“It is fitting for me to be in love, but your time is long gone.”Corianno by Pherecrates, ancient Greek poet
The legal state of the sex-related professions has been quite a controversial topic in the last decades.
Some consider such a profession as an objectification of women’s body, therefore as something to ban. Others see it as a fundamental service to properly regulate when chosen out of free will.
Sex Work in Ancient Greece
Sex work has existed in basically every society since ancient times. In the case of Ancient Greece, prostitution was legal and freely practised in organized brothels. Sex workers were usually slaves (“Pornai”), unable to marry or participate in public events. Quite different was the situation of the Hetairai, educated prostitutes hired to entertain in banquets and other events. The Hetairai had way more freedom than the Pornai, but they were still in a very low position in society.
Legal situation in Modern Greece
In modern Greece, prostitution is legal when practised in organized brothels. It is required to be at least 18, to be free of STDs or mental illnesses and to get regular medical check-ups. It is also required, for some reason, to be unmarried. Any activity of solicitation (luring potential clients on the street) or pimping (having another person, a “pimp”, facilitating the sex worker’s job) is illegal. Nevertheless, to officially register a brothel can be expensive. Prostitution on the street, albeit illegal, is the only resource for many, including transgender women.
The Economic Crisis
The economic crisis that hit the Hellenic country in the last years increased the numbers of illegal prostitution practices significantly. Many women resorted to sex work as a mean of survival, and the ones unable to work in an official brothel decided to hit the road. Many sex workers and Matronas (older prostitutes who run a brothel) lament that since the crisis began, the clients became fewer and fewer.
Another delicate aspect when it comes to sex work in Greece is the risk of human trafficking. Over the course of the last years, the country has gone through a massive migratory phenomenon from the Middle East and Africa. Many of these migrants and refugees are potential victims of sex trafficking, meaning explotation for illegal sex work. Many of them were women or underage girls who chose the street to sustain themselves.
“In Ghana, I had a Law degree. I am fluent in English and French, and I am learning Greek. Here I have to sell my body to survive. I do not have any papers to be here in Greece. I cannot have any savings because I cannot open a bank account. My boyfriend and I decided to abort the child I was expecting because I could not provide for him. The Police keep harassing me every night, and I have been arrested many times. Tell me, just tell me, what should I do?”.Young Ghanese prostitute on Monastiriou Street, Thessaloniki
The Red Umbrella Project
Since 2012 a section of the Red Umbrella Project is active in Athens. The project aims to provide support to sex workers, both legally and psychologically. Its members advocate for better recognition of sex work, safer access to health services and protection against violence and abuse.
The COVID-19 Outbreak
The COVID-19 outbreak in Greece deeply affected the profession. Greece went on total lockdown in march 2020, de facto shutting down any form of legal prostitution. In the month of May, the government started to gradually lift the restrictions, but sex work was officially allowed again beginning on June 15th. Nevertheless, the regulations for the safe practice of prostitution impose the use of the mask, cashless payments and clients providing their name and phone number. Sex workers complaint about the incompability of these measures with this kind of profession. Especially when it comes to the necessity for the clients to remain anonymous. A possible consequence could be another boost to illegal sex work.
A walk in some areas of Athens or Thessaloniki at night can give anybody the idea of the magnitude of illegal prostitution in the country. Transgender women usually keep a very upbeat facade, a sort of sassy performance to entertain the clients. It is sometimes hard to tell what they are really going through. CIS women on the streets are generally more eager to show their true feelings.
Whoever chooses this kind of profession freely should be allowed to practice it safely. Nevertheless, is it really possible, or desirable, to put a price on somebody’s body?