Prostitution in Rome

3 Oct

Really, I don’t think you can fully claim to know the Roman culture unless you know about the Via Salaria reference.

Via Salaria is infamous for prostitution. In broad daylight. That’s all there is to it. Now you have your Roman culture badge of honor. Easy, right?

So here’s the thing. Prostitution runs pretty rampant in Rome, and is majorly out in the open. I’ve seen many a nekkid woman on the side of the road awaiting clientele, and at lunch hour.

Funny to think that in over 6 years I’ve never written one article about prostitution in Rome. Funny as in odd. Odd because it’s so rampant.

So, here you go. Here’s the golden goose that finally prompted me to get there. Exhibit 1. I give you: The “Puttan Tour map of EUR” (“puttan tour” being a common term for referring to cruising around EUR looking for prostitutes, puttan being “puttana” which translates to “whore”)


If you really want to see it in detail, just click on the damn thing. But seriously, give me a minute here to unpack this bullshit for you, please.

So. I ran across this map yesterday via the FB page called Roma Fa Schifo. Roma Fa Schifo means “Rome is Digusting,” at the time of writing has over 11,200 “likes.” Now. Loyal readers of my blog know that I don’t use my site to promote a negative image of Rome, because I love Rome, warts and all. I try to keep things upbeat, positive, and lighthearted, because who knows better than I, after 12 years in the Eternal City, the problems that we face. That being said, I don’t generally subscribe to aggregators of Rome disgustingness. However, RFS is one that I do follow, because sometimes they highlight absurdities that spark my curiosity and which I simply cannot ignore. Hence, exhibit 1 above which crossed my FB feed yesterday.

Not being one to rest on my laurels, you know I had to dig a bit deeper. As in, double you tee eff, folks. Seriously. I mean, geez. EUR is like my own backyard, so you know I have to represent for my ‘hood. Ain’t nobody going to deny that the Colombo is a prostitution hotbed. Shit, one time I missed my bus stop late at night on the Colombo and had to get off the bus further south, and feared that someone might mistake me for an on-duty sex worker, just guilty by association of being on that street in that area at that hour, not because I was wearing sparkly heels or was scantily clad. No, siree! But, come on. A map? An effing MAP? So, my first thought was: this is a joke.

Um, no. I am here to tell you that this website is dead serious. There’s an independent site that represents the EUR neighborhood, on which the city of Rome itself pays for advertising above the Puttan Tour map (Exhibit 2):


As if this wasn’t shameful enough, please, allow me to translate the article that accompanies the graphic. Ahem. Clearing my throat. Listen up, folks:

EUR is becoming more and more the neighborhood of prostitutes: we have them for every taste, for every budget, all hours of the day, from morning to night, on many streets in EUR. All you have to do is drive around and no doubt you’ll find satisfaction.
But maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. In a time of economic crisis like right now, any business is good business, and so — why not? — even prostitution, if seen from a certain point of view, is a business that can bring tourism to our neighborhood. Ok, so it’s sexual tourism, but it’s still tourism!
And so now we’re asking for your help to keep our “whore map” up to date so that tourists can organize, in real time, their own “whore tour.” We’ve decided, in order to make the service as complete as possible, to list not only the places where a tourist can “consume” his services undisturbed, but can also, if he wants, in total tranquillity and without anyone doing anything about it – throw out tissues, products made of latex, but even, if he wants, packs of cigarettes, beer bottles, etc. etc.
To send updates to the whore map, email us, including the exact address, hours of operation, and supporting details.
EUR used to be a model neighborhood, one of the most beautiful of Rome – if not the most beautiful – immersed in greenery, with a beautiful artificial lake, wide streets free of traffic, a wonderful amusement park and it was a place where everyone dreamed of living. Nowadays that neighborhood doesn’t exist anymore, but, in consolation there’s a new EUR: the neighborhood of the whores.

Ok. I get that this is supposed to be ironic. How could it not be ironic? Clearly there’s a vein of disdain for the fact that people use the neighborhood for sex and then throw garbage all over the place. Maybe they’re trying to bring attention to the problem in a humorous way, in order to spark change. My neurons are perplexed. But I don’t have the inclination to call up the editors of the site and interview them. This blog is free, after all. So come to your own conclusions.

