Prostitution… give them all a share of it!

I was eagerly preparing to read an article entitled “Romanian Authorities promise to legalize prostitution”. I was comforted, somehow, to find that title, and amazed at how fast Romania is progressing in promoting Human Rights, even if it joined the European Union only 3 months ago. The topic of prostitution and whether it should be legalized in Romania has been brought up for discussion before. This generated heated exchanges between antagonist parties everywhere in the media, the Orthodox Church and its followers being the chief opponents of legalization. Well, I must say that in a society where sexuality is still not tackled enough as a subject of discussion even between partners; where sexual education in schools is still often approached in biological terms of how humans “breed”; where “sexual and reproductive rights” is a neologism that most people have never heard about; where sexual orientation is considered by many a “politically correct” disguise of “perversion”, and where a big part of the heterosexual population believe that they are immune to HIV because they aren’t gay – yes, Romania doesn’t seem to be ready for such a legislative “liberalization” of commercial sex.

So I was indeed surprised to read that this initiative came directly from the Government and that the Romanian Minister of Internal Affairs declared loudly that “prostitution has to be legalized” and mentioned how the General Police Department has already been working on this project for a year. The question that immediately popped into my head was: “Do they really care so much? Is this Government the one that wants to ‘make a change’?” But I was probably the only one to imagine that there was any juxtaposition between Human Rights and this legislative initiative. Now I must say that since I learnt how human trafficking from Eastern to Western Europe intensified after prostitution was legalized in several EU countries, my enthusiasm towards considering that legalization necessarily helps end the sexual exploitation of women kind of dimmed out. But still, if well considered, I think it might be one of the good steps towards educating the Romanian society that sex workers are no less human than any other one of us and that they deserve access to services, institutions and equality as much as workers from any other industry do. Legalization can represent in Romania an official acknowledgement and taking on of responsibility for this phenomenon at all levels of society. It should reflect a desire on the part of authorities to address the issue as a reality that concerns us all and not only the underground where it is currently marginalized by illegality and social stigma. The official recognition of human rights issues and implementing legal measures to curb abuses are part of the work that must be done by society towards change.

Unfortunately, the whole manner in which such subjects are approached in Romanian media will kill any feminist enthusiasm from the get-go; in this case the sexist tone is set by the first sentence of the article: “Good news for bachelors…” Leaving that aside for now, I will just attempt to analyze the reasons given by the Romanian government official when presenting his case, and the general tactic of trivializing this problem that ultimately, whether one is aware or not, costs lives. Minister Vasile Blaga starts with the statement that “prostitution has to be legalized […] because ‘the girls’ are gathering hundreds of fines that they never pay”. He also insists to mention several times how “among the advantages of legalizing prostitution is the huge profit that the state would make – estimated at around half billion euros annually”. The media extends the emphasis on the financial aspect by providing us with numbers gathered by the Police Department during the year; numbers that refer to hundreds of fines collected by illegal sex workers: “they are setting back the budget by hundreds of millions of dollars”. And to make it all spectacular… or maybe entertaining… we even get to read a little enumeration of a few workers who hold records in fines and yet are back on the streets – in a joking tone that I still can’t figure out what is supposed to suggest. There is no mention of human trafficking, of violence against women, of the rights and safety of sex workers, their integrity and dignity. No mention of the factors that determine these people to earn their living by practicing an illegal and dangerous activity or of the health and safety risks they are exposed to. No mention of all the other issues related to the bigger picture of a world where sexual exploitation, drug addiction, homelessness and poverty are all chained in a web from which – in most cases – death represents the only way out. No mention of any of the real issues that are behind this phenomenon. And since the voices of those chosen to represent and lead the country, along with the media, can afford to be amused or joke about this issue, should it be any wonder that the only plausible premise for legalization of prostitution in Romania is the financial one, namely the profits the state might gain from it? Even though the reality that forces societies to change legislations and mentalities around prostitution is exactly the desire to end abuse and create a safer space for those who sell sex, the Romanian government is mainly concerned about how the state could better profit from sexual exploitation and presents the issue to the public opinion in a diverted, amused tone.

In such a context, if prostitution does become legal, I can easily imagine that the change it will bring to Romanian society will probably have nothing to do either with Human Rights, care and protection of those afflicted or with changing mentalities, ending abuse and sexism, but rather with changing the name of the abuser who collects the taxes. And since the money will go to the state budget that big segments of society benefit from, maybe the general opinion will say “yes to legalization” and happily claim their share of this dirty profit brought by abuse and exploitation.

UPDATE:
(textul in limba romana)
Prostitutia… dati fiecaruia partea lui!

