Exploited at every turn: The lives of Italy’s Chinese prostitutes


Milan, Prato, Rome and Venice, Italy –Wearing a knee-length winter coat, Xiaoyan* waits for her next client near the main train station in Venice. Clinging to her bag, she looks like any other bundled-up passer-by in the evening cold.

But the 45-year-old Chinese woman from the Zhejiang province, on the country’s eastern coast, has been working as a prostitute for the past three years.

She arrived in Italy in 2007 and, like many of her compatriots, initially found work in small clothes and footwear businesses.

With an estimated 300,000 Chinese nationals, Italy hosts the largest diaspora community in the European Union

Xiaoyan is gaunt but has a delicate appearance, with shoulder-length black hair and a short fringe. Shelivedin Civitanova Marche, a central city, before heading north.

“I used to work in small Chinese-run footwear enterprises, making around 1,000 euros ($1,123) a month,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. 

“Shifts were non-stop. I hardly slept. When orders arrived, I even worked up to 24 hours. I could not cope with that any longer. I wasn’t able to keep the pace any more.”

In China, Xiaoyan was a stay-at-home mother, looking after her two children. But her family needed money, so she left.

People of rural origin in China have reported being denied basic rights and benefits. A household registration system known as hukou determines citizens’ access to education and social welfare. Leaving the village becomes the only way forruralmigrants to secure a better future.

After a challenging trip financed with loans from relatives and friends for a tourist visa, Xiaoyan eventually reached Italy.

“Labourers slept inside the [premises],” she said. “Our Chinese boss provided food and lodging, I never left the factory during those years.”

Hours upon hours of bad posture saw a doctor diagnose her with chronic body pain.

Sex work has also impacted her mental and physical health.

Al Jazeera for more

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