“I cannot be proud of myself. People criminalise and stigmatise prostitution. They won’t try to understand why you are doing this job. They just have their opinion and that is it.”
The term “prostitution” derives from the Latin word “prostituta”, which translates literally into “to offer upfront”. It is said that prostitution is the most ancient of all professions, dating back to the ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Roman cultures, where offering one’s self in return for something was standard practice.
In those days, prostitutes were perceived as independent and influential figures, as well as acknowledged for their appearances and services. However, over the years prostitution has become a crime and hookers have become subject to abuse and discrimination. What is worse about the criminalisation of commercial sex is that it considerably heightens the risk of sex workers of being harmed.
Amnesty International’s policy for decriminalisation of prostitution states that “laws force sex workers to operate covertly in ways that compromise their safety, prohibit actions that sex workers take to maximise their safety, and serve to deny sex workers support or protection from government officials”.
The policy also states that sex workers are denied a range of human rights, including the right to security of person, housing and heath.
Bruna, is a 22-year-old Brazilian who has been working as a hooker in London, United Kingdom for two years. She was forced into prostitution at the age of 19 in order to help support her parents back home in Brazil, who live in extreme poverty and rely on their daughter for a living. She told the IPF how she was once raped by a man who would refuse to wear a condom.
“A man came to see me and he abused me. He broke the condom and raped me.”
She said: “We have to do everything with a condom, but he refused to wear one. At the beginning he seemed fine, but then he started getting aggressive and attacked me. After that he took my phone away so that I would lose his number and all track of him.”
Following the incident, Bruna was in hospital for one month to protect herself from any sexually-transmittable diseases (STDs) and take contraceptive pills to prevent pregnancy. She explained that she doesn’t think the law should criminalise prostitution.
“I think prostitution should be decriminalised because we are not doing anything wrong. The only ones who suffer are the prostitutes – we are the only ones risking. We don’t put anyone else at risk. We are at risk.”
Bruna added that if the profession was decriminalised, hookers would be spared a lot of violence, as they would finally have the courage to report abuse to police without fear of being treated like criminals. Bruna explained that the fear of being prosecuted on criminal charges means that prostitutes don’t ask for help even when they are at risk, which is something she says many men take advantage of.
Bruna used to work as a shop assistant, however, she said that there was no way the job could earn her enough money to support herself as well as her family. She charges her clients £150 each and has up to four encounters per day. However, her dream job is to become a lawyer and Bruna has set aside her mornings to attend an English language course.
When asked if she was happy, Bruna said:
“You cannot be happy. The whole situation doesn’t allow you to be happy, because you are always scared of who you’ll open the door to and what could happen to you.”
She continued: “I cannot be proud of myself. People criminalise and stigmatise. They won’t try to understand why you are doing this job. They just have their opinion and that is it. I tried, I worked elsewhere, but had no other option in the end. This is the easiest way.”
Have you ever been in love?
And what happened?
He left me when he found out I was a prostitute.
Despite the fact that Bruna has often been a victim of sexual abuse and violent insults, and ignoring the fact that she has few friends who don’t discriminate against her, the young Brazilian refuses to give up hope for a better life.
“My plan is to start a business. I would like to open a salon, like a hair dresser, save some money for myself and my family and then start studying law. Eventually I’ll put up my own family too.”