Ardeam de nerabdare sa citesc un articol intitulat “Autoritatile romane promit legalizarea prostitutiei”. Am fost oarecum incurajata de acest titlu si uimita de cat de rapid progreseaza Romania in promovarea Drepturilor Omului, chiar daca s-a alaturat Uniunii Europene doar in urma cu cateva luni. Subiectul prostitutie, si daca aceasta ar trebui sau nu legalizata in Romania, fusese adus in discutie si inainte. Generase discutii aprinse intre partidele in opozitie, peste tot in mass media, cu Biserica Ortodoxa si adeptii ei fiind in fruntea celor care nu doreau legalizarea. Trebuie sa spun ca intr-o societate in care sexualitatea nu este inca un subiect de discutie foarte abordabil, nici macar intre parteneri; unde educatia sexuala in scoli inca se mai face in termeni biologici precum “reproducerea”; unde „drepturile sexuale si reproductive” este un neologism de care cei mai multi nu au auzit; unde orientarea sexuala este considerata de catre multi o deghizare “corecta politica” a “perversiunii”, si unde o mare parte din populatia heterosexuala crede ca este imuna la HIV doar pentru ca nu este gay – da, Romania nu prea pare sa fie gata pentru o astfel de “liberalizare” legislativa a sexului comercial. Asa ca am fost intr-adevar surprinsa sa aflu ca aceasta initiativa venea direct de la Guvern si ca Ministerul Afacerilor Interne al Romaniei a declarat raspicat ca “prostitutia trebuie legalizata” si a mentionat ca Inspectoratul General al Politiei lucreaza deja la un astfel de proiect de aproape un an.
Intrebarea care mi-a venit imediat in minte a fost: “Chiar le pasa atat de mult? Este acest Guvern acela care vrea intr-adevar ’sa aduca schimbarea’?” Dar probabil ca am fost singura care-si imagina ca exista o alaturare intre Drepturile Omului si aceasta initiativa legislativa.
Trebuie sa mentionez ca, de cand am inteles ca traficul de carne vie dinspre Estul spre Vestul Europei s-a intensificat dupa ce prostitutia a fost legalizata in cateva tari UE, entuziasmul meu in privinta faptului ca legalizarea ar putea ajuta la oprirea exploatarii sexuale a femeilor s-a cam diminuat. Dar totusi, daca ma gandesc bine, acesta ar putea fii unul dintre pasii inainte spre educarea societatii romanesti asupra faptului ca lucratorii sexuali nu sunt mai putin umani decat oricare dintre noi si ca ei merita acces la servicii, institutii si egalitate, la fel de mult ca orice alt lucrator, din orice alta industrie. Legalizarea poate reprezenta in Romania o recunoastere oficiala si o asumare a responsabilitatii pentru acest fenomen la toate nivelele societatii. Ar trebui sa reflecte o dorinta din partea autoritatilor pentru adresarea acestei probleme ca pe o realitate care ne preocupa pe toti, si nu doar pe cei din mediile defavorizate, unde ea este de obicei marginalizata prin ilegalitate si stigmat social. Recunoasterea oficiala a problemelor drepturilor omului si implementarea masurilor legale pentru oprirea abuzului sunt parte din munca pe care o societate trebuie sa o depuna pe drumul spre schimbare.
Din pacate, intreaga maniera in care astfel de subiecte sunt abordate in media romaneasca va ucide, din start, orice entuziasm feminist; in cazul de fata, tonul sexist este dat chiar de prima propozitie a articolului: “Vesti bune pentru burlaci…”. Lasand asta la o parte, pentru moment, voi incerca sa analizez motivele prezentate de oficialul guvernului roman pentru sustinerea agendei sale, precum si tactica generala de trivializare a acestei probleme, care, indiferent daca suntem sau nu constienti de asta, costa vieti. Ministrul Vasile Blaga incepe prin a declara ca “prostitutia trebuie legalizata […] deoarece ‘fetele’ aduna sute de amenzi pe care nu le platesc niciodata”. El insista, de asemenea, sa mentioneze de mai multe ori faptul ca “printre avantajele legalizarii prostitutiei se numara si profitul urias pe care statul l-ar avea, estimat la jumatate de miliard de euro pe an”. Media pune si mai mult accentul pe aspectele financiare, furnizandu-ne cifre adunate de Inspectoratul de Politie pe durata unui an; date care se refera la sute de amenzi colectionate de lucratori sexuali ilegali: “bugetul ar putea creste cu sute de milioane de dolari”. Si pentru a face totul mai spectaculos… sau poate palpitant… reusim sa citim si o lista cu nume a catorva prostituate care detin recordul in materie de amenzi si sunt totusi inapoi pe strazi – pe un ton de gluma, despre care inca nu mi dau seama ce vrea sa insinueze. Nu exista nici o mentiune a traficului de fiinte umane, a violentei impotriva femeilor, a drepturilor si sigurantei lucratorilor sexuali, a integritatii si demnitatii lor. Nici o mentiune a factorilor care-i determina pe acesti oameni sa-si castige existenta practicand o activitate ilegala si periculoasa, sau a riscurilor la care sunt expuse sanatatea si siguranta lor. Nici o vorba despre toate celelalte subiecte legate de tabloul unei lumi in care exploatarea sexuala, dependenta de droguri, lipsa unui adapost si saracia sunt legate intr-o retea din care – de cele mai multe ori – moartea reprezinta singura iesire. Nici un cuvant despre vreuna dintre problemele reale care se afla in spatele acestui fenomen. Si, din moment ce vocile celor alesi sa reprezinte si sa conduca tara, impreuna cu mass media, isi pot permite sa se amuze pe marginea acestor subiecte, ar trebui sa ne mai miram ca singura premisa plauzibila a legalizarii prostitutiei in Romania este cea financiara, mai precis profiturile pe care statul le-ar putea realiza de pe urma ei? Chiar daca realitatea care forteaza societatile sa-si schimbe legislatia si mentalitatile legate de prostitutie este chiar dorinta de a pune capat abuzurilor si de a crea un spatiu mai sigur pentru cei care vand sex, guvernul roman este preocupat in special de cum statul ar putea profita mai bine de pe urma exploatarii sexuale si prezinta opiniei publice aceasta preocupare pe un ton amuzat si batjocoritor. In acest context, daca prostitutia devine legala, imi pot imagina cu usurinta ca schimbarea pe care o va aduce societatii romanesti nu va avea de a face nici cu Drepturile Omului, nici cu grija si protectia celor afectati, sau cu schimbarea mentalitatilor, oprirea abuzurilor si a sexismului, ci mai degraba cu schimbarea numelui abuzatorului care colecteaza taxele. Si, din moment ce banii vor merge la bugetul statului din care beneficiaza mari segmente ale populatiei, poate ca opinia generala va fi de a spune “da” legalizarii si cu totii isi vor cere partea din acest profit murdar obtinut prin abuz si exploatare.

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