Prostitution, a growing trend in Kurdish areas, lack of mismanagement and leadership to be blamed

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-Prostitution, addiction and other social problems have always been on the rise ever since this regime and the ones before it took control of our land. Occupiers and the Iranian oppressors are the sins of Kurdish society in Eastern Kurdistan.

-Deteriorating economic situation is the main driving force behind growing levels of prostitution in Iran’s Kurdish cities.

“It turned out that prostitution is strongly contributing to the lack of jobs, marginalization of [the city by the government in terms of services], social violence, the poor physiological state of people, and growing drug addiction,” Azizi said.

“The age of prostitutes range from 11 to 50. The youngest among them was an 11-year-old girl whose father was addicted to drugs. She was forced into prostitution to pay her father’s debts.”

-Ten to 20 percent of the prostitutes they spoke to were illiterate, while nine percent had higher education diplomas.

“Of all of them, only two percent said they were doing prostitution out of pleasure, the rest said they were forced into prostitution,” she said.

-Among sex buyers, 86 percent said their economic situation was good and eight percent said they were “very rich”.

-“It clearly showed us that the majority of sex buyers were rich men,” Azizi said. Some 55 percent of clients had wives while 45 percent were single.

Sex industry grows in Iran’s Kurdish region under US sanctions
16-09-2019 by Rudaw English

It is common to see women late at night wandering down Shashi Bahman Street in Sanandaj, Iranian Kurdistan, while wealthy men pass in luxurious cars. It is also common to see these cars stop and for groups of two or more girls to crane their necks through open windows, to climb into the backseat, and to disappear into the night.

We spotted one 25-year-old punter driving a Toyota Prado. He identified himself as Sako. “The majority of the girls seen on this street are students,” he says. “They pay more attention to the cars than to the drivers.”

Sanctions imposed by the US to deter Iran from building a nuclear weapon have impacted all aspects of life in the Islamic Republic, especially among the most vulnerable in society, as the value of the nation’s currency plummets and leaves many daily necessities unaffordable.

“These girls are here to find wealthy men to help cover their university fees and they are ready to be with them in all ways in return,” Sako says. “Some of the girls when dating with them immediately ask for a certain amount of money.”

Sako took out his phone while we talked and called a female friend who was willing to spend the night with him in exchange for money. According to Sako she is from Shiraz, but studying in Sanandaj.

“How much are you asking for tonight?”Sako asked her over the phone. “For one time sex, I want 200,000 tomans [$47.50]. And for the whole night I want 400,000,” she replies.

“How much you would you ask if we are two?” he asks. “I want 600,000,” she replies.

Sex tourism

The trade is surprisingly widespread considering prostitution is illegal in deeply conservative Iran, where the role and morality of women is rigidly codified.

A short distance down the road we find a man, his black hair flecked with white. Identifying himself as Hadi, the 45-year-old tells us he separated from his wife 15 years ago.

“Every Thursday evening I come here. If I find a pretty girl, I will take her with me,” he says.

He says the price tends to vary depending on “how beautiful they are”.

“Their prices range from 200,000 tomans to 500,000 tomans recently,” he says. The price has risen as a result of sex tourism, he says, as men from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq cross the border to buy sex.

“In the past when the toman was valuable, you could persuade a girl to sleep with you for 50,000 toman. But over the past two years, buyers from Southern Kurdistan [Iraqi Kurdistan Region] cities have been spending more than two million tomans on a beautiful girl for one night. It has made them prefer them over us.”

‘No one loves me’

After obtaining phone numbers, I called several sex workers to ask about their business. Although I assured them I would protect the identity and would not disclose their location, they refused to go on the record with their stories.

I later approached a man working at the Sanandaj public food market, identified as Payman, and persuaded him to take me to a brothel. This time I would not identify myself as a journalist.

Payman, 28, took me to a colourfully painted bordello in the Baharan neighborhood in Sanandaj. We knocked and a woman named Khala answered. She is one of the madams of the establishment.

As we walked in my nostrils were filling with the scent of tliak – a local drug of choice.

According to Payman, Khala frequently changes the brothel’s location to avoid being tracked down by authorities. As we entered an adjoining room, I saw a half-naked woman in her 30s. She rose to shake our hands while another older woman named Alham, prepared tea.

Alham showed me photographs of several prostitutes, one of whom, Kazhal, was just 17 years old.

“She is very pretty,” Payman tells me. They called Kazhal to join us.

Alham says prices at the establishment vary.

“I have had customers paying one million tomans for one night. There have been even customers who I know for many, many years, we charge them only 40,000 tomans,” Alham says.

I ask why they choose to work in the sex industry.

“I am not doing this business out of joy,” Alham says angrily. “I was just 17 when they married me off to a man. And by the time I was 19, I found myself divorced. My family was destitute. I used to work at a restaurant that payed me very little money.”

