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Valeria Marchetti – WNN Features
(WNN) Rome, ITALY, WESTERN EUROPE: In Italy prostitution is not illegal. What is outlawed is the exploitation of prostitution. Many sex workers on the street deal with pimps and the harshness in the physical realities of the industry. Women working as virtual prostitutes though have a different and invisible enemy to fight: the economic crises in Italy.
Desperate Italian women, faced with unemployment and rising costs of living, on the backs of government austerity measures, are now turning to ‘virtual sex’ work to fight the Italian credit crunch. In an exclusive investigative undercover report WNN – Women News Network discovered the harrowing stories and struggling lives that outline how normal existence can change into a shame-filled life in only one day.
While Italy is facing economic recession and austerity measures, numerous people have cut back on spending as they begin to wonder where their next meal is coming from. Increasing numbers of women have turned to lives as webcam girls (also known as webgirls or camgirls) as a last resort to support themselves and their families.
Recent figures from the popular Italian magazine, Pianeta Donna, (Woman Planet), show a sharp increase in the number of women currently working inside the sex-industries in Italy. While exact figures are hard to access the number of cyberporn sex-workers appears to be rising.
Cyberporn is defined as: all pornography that can be accessed online via the internet. Webcam cyberporn is the part of the online pornography industry that is usually delivered live person-to-person. Generally one person is the ‘viewer’ and the other person is the ‘performer’. Key to the element of degradation for camgirls is that those who perform sexually via webcam must also respond and follow every sexual whim and direction their viewer gives them.
‘The Internet has become a site for the global sexual exploitation of women,” outlines Donna M. Hughes in her acclaimed academic report ‘Men Create the Demand; Women Are the Supply’, published over a decade ago in November 2000. “In the past five years, sex industries have been the leaders in opening up the Internet for business,” continued Hughes. “The Internet is almost without regulation because its international reach has made local and national laws and standards either obsolete or unenforceable,” Hughes continued. “With new types of technology, pornographers have introduced new ways to exploit and abuse women. With the techniques of videoconferencing, live sex shows are broadcast in which men dictate the performances of the women.”
Women face increasing humiliation at their time of financial crisis
Investigating the issue of Italian unemployment and its true impact on women in the region, WNN used an undercover identity to reach out to numerous women working in the cybersex industry. In the investigations we interviewed 15 different Italian women, all who have drastically changed their personal lives to become webcamgirls in order to fight their own adverse living conditions. In the process we discovered a number of webgirls who shared with us dramatic stories that began as the economic crisis in Italy intensified, and also spread throughout Europe.
“It is hard to say, but if worse-comes-to-worse you must put yourself beyond your women’s dignity and find out a way to feed your kids.” This is the first statement made by a woman sex-worker who currently works for a popular Italian live-sex web portal. She is a 30-year-old single mother with two daughters using ‘Susanna’ as a her cover name.
“There is no kind of harassment that a man may not inflict on a woman with impunity in civilized societies.” – Dennis Diderot
In a candid talk she told WNN she used to be an independent woman who had a well paid job as a chef in a posh restaurant in Pisa. But as soon as the economic crisis hit Italy she lost her job.
“Before the economic crisis the restaurant I worked for was always fully booked, especially on the week ends,” shared Susanna. “After 2008 customers became less and less, so I was fired,” she explained.
Trying her best to get another job no one was willing to pay Susanna even a minimum wage salary. Even when she told perspective employers she had two children to take care of no jobs became available.
“When I put my daughters to bed I usually tell them a fairy tail. It is hard to end up with a happy ending and then become a ‘virtual prostitute’ to assure them a house and food,” added Susanna. “I couldn’t find any other way to survive,” she continued. “…I hope one day to come back to my old life.”
Swimming through a spiraling financial crisis in Italy
As the close of 2011 fell on the European financial markets, “the center of the debt crisis shifted to Italy,” says an April 2013 comprehensive report from the Council on Foreign Relations.
Job loss for women often comes with increasing compromise and exclusion. But the difference in handling loss between men and women inside Italy may be a bit more obvious. What some Italians call the ‘sucker-punch’ for women in the down-spiraling economic climate has been driving them from every part of the country to jump into an online industry that makes their physical bodies available to men for a fee as women “just try to survive.”
“Women are generally the first to be dismissed, especially in times of crisis,” says the European Psychology Association. This may put them in the face of danger as a study inside the U.S. shows: that unemployed women are more likely to experience domestic abuse than employed women.
“The fear of job loss or being unable to successfully provide for one’s family is ever present,” outlined UNICEF – The United Nations Children’s Fund, in a 2005 report covering masculinity and gender-based-violence. “Meanwhile, the impact of unemployment can be devastating. Job loss can be emasculating, rendering men depressed, overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness… …Men may consequently seek affirmation of their masculinity in other ways; for example, through irresponsible sexual behavior or domestic violence.”
In 2010, women represented 47.8 per cent of Italy’s labor force, a slightly larger share than at the start of the recession in 2008. Overall in that year 70 thousand women became unemployed or were looking for work, representing 50.2 percent of all women in Italy aged 16 and over, according to research issued by Istat – Italy National Institute of Statistics last March 2013.
But the burgeoning financial crisis for women living inside Italy’s economy and throughout Europe didn’t stop there.
In early 2012 with a focus on ‘cautious growth’, the new Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti began to push policies that included billions in tax increases, along with spending cuts in the region, as pressures on the ground for Italians increased to the boiling point and Italy’s government reeled from mounting fiscal challenges.
