Italian senators move to open red light districts

A group of Italian senators has proposed changing the country’s law to allow red light districts to be created, following similar ideas by city halls in Rome and Milan.

Italian senators move to open red light districts
Prostitutes in Rome's Eur district. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Senator Maria Spilabotte, from the Democratic Party (PD), made the proposal along with 25 fellow lawmakers from parties including the Five Star Movement (M5S) and Forza Italia.

Under the plans, prostitutes would be able to legally operate in declared red light districts. They would be subject to health checks and their clients would be obliged to wear condoms.

Legalizing prostitution in specific areas would also enable to government to tax sex workers.

The proposal aims to change Italy’s Merlin law, a 1950s legislation which banned red light districts.

Pierpaolo Vargiu, president of parliament’s Social Affairs Commission, said it was time for the idealistic law to change. “There can’t be anyone in Italy anymore than believes the dream of Senator Merlin to abolish prostitution is achievable,” he was quoted in La Repubblica as saying.

Spilabotte said the proposal recognized that citizens were “fed up” of seeing prostitutes selling sex in multiple places, while she also wanted to stop sex workers being enslaved by gangsters.

“It foresees the possibility of offering for those who prostitute themselves a place where they can practice (their trade) and where it’s also possible to have more controls,” she said.

The proposed legislation however stopped short of legalizing brothels, with Spilabotte arguing she did want pimps making “profit from exploitation”.

While allowing red light districts in Italy would cause controversy, Spilabotte said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi would likely support the move: “Renzi is a man of doing and I think he won’t let slip the chance to govern the phenomenon and put a bit of money in the state coffers.”

The Senate proposal follows similar ideas tabled by local politicians in Milan and Rome.

Members of the Northern League party have been strong supporters of allowing a red light district to be created in Italy’s financial capital, although some Milan lawmakers have voiced their opposition.

In a surprise move in February, Rome city hall approved the creation of a red light district in the capital’s Eur district. The announcement was described as "shameful" by members of the Catholic Church, who argued it would create "tolerance zones for the slavery of women."

READ MORE: Rome gives green light to red light district

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