Prostitution nowadays, in all its correlations and differences related to people’s trade for sexual exploitation, is a multifaceted world, ambiguous and in many ways unfathomable, hardly comprehensible if not only roughly.

This is due to several reasons: first of all to the large number of people involved in it, to the different motivations and conditions in which it is practiced (spontaneous and forced, Italian and foreign, involving women and men, ‘transgender’, adults and juvenile, linked to drug’s usage and abuse, on the street and indoor, at times ‘popular’ sometimes and elitist some others…); secondly to the diversification of organizations and exploitation/control networks; third to the impact on public opinion, political background and law-making environment (moral condemnation and indifference, scandal and carelessness, repression and connivance, charities, prohibition, regulations); last but not least to the dynamics between offer and demand (this last one being very diversified from a socio-cultural stand point) and to the relation between its official social “extraneousness” and its simultaneous social “normality”; then in the end to the wide implications in the relations among genres, sexual attitudes, power and money.

Historically people’s trade – in the context of immigration flows towards Western Europe – is characterized by the exploitation of prostitution and a wide range of impacting variables of this phenomenon (genre, nationality, routes, destinations, ways of recruitment, coercion, persuasion, exploitation, engagement), which then joins a mechanism that generates illicit and then legal profits, through money laundering and the activities linked to this traffic. Dangerous processes of socio-political simplification and distortion end in identifying immigration with criminality and prostitution, avoiding a real comprehension of this phenomenon and the activation of specific public initiatives that should promote the respect and protection of the people involved and the community, both in terms of actual safety and human/ civil rights.

In Italy this phenomenon developed at the beginning of the 90’s with the spreading of street prostitution as a “social case” caused by the immigration of women from North Africa and East Europe first and then from China. At that time specific public intervention were activated, from first aid/counseling for people involved in prostitution and victims of trafficking, to information bureaus where social and legal advice services are provided, and also where social assistance and integration programs can be found. Plus: welcome centers, through different types of structures, orientation, training and support in favor of social and employment integration. Altogether these interventions overall have managed to protect the rights of thousands of people, but at the same time they implied the activation of a response by organized crime: as a consequence a better organization on the side of criminal networks developed linking to the local ganglands.

In the last few years we have seen a huge increase of hidden prostitution, the so called “masked”, invisible, indoor prostitution. A wide range of additional places and ways of communications join the street one. Indeed a certain prostitution pattern implies a specific economic income, quality of life, security, control by the exploiter, residence permission and level of autonomy: a range of conditions that makes it extremely difficult to classify and differentiate the specific forms of prostitution. In this way, the phenomenon tends to become invisible, under different influences that can be defined as market drivers or people and organizations’ effort to avoid public control and repression. At the same time, legal interventions tend to move prostitution from the streets, in order to reduce its visible impact, trying to erase the sense of social scandal and the perception of insecurity spreading among the local communities. The involved risk is to make invisible all the violations of human rights and of people’s freedom, to make even weaker the people already exploited, reducing their opportunity of emancipation, of access to protection and social security.