University students and single mothers are among the many women in Italy who have turned to “virtual sex” work to get by. With Italy’s ”moribund” economy (the fourth largest in Europe) stuck in its longest recession since World War II, working as a “webcam girl” has become the only way that many women can stay in school and support their families.
The Internet, and the development of technologies such as videoconferencing, have played a part in the rapid growth of virtual sex industries. Working as a “webcam girl” is particularly insidious because, as Valeria Marchetti writes in Women News Network, it is
… the part of the online pornography industry that is usually delivered live person-to-person. Generally one person is the ‘viewer’ and the other person is the “performer.” Key to the element of degradation for camgirls is that those who perform sexually via webcam must also respond and follow every sexual whim and direction their viewer gives them.
While prostitution is legal in Italy, exploitation of prostitution is not. Those working as “webcam girls” are especially susceptible to exploitation and abuse precisely because the industry is online. “The Internet is almost without regulation because its international reach has made local and national laws and standards either obsolete or unenforceable,” Diana M. Hughes, author of a 2000 report, Men Create the Demand, Women Are the Supply, explains.
Students Turn to Online Sex Industry to Stay In School
Women News Network interviewed 15 Italian women who have all been working as “webcam girls.” One is Ramona, who is studying political science at La Sapienza in Rome. She says she became a cyber sex worker to help her stay in school; she had previously worked at “four badly paid jobs” and sometimes not been paid at all for working.
Ramona is not the first student who has said she worked as a “webcam girl” to support herself in college; students in the U.K. have said they did the same, as working for the online sex industry helped to pay their university fees while still allowing them to carry an “intense course load.”
Women Especially Affected By Italy’s Financial Crisis
Italy’s ongoing financial crisis has led older women to turn to the online pornography industry. Susanna, a single mother of two, was a chef at a fancy restaurant in Pisa. After she lost her job as the financial crisis hit and customers stopped coming to the restaurant, she found that becoming a webcam girl would pay some 3,000 euros ($3,988) and was the “only way to survive.” Says Susanna,
“When I put my daughters to bed I usually tell them a fairy tail. It is hard to end up with a happy ending and then become a ‘virtual prostitute’ to assure them a house and food.”
The plight of Ramona and Susanna attests to how the now-entrenched financial crisis has fallen particularly hard on women in Italy. The country’s unemployment rate is currently 12 percent and has been above 10 percent for 18 straight months. It is 39.5 percent for the active working population of 15 to 24-year-olds.
Women in Italy had actually been making gains in the workplace in the decades prior to the recession. But in 2008, when the Italian economy started to contract, more than 70,000 women –comprising 50.2 percent of all women aged 16 and over — became unemployed, according to Istat – Italy National Institute of Statistics. As the European Psychology Association says, women are the first to be dismissed from jobs when a crisis strikes.
Currently, the employment rate for women in Italy is 47 percent, among the lowest in the European Union. Even before the recession, Italian women who worked faced added pressures to balance their jobs and childcare, amid a lack of family-friendly policies. Employers, and especially those of small- to medium-sized businesses, “view women with suspicion because they overestimate the cost of maternity leaves,” says the Christian Science Monitor.
Recent data shows that the jobless rate in Italy has fallen for two months in a row, a tentative sign that the economic slump may be abating, says Bloomberg. That is certainly a welcome development. For too many women, including Ramona and Susanna, any improvement in Italy’s economic climate, and a happier ending to their stories, cannot come soon enough.
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