Struggling in life to survive
At 22-years-of-age Cristina was forced to get a job as a ‘sexy web girl’ whether she wanted to or not. Only one year ago she was a student at the prestigious Bocconi Universty – School of Economics in Milan. As the only daughter of a rich building contractor her father had given her a house in the center of Milan with money to live on and a comfortable life.
When the global credit crunch in Italy affected the the home building field, especially as her father’s construction business fell to never before lows, Cristina decided to give up her university studies to look for a job. But the outcome was not what she expected.
“Nobody wanted to hire someone who had no experience at all, so to help my father’s business I decided to get this humiliating job,” said Cristina during her interview with WNN, as she explained why she became a camgirl.
In her interview she revealed she “deeply hated” the webcam work she felt she has been forced to do, but this was the only way she felt she could help her father pay back his debts.
“I cry every night,” outlined Cristina. “My parents don’t know who I’ve become. I’ve lied to them. I said I got a well paid job as an academic researcher,” she continued. “I feel so bad for what I am doing. But at least with my job I am able to help my Dad,” added Cristina.
Like Cristina, other students in Italy have been forced to quit their path of University studies under growing and deteriorating economic circumstances.
This is not the case with Ramona though, a 20-year-old who comes from a family with tight money constraints who live in Southern Italy. Ramona is still a student at La Sapienza, the well known Italian University based in Rome. Almost exactly one year ago she earned a full scholarship to go to school. Now she is eager to pursue a degree in Political Science.
Despite Italian government cuts drastically reducing Italy’s education funding for students in need, Ramona made the tough decision to carry on with her academic studies, whatever the cost.
“After four badly paid jobs, and sometimes not even getting paid at all, this was the only solution I found to make ends meet,” outlined Ramona describing her own reasons for jumping into a secret life as a webcam girl.
Susanna, Cristina and Ramona, along with the other 12 camgirls interviewed by WNN, have also conveyed they too feel like they are hiding a ‘life of shame’. But the trade-off with no job is not an option for any of them. The pay-offs keep the young women at their jobs.
The payment for Italian webcam girls is high compared to any other jobs they can get. All of the 15 interviewees claimed a medium salary of 3,000 euros ($3,988 USD) or more per month. But the adequate money is definitely not always worth the degradation.
“It is true, I earn a lot of money. But money can’t give me back my dignity as a woman,” Ramona added.
55-year-old Mrs. Oria Gargano is president of the Be Free Cooperative Society, an Italian NGO based in Rome that focuses on women rights and women’s protection from violence. She is also an Italian representative for the European Women’s Lobby, a wide umbrella organization of women’s associations working within the European Union. In a phone interview Gargano underlined how historically women in Italy have always been affected by economic crisis, since as far back as the Middle-ages.
The current credit crunch in Italy is following the trend, Gargano conveyed. “Economic impoverishment can reaffirm and harden gender inequities by increasing women’s financial dependence.”
Gargano also pointed out that in the ever-growing Italian sex market, it’s the male customers who are destroying their own lives, trapped inside the industry as cybersex addicts.
“I believe men who benefit from virtual sex tend to sharpen it [down] as a private vice, splitting their personality between [being] a family man and a man who can impose his sexual perverse desires on woman…using [the] internet,” continued Gargano.
In Italy 2011 unemployment for youth up to 25-years-of-age was tracked at an alarming figure: 29.1 percent. These figures indicate that those youth who have been thrown out of the labor market, especially young women, have little-to-no chance these days of pulling out of poverty when it hits in Italy.
A resolution passed and adopted with a final 23 to 1 vote in the European Parliament in January 2011, recognizes that “‘the feminization of poverty’ means that women have a higher incidence of poverty than men, that their poverty is more severe than that of men and that poverty among women is on the Increase.”
It’s obvious that being a camgirl inside Italy can come with a lucrative potential to put more than just a ‘meal-on-the-plate’ or pay the rent. But it also means that from the depths of this lucrative career an old saying resurfaces: ‘Women are driven to prostitution by economic misfortune’.
Providing fuel that keeps young Italian women trapped in work they do not want to do, the numbers of women involved in the online webcam sex industry is rising. Italy’s unemployment numbers are now one of the highest in Europe as unemployment reaches closer to 12 percent. This video shows how men and women, who have reached success in the past, now face fear under loss as the low economy in Italy continues. Nadim Baba reported on this story from Rome in March 2013 for Al Jazeera English.
For more information on this topic:
- “‘Lifeʹs a Movie in Which Sheʹs the Star’ – Situating and Surveying the Camgirl,” Kate Mason, University of Sydney, May 2006;
- “The impact of unemployment on workers’ psychological well-being,” University of Florence, Italy, June 2012;
- “Understanding poverty from a gender perspective,” United Nations Publications, June 2004;
- “The Sex Industry and Internet Industry: Partners in the Globalization of Sexual Exploitation,” Donna M. Hughes, University of Rhode Island.
Freelance Italy correspondent Valeria Marchetti is a digital and broadcast journalist who studied her trade in London and has worked for numerous news publications including the local Rome-based newspaper Nero Se Bianco. Marchetti has also worked as a radio reporter for Radio Vaticana at the Vatican in addition to her work as a freelance video journalist. Dedicated to investigative reporting on stories that focus on social justice and women Marchetti is currently based in Rome.
Additional sources for this story include the European Women’s Lobby, Istat – Italy National Institute of Statistics, UNICEF, Council on Foreign Relations, Donna M. Hughes, United Nations Publications, VAW.net, European Psychology Association, Pianetta Donna, BBC News, Be Free Cooperative and PBS Newshour.
©2013 WNN – Women News Network
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