After Traian Băsescu, former president of Romania, suggested that legalizing prostitution would put an end to violence and trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, an Austrian organization working with many Romanians who practice prostitution in Austria testifies to the reality of prostitution in this country. The fact that Austria has regulated this practice, the effects on women are just as traumatic, while police is even more impotent than before, they warn. The authors of the testimony wished to remain anonymous for their own protection and for the protection of their beneficiaries.
This testimony has been offered to be published on Stiripentruviata.ro, the only daily updated pro-life and pro-family website in Romania.
The illusion of „clean“ prostitution
where prostitution is legal and regulated, there are over 7.000 people, mostly
women, officially registered for this so-called profession. 95% of these
persons are migrants, Romania being the main country of origin – over 50% of
the women come from Romania.
daily work as a non-profit organization that weekly reaches out to people in
prostitution working on the streets or in one of the over 350 different
brothels, night clubs etc. all over Vienna, we encounter many Romanian girls and
women of all different ages. Many young women come – or are brought – to Vienna
when they are barely 18. We have met girls on their first day of working which
was their actual birthday. From partners in Romania we have heard that
oftentimes, so-called loverboys are preying on young women who are
leaving orphanages and have no place to go, feeding them with promises of a “prosperous
life abroad”. Other women are driven to believe in the false promises of
someone already living abroad due to difficult live situations they face, like
a sick mother at home, children or whole families depending on them to send
of prostitution oftentimes looks very different than what they had imagined: Even
in countries like Austria and Germany where prostitution is legalized, women
suffer a lot of violence in prostitution – be it from their pimp or from
clients who press limits. Clients come with ideas taken from pornography and
want to act out practices their spouse or partner does not consent to. Many of
these practices are hurtful to women, but out of pressure by pimps or lack of
money, they still accept crossing limits they initially had, sometimes even sex
without a condom.
Thus, people in prostitution often suffer
from various destructive and even life-threatening effects on their body and
psyche. The effects are often manifold, complex and difficult to treat. They
Physical: physical trauma due to repeatedly
penetrations or even violence (e. g. bruises, fractions, traumatic brain
injury, abdominal pain and inflammations, sexually transmitted diseases,
substance abuse, various psychosomatic symptoms.
Mental/ emotional: dissociation and dissociative
identity disorder, eating and/ or anxiety disorders, stress disorders and PTSD,
complex trauma, substance abuse.
The rationale behind these are repeated
experiences of violence – whether physical, mental or emotional. Many women
experience severe violence on a regular basis ranging from verbal abuse and
bullying, emotional manipulation and isolation to physical violence and abuse
whilst serving a customer or in confrontation with violent pimps. One would
wish that legal regulations would lower the prevalence of these but
unfortunately one cannot truly “control and regulate” what happens between a
person in prostitution and her/his client and/or pimp. And in many cases money
has the final say.
Money in prostitution is not easily
earned – even if
women are actually working on their own without a pimp, loverboy or partner who
they depend on and who takes much of the money away from them again, as it is
usually the case especially as they start out working in prostitution. A room
in a brothel or in a so-called “Laufhaus” is generally very expensive and takes
much of a person’s income right away again meaning that women work their first
few clients every day just to pay for the room which is sometimes the very
place they stay and sleep in when they’re not working. If women do have a pimp
or loverboy – and many do – they are often forced to give away much of their
Therefore, debts are something
that keeps a lot of the women in prostitution, even if they desire to leave
because they have become tired of what it does to them and to their body. Pimps
sometimes buy objects of value such as cars on the name of one of “their girls”
who are then left with paying for it. Most women who are finally able to exit
prostitution are not rich as they initially intended to be but must start over again
Overcoming challenges such as illnesses,
trauma, debt, isolation, stigma, language barriers, legal issues or missing
papers can all be part of the journey out of prostitution – thus showing that
prostitution can’t be seen a “normal job as any other”. Last but not least, the
women also often have to face racism and sexism: Since there are so many
Romanian women on the streets and in the brothels, this sometimes leads to the
overall perception – especially within the group of pimps and sex buyers – that
Romanian girls are “only good for one thing – sex”.
Oftentimes it is very hard for
the women to get used to a normal work routine outside of prostitution again,
if they are even able to find a regular job after years of working in
prostitution. Hardly any of them wants to mention their former occupation in a
curriculum and with no further training or education received during this time
they often struggle to find another job.
Thus, with over a decade of experience in working with people in prostitution in a country where prostitution is regulated, we find it very difficult to find reasons to recommend legalization. Although the hope of being able to normalize this “job” and preventing it from going “underground” and out of sight where abuse and exploitation might be more difficult to detect is very much understandable, we also see the opposite taking place: Where prostitution is legalized and supposedly “clean”, the police not always have enough instruments in their hands to support women who are being exploited: If women don’t speak out and testify against their exploiters, their hands are bound. And in many of the cases we are dealing with every day, exploited women are too afraid to speak out against pimps, loverboys or traffickers.