Female Migrant Street Prostitution during COVID-19 in Milan. A Qualitative Study on How Sex Workers Coped with the Challenges of the Pandemic
Authors: Federica Cabras, Ombretta Ingrascì
The article presents the outcome of a qualitative study on female migrant sex workers involved in street prostitution during the first two waves of COVID-19 in Italy, by focusing on their responses to the challenges posed by the pandemic in terms of economic strain and health hazards. The study, carried out from January 2020 to January 2021, has focused on the street sex market, given that this sector was particularly affected by mobility restrictions adopted during the pandemic, and on the city of Milan since it is one of the main hubs of human trafficking in Europe and one of the main sex markets in Italy, as well as one of the Italian cities most heavily hit by COVID-19. According to the findings of the empirical research — based on interviews and participant observation —, migrant women’s experiences in the sex market during the pandemic show two concomitant elements, one referring to agency and the other to exploitation. This outcome has led us to put forward a third balanced theoretical perspective, between the two views polarizing the debate on sex trafficking — namely the “victimization approach” and the “critical approach” — that is grounded on the conceptual tool “layers of vulnerability” discussed in the bioethics debate.