What I will add, however, is that the site also highlights a referendum recently brought to the city council that proposes reinstating the “case chiuse” … the “closed houses.” Basically these are brothels, also known as “case di tolleranza.” Brothels were legal in Rome until the “Merlin Law” of 1958 (named after Socialist Lina Merlin, the first woman in history to be elected to the Italian Senate, in 1948) abolished brothels. The sort of weird legal loophole is that technically speaking, prostitution isn’t illegal, it’s the brothels that are. Yeah, I know.

Of course as you most likely know, prostitution is often called “the world’s oldest profession” and had always been a part of Roman history from ancient times (see Exhibit 3 below, a.k.a. porno fresco from Pompeii):

Yeah, it’s pretty much probably what you think it is. Even the History Channel got on that bandwagon. Ever seen a History Channel documentary that warns that it’s sexually explicit? Well you have now! Weee! And I quote: “A seething world of sex and filthy squalor.” Oh Dio. Such drama.

So, no surprise that prostitution was legally regulated in Rome, even under Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship, although granted there were stricter measures taken, such as obligatory state medical exams and requirements for registry with public authorities.

Ok, so there’s your history lesson, in a nutshell. Thanks to Merlin, oh female magician that she was, prostitution is in a weird gray area in Italy. The law on the books hasn’t been modified since the original from 1958, despite numerous attempts.

So, that brings us up to today, where there’s a referendum on the table that proposes to abrogate the Merlin Law. Three politicians are proposing the change: Angelo Alessandri, former national secretary for the controversial extreme right-wing Lega Nord party; Matteo Iotti, a member of Emilia-Romagna’s city council, and might I add please don’t let me loose to comment about the ego fest of photos on his blog’s homepage; and Luca Vezzani of PdL — i.e. Berlusconi’s party. No irony intended there, at least I don’t think. The various articles about the referendum promise that the politicians had planned to start in September collecting the 500,000 signatures needed to get the referendum on the ballot. No real update on that, however.

So I did a little more trolling. In this interview, Alessandri had said that there would be a website called No Merlin, to help gather signatures. In fact, here you go. It’s a Blogspot blog that at this writing was most recently updated on July 13, 2013 and in fact has just that one article, followed by an article titled, and believe me, it pains me to write this: “Blog Under Construction.” Dio. There’s even a menu titled “Gallery” that, as of yet, has no photos. One can only hope it stays that way.

I dunno, folks. This is starting to get long. Here’s the deal. If the Merlin Law has been on the books and unmodified since 1958, and the big push to get it abrogated stands in October at a measly free blog with one post? Yeah. Not so sure about the chances of success there.

Shows like Le Iene do undercover pieces, social experiments (classy when the Milan City worker truck stops to compliment her), and exposès about prostitution, over and over and over.

And it’s not like the subject doesn’t get press coverage. It does. I mean, look how jazzy ex-mayor Alemanno looks in the dark among the flashing police lights and synthesized background music of this video highlighting a prostitution bust on Via Salaria:

The Puttan Tour map? Um, in pretty bad taste, to say the very least.

The prostitution problem in Rome? Enormous. I could easily probably write a thesis on it, if I was going for my doctorate in social work. A topic that deserves far more attention than a flippant blog post from yours truly. It’s a huge problem. Look at this article from the BBC from a couple weeks ago, citing a Milan cinema shut down because it was being used as a brothel.

Folks, really. I can’t even buy stamps at the post office or get a bus on a Tuesday due to a strike, but patronizing a prostitute is as easy as buying a Happy Meal? Hmmm. Something’s wrong with this picture.


13 Responses to “Prostitution in Rome”

  1. Ernesto Cinquenove October 3, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    Loved the article but, to be fair, I need to point out that the city of Rome does not pay for that particular ad spot. That’s a Google Adsense generated ad that’s placed accordingly to people’s searches. So only you (and people like you), being somebody that frequently searches information about Rome, were shown that ad. Nothing to do with Rome supporting prostitution.
    Love your work. We’re gonna need to talk soon.

  2. simcek October 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    Roma Fa Schifo fa schifo, if you forgive my poetry.

    It’s a blog/FB page/Twitter account full of fascists and racists ready to complain and post pictures about immigrants and gypsies and whores spoiling “the most beautiful city in the world”.

