The number of streetwalkers has surged in Rome – the heart of Catholicism. This is a terrible situation! Rome’s officials are crying every day, calling the situation a stain on the dignity of the city’s citizens. But in a town of sinners and self-proclaimed ‘saints’, outright bans on selling sex have failed before, leaving city authorities struggling to find a way to manage the situation.
One of the new ways they are contemplating according to source is to corral the growing number of sex workers into an unpopulated set of designated streets — in short, a tucked-away red-light district. Proponents reason the working girls can still serve male clients, but beyond the delicate eyes of wives, grandmothers and children.
However, the “zones of tolerance,” are meeting strong resistance from the Catholic Church, the national government and the prostitutes themselves, raising the curtain on a very Italian opera centered on a plan that critics call a classic attempt to sweep “sin” under the rug. Is the ancient city is colliding with the world’s oldest profession? This issue has set tongues wagging!
Rome is grappling with a vice as old as the city itself. Sex workers were branded as socially inferior in the times of the ancient Roman Empire, even as male patrons maintained high standing. Some here argue that not much has changed in 3,000 years.
“Am I surprised by the mess this has created?” said Andrea Santoro, the plan’s architect and president of the Roman district of EUR. “No, not really.
“Whenever you talk about sex in this country, people start to tense up,” he said.
“There is still a big hypocrisy in Rome,” said Eva Cantarella, author of books on sex in ancient Rome. “The streets are now filled with prostitutes, but if you speak with an Italian man .?.?. he’ll say, ‘Oh no, this is horrible’ and ‘I’ve never gone out with one.’?But somebody is giving them business.”
In part because of an unwillingness to fully address the issue, Italy’s prostitution laws are vague and still largely guided by a half-century-old act that banned brothels but left unclear the legality of street solicitation. Religious groups that work with prostitutes say the “streetwalker problem” is now critical, with the population at roughly 12,000 — about double the number a decade ago.
On a recent afternoon, Paolo Lampariello, head of a citizens group that supports the new zones, combed through the grass behind bushes and indignantly pointed out used condoms and pantyhose wrappers.
No place, he said, is sacred anymore. Sex workers are now operating on the steps of a local church, “even behind the statue of Gandhi,” Lampariello said. He added that his wife recently had to endure an oversexed john exposing himself after the man apparently could find no available sex workers in the immediate vicinity.
“This is not a problem for us men, but women — wives, mothers — should not have to see this,” he lamented. “We now have grandmothers going out on their balconies and looking down at, at, at you know what.”
Although much of the public debate centers on what to do about female prostitutes, aid groups say almost half the streetwalkers in EUR are male transvestites or transsexuals — a fact some here seem to be even more uncomfortable discussing. Although females tend to have “protectors” — pimps — who closely monitor their movements, males frequently work as free agents, and several sex workers insisted the authorities were asking for trouble if all prostitutes were forced to be clustered together.
“You put us all in one small zone and the competition is going to be too fierce, baby,” said Nicola, who declined to give a last name. “I’m telling you, this is going to be a river of blood. There are too many of us.”
Condoms are littered everywhere in the streets and in the parks. An elderly grandmother recently complained and wrote about an ugly experience she witnessed. She took her 4-year-old niece to a park, only to have the little girl return holding a “used condom”