“I knew someone at the restaurant who promised to pay me large amounts of money just to sleep with him. Though I really panicked in the beginning, I became familiar with the business later. Through him I knew someone else who later introduced me to many others.”

“No one loves me. They only want my body,” she sighs.

Most sex buyers in Sanandaj are from Marivan near the border with Iraq and from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, she says.

Alham draws on a shisha pipe as she speaks. The industry has changed as a result of the crippling economic situation caused by renewed US sanctions, she explains.

“A large number of men from Erbil and Sulaimani come to Sanandaj for the prostitutes. And since they pay well, the prostitutes love to sleep with them,” she said.

Sex buyers from Kermanshah and Sanandaj are “pickpockets” who do not always pay, she adds.

I asked if she would ever give up prostitution and consider remarrying. She laughs bitterly.

“Someone who has experienced prostitution, it is very hard for her to give up and return to her normal life. You will not be satisfied with one man if you are used to being with many men.”

Kazhal enters the room. She had a slim body and wears heavy makeup. She appears much older than her 17 years. As she sits, she throws back her veil to reveal long, straight blonde hair, which falls smoothly onto her shoulders.

She appeared to be close friends with Payman, cracking jokes with him and recounting with laughter how she had deceived an elderly man into buying her mobile phone credit.

For one night she was asking for 400,000 toman and for one time sex 200,000.

Kazhal’s father was a drug addict. He had forced Kazhal to sleep with his drug dealer when she was just 14 years old.

He was detained by the government and is now undergoing rehabilitation. Responsibility has fallen to her to feed her younger siblings.

Kazhal’s dream is to leave Iran and make a better life for herself and her siblings abroad.

“I just do not want to continue life here. I just want my siblings to get bigger so we can go abroad,” she tells me.

Asked how much she makes from sex work, she says: “It just covers our household expenses.”

The work is dangerous. Kazhal describes a time when she was gang raped by four men.

“They initially said they would pay me one million toman, but they put me through a nightmare with the four of them having sex with me at a garden not letting me sleep all night,” she says. The attack left her hospitalized.

I made my excuses, claiming I wasn’t interested in buying, and left the brothel with Payman.

Aged 11 to 50

Bayan Azizi, a social researcher and women rights activist, has conducted field research on the growing prevalence of prostitution in Sanandaj.

“The field research included the marginalized neighborhood of Naysar in Sanandaj,” Azizi told Rudaw English.

The researchers spoke to 120 prostitutes, 15 pimps, and 45 clients. Their stories indicated the deteriorating economic situation is the main driving force behind growing levels of prostitution in Iran’s Kurdish cities.

“It turned out that prostitution is strongly contributing to the lack of jobs, marginalization of [the city by the government in terms of services], social violence, the poor physiological state of people, and growing drug addiction,” Azizi said.

“The age of prostitutes range from 11 to 50. The youngest among them was an 11-year-old girl whose father was addicted to drugs. She was forced into prostitution to pay her father’s debts.”

Ten to 20 percent of the prostitutes they spoke to were illiterate, while nine percent had higher education diplomas.

“Of all of them, only two percent said they were doing prostitution out of pleasure, the rest said they were forced into prostitution,” she said.

Among sex buyers, 86 percent said their economic situation was good and eight percent said they were “very rich”.

“It clearly showed us that the majority of sex buyers were rich men,” Azizi said. Some 55 percent of clients had wives while 45 percent were single.

Dr. Hadi Naqdi, a sociologist in Sanandaj, says “some people turn to prostitution due to their personal issues. They feel unstable and it all happens due to physiological disorders. They have the problem of self-confidence”.

Naqdi brands early prostitution among children as being “very detrimental” for their future as they feel “depressed, losing social statues, their body, and even they collapse physiologically”.

“And even in the society, prostitutes feel disrespected, losing self-confidence.”

“Each prostitute has a buyer and sometimes sex buyers prompt trafficking,” he said. “Paternity in our society is the leading cause for the loss of self-confidence among women. Economic independence among men is another reason for them being ready to buy women’s bodies.”

US sanctions

A member of the State Welfare Organization of Iran attributed the growing level of prostitution in the Kurdish city and many other areas of Iran to the US tightening the noose around Tehran with economic sanctions.

“In our organization, it is our duty to extend social assistance to vulnerable people and shelter those women and children who are in need and subject to social violence,” she said, refusing to reveal her identity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

“Over the past year, lower class women have taken up prostitution due to the collapse of the economy of their families.”

What worries them now is that “we do not have enough spaces to embrace all the affected women… in the meantime we cannot even encourage them to abandon prostitution, since there are no job opportunities for them to look for”.

“The worsening economic situation of our country is an indicator telling us that the worst is yet to come.”

Written by Jabar Dastbaz, translated by Zhelwan Z. Wali

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