This article explores the understudied and undertheorized role that fiscal policies play in shaping the relationship between the state and sex workers. It highlights the importance of looking at tax policy and its implementation to understand how inequality is reinforced against sexually marginalized populations. Drawing on the Italian case, it explores the ways in which ambiguous taxation arrangements operate to penalize sex workers, excluding them from the status of full taxpayer citizenship, and demonizing them as individuals who exploit the fiscal system at the expense of “good” tax-paying citizens. Fiscal policies, I argue, need to be considered in the context of the governance of prostitution as social mechanisms that have the potential to contribute to the sexual and economic citizenship of this marginalized population, but which, when unequal and ambiguous, reinforce the social and political liminality of sex workers as lesser citizens, and add to the stigma, damaging stereotypes and violence already waged against them. The complex ways in which inequality against sex workers is maintained is revealed as a dynamic process that reflects the ever-shifting interplay of economics and morality.
In recent years, many European countries, including Italy, have witnessed an increasing penalisation of uncivil (anti-social or nuisance) behaviour at the local level (Peršak, 2017b; Selmini and Crawford, 2017). In England and Wales, Belgium and Italy, this has been the result of the enactment at the national level of vague legislative provisions, which have entrusted local authorities with enhanced powers in the area of urban safety and security (Di Ronco and Peršak, 2014). Local authorities have used their increased public order powers to target a wide range of behaviour, which they considered to be “anti-social”, a “nuisance” or a “threat” to public safety and urban security (Di Ronco and Peršak, 2014). This behaviour also included the nuisance caused by street prostitution. Punitive measures against street prostitutes and their clients have been taken at the local level, for example, in England and Wales, where Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were issued against street sex workers and clients until 2014 (see Sagar, 2007, 2010; Scoular and O’Neill, 2007). In addition, administrative sanctions have been imposed in Spain (Villacampa, 2017), as well as in Belgium and Italy (Di Ronco, 2014).
Antonio Carvelli and Alexander di Nicotera came to London via Liverpool in April 1910, travelling first class on the steamer SS Frisia from Buenos Aires, and accompanied by five young women. The pair took flats in north Soho, and showed the women the route they were to walk to solicit sex. After installing these women on the West End streets, they travelled to Paris, where they found three more young women and returned with them to London, sending them out to Piccadilly as well. Dressed in nice suits and collars, with pistols tucked into their coats, they followed the women at a distance, and regularly took money from them. They frequented the cafes and pubs of Soho and dined late into the night at popular West End restaurants. The pair were finally arrested three months later, in July 1910, after a month-long police observation, and were charged with ‘procuring or attempting to procure’ four women to become ‘common prostitutes’.1 It was a stereotypical case of what was known as white slavery. Read more here…
This article examines the vicissitudes that affect the migration trajectories of many Nigerian women who experienced trafficking before arriving in Italy, and end up in Centers for Identification and Expulsion (CIE) for undocumented migrants. Their life stories, collected within the CIE of Ponte Galeria (Rome), revealed violence as “a rule of action” with which these women are obliged to cope with at different levels. Moreover, they highlighted the failure of traditional security approaches to human trafficking, and the necessity to rethink the measures adopted to ensure survivors’ protection and rights. As it is conceived, the system of immigration control prevents the full guarantee of survivors’ rights, often labelling them as “illegal migrants”. Finally, there is the need to extend protection to all survivors of human trafficking even if the crime against them has not happened in Italy.
Introduction: A ‘dirty business’
The rules operative in the two major oath-bound criminal brotherhoods or mafias in Italy today, Cosa Nostra (Sicily) and the ’ndrangheta (Calabria), are notoriously flexible.1 Antonino Calderone, a Sicilian mafioso who gave evidence in the late 1980s, reflected frequently on these rules; appropriately, his views were themselves flexible. At times he states that the mafia’s codes are ‘a bit like the laws of a state’; at other times he emphasizes the human factors that shape their interpretation:
It should not be forgotten that the mafia is, indeed, the Mafia: the organization of all the men who have taken the oath; and it has precise rules. But it is still made up of men. And men have their preferences, dislikes and animosities. Even when they have senior positions in the organization.Elsewhere, Calderone all but dismisses the rules: ‘Mafiosi have a whole bunch of rules but then, in reality, they continually break them’.2 What Calderone exemplifies here, without quite being able to articulate it, is that rules can be important to his criminal network even when not universally obeyed: they can be tools of internal politics for bosses and badges of shared identity for affiliates.
However, Cosa Nostra has one rule that is strictly observed. Calderone considers it axiomatic:
The [Sicilian] mafia doesn’t run prostitution, because it’s a dirty business. Can you imagine a Man of Honour living as a pimp, an exploiter of women? Maybe in America mafiosi have got involved in this business … But in Sicily the mafia just does not do it, full stop.3The Sicilian mafia’s aversion to the easy and constant profits of the sex industry is something of a puzzle. Prostitution is a market where there is a high demand for ‘protection’;4 and the risks and penalties are low compared to, say, narcotics.
A historical perspective shows the ban on prostitution to be even more intriguing. The Sicilian mafia today comprises many of the same families, is organized along the same lines, uses the same rituals and adopts the same tactics as the mafia groups brought to trial in the late nineteenth century.5 The taboo against pimping is another such continuity. In records that stretch back beyond Italian unification, there is nothing that suggests that, in their core territory in the Palermo hinterland, mafiosi have everbeen involved in exploiting prostitution.6
This article undertakes a critical analysis of counter-trafficking measures in Italy, particularly the Social Protection Program introduced under the 1998 Migration Law for victims experiencing violence and “extreme exploitation”, in relation to the experiences of Nigerian sex workers in the city of Turin. The experiences of Nigerian sex workers in Turin are diverse and complex, as most of the women are undocumented, making them highly vulnerable to exploitative debt and labor contracts, as well as abuse and violence from employers, clients and government authorities. This research found that while the protection program has been fortunate for some beneficiaries, it fails to address the vulnerabilities faced by migrant sex workers. One of the shortcomings of the program is that it protects victims only if they suffer severe forms of violence, provide information that helps in the arrest of traffickers, and tell a “convincing story” that underscores their role as “innocent victims.” It ignores the complexity of the experiences of undocumented migrants who engage in commercial sex work and the multiple challenges they face. It overemphasizes a particular and narrowly defined form of victimization while rendering other forms of victimization invisible. Counter-trafficking measures may offer a modicum of protection for a specific and small group of undocumented migrants in the sex industry. However, when combined with increasing restrictions on migration and sex work, the counter-trafficking measures actually increase the vulnerability of the majority of migrant sex workers, and strengthen the networks of traffickers.