself nearer the main thoroughfare; I did a mental phew and went on with my life, as one does.

But it’s been months now, and she’s never on the block anymore. I’d like to imagine that she has found a safer way to support herself. If not, maybe she’s moved to another street. If not, maybe I don’t want to imagine what has happened to her.

“Like many things in Italy, prostitution operates in a gray zone,” Chiara Albanese of Bloomberg writes. “It remains legal, but profiting from it, public acts of prostitution or involving minors is against the law, as is the use of any dedicated location. Efforts by previous governments to introduce regulations to either fully ban prostitution or to regulate it in order to introduce health standards have failed.”

Map of prostitution laws in Europe

Wikimedia Commons / Business Insider

As alluded to above, many of the sex workers in Milan are trans, a population that is marginalized not just in Italy but everywhere — rampant employment discrimination and hostility on all fronts. I imagine it’s particularly difficult to be trans in the pope’s land. Last month, the Vatican, likely threatened by growing consciousness around LGBTQ rights, released a 31-page document that condemned any deviation from the gender binary.

“The denial of this duality … creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who ‘chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.’”

TL;DR: Doubt nothing. Choices bad. Produce offspring.

"Do not question us!" Road to El Dorado

“If they want to have [a dialogue], I am ready,” Hilary, a transgender Catholic, responded to the document’s release. “But there will be many more who will finally concede that the church is just too irrelevant to life in the 21st century and will find other spiritual homes. Then there are those who will be attacked and marginalized by people who will find justification for their prejudice in this paper. All of that is heartbreaking.”

More likely than being trans, the majority of sex workers in Italy are immigrants. Figures vary widely but in 2013, Corriere della Sera estimated that of the 45,000 prostitutes active in Italy, only eight thousand were Italians (via The Italians); in 2010, TAMPEP estimated 90% of prostitutes were migrants. A TGEU report explains that prostitution “may be one of a small number of sources of earnings available for irregular migrants escaping poverty and transphobia in their countries of origin, who are then denied access to legal employment.”

Fun Facts: In Milan, the charge for sex with a Chinese woman on the street is €20-30 ($22-34); Al Jazeera noted this in a recent report on migrants who “quit factory labour for sex work to survive.” In Sicily, a Nigerian woman whose traffickers demanded she sell her body to repay €35,000 reported, “If a man sleeps with you the most he can pay is €30. Calculate how many men you have to sleep with to get that,” she says. “You pay, pay, pay, and it never gets finished.”

Did you know, at the bottom of the Google results page for “prostitutes demographics italy,” a related search is “top 10 countries with the most prostitutes!” — YES, with an effing exclamation point. I can’t — ugh — I just — Can you imagine how many entitled bros have typed that into their iPhones without a second thought about the human they’re thirsting to infiltrate?

Phoebe Buffay Lisa Kudrow swears on Friends playing Ms. Pac-man

P.S. Eff Epstein & all his bros, too.

Renata on Big Little Lies says Burn, baby, burn

Buona settimana a tutti, xoxo.

4 thoughts on “Le Lucciole: Sex Work in Italy

  1. Very powerful Chris- and eye opening. Most people can’t imagine the desperation it would take to be a sex worker. You brought great visibility to them.
    I worry about her now too …

    Liked by 1 person

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