    What do they do to make it better? F*ck all, apart from taking pictures of some poor devil lying in a comatose state on a pavement, and then walk away with their noses up.

    I’ll be celebrating the day that website closes for ever.

  3. Shelley Ruelle October 3, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    ;-( Sad. The only reason I would totally support reopening the brothels is because these girls need advocates and protection, in my opinion, and because frankly, I don’t want my preschoolers to have to ask me why there are half-naked women standing on the side of the street. Legally regulated and policed sex trade should theoretically be fine, because no one is going to abolish prostitution. But making it more palatable and safer, I say go for it. This is insane.

  4. Shelley Ruelle October 3, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    Good point, I hadn’t thought about those ads being from Adsense. Well, fine, but if I were Comune di Roma, I’d get someone to make one of the sites I didn’t want my ad to appear on. Kind of bad for PR, if you ask me.
    And, thanks for the compliment. Where did you come from? We’re gonna need to talk soon? Um, ok. I love to talk. Just watch me go.

  5. Shelley Ruelle October 3, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Oh my beloved Simcek, you and I know where you stand on politics. I’m not a big fan of RFS either, for reasons stated in this post. However, like I said, it is a good aggreggator for the stranger and weirder aspects of total disregard for the city. Now, let’s not go generalizing here, ok? 😉 Baci baci baci

  6. simcek October 4, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    I do see your point. Thing is, I have had the pleasure of interacting with RFS owner on Twitter. The guy’s got some reeeeal issues. Let’s leave it at that…

  7. Chris October 4, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    The most terrible thing of all is the fact that almost all of these girls are trafficked so, in fact, they are not whores or prostitutes but sex-slaves and their punters are not simple johns, rather they are rapists. I have, so many times, seen groups of sub-saharan girls close to Tivoli and it makes my blood run cold. Another thing . . . . selling sex in itself is not illegal in other countries too (such as the U.K.) . . . . but buying sex or profiting from sex IS illegal so, generally it is the pimps (a.k.a. slave-masters) and the johns (a.k.a. rapists) who are breaking the law. So, before we all make judgements about that puttana on the street corner maybe we should all stop and consider the possibility that she may be, in fact, a victim.

  8. Arlene Gibbs Décor October 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    I cannot get behind that site because the owner used to troll me and other expat friends on our blogs. Very hardcore and nasty.

    That said, I agree with you about reopening the brothels. It makes no sense to close them while prostitution is legal.

    Human trafficking is a huge problem and we need to do something to protect the victims. I would think a clean regulated brother would be better than standing in the middle of the road/highway.

  9. janavi October 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    I knew the situation was bad, but had no idea how bad. I was mistaken for a prostitute once while waiting for a bus outside Paestum. It was very scary, the men were very aggresive. And since it was Fall I was all bundled up and trying to hide behind the bus shelter. And way past the age of most prostitutes.

  10. Andy Troiani October 5, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    Thank you so much, I taken a note!!!

    I lived near via Salaria and yes, you can see young ladies from the Tangenziale to GRA, almost naked (and sad faces). Now I drive trough via Tiburtina, and I can see the same girls (and faces).
    And I can see the criminal organizations behind those bodies as well.

    When I was young I was proud about Merlini law, no prostitution in this country! But I was wrong. Prostitution was out from houses, not from the country. And I mean “country” as “in the street”. In front of everyone.

    Who is the guilty? Men, first of all. Without ask there isn’t answer. And society, that put sex and money on top. (Ehmm… I’m not a new “Lutero” or “Savonarola”, sex is good)
    And after them the criminal organizations, who take an advantage about everything and take girls from poor countries to transform them in sex slaves.

    With “closed houses” we have girls in houses (really?) and not on the streets, serious controls about diseases, grown ladies and no slave girls/teenagers (very important!), no criminal organizations (is not sure, but hoped) and first of all they can pay taxes about their job!

    If you can’t win against the enemy (prostitution)… put your enemy in a comfortably house and take part to the business.

  11. Peter Matthews July 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    Here’s a parliamentary report on what has been happening (pros and cons) in NZ, where legalisation actually happened. See:

  12. Shelley Ruelle July 24, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Thanks for sharing!


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