The book Pictures of Reality** specifies that a great part of Bulgarian prostitutes go abroad in order to work in the West European sex industry, mainly to Germany. Sex workers from nine European cities, who tell about themselves and their work in the book, often mention the double lives they live.
Magda has three children — the oldest one being aged 22 — and none of them knows what their mother, who visits them every weekend, is doing in the capital. Magda’s two younger children are being raised in a provincial town by her mother, who is the only one in the know about what her daughters do for a living. Magda’s sister is also a sex worker. Magda again tried to dissuade her from doing this, but “unfortunately [her] words were to no purpose.”
“Now my mother is ashamed of us. But one of the reasons why I’m still doing this is my desire to buy an apartment for my children. I’ll soon put an end to this and I will no longer do it!”
According to Rayna, a lot of women start prostituting because of economic reasons: due to poverty or lack of supporting environment and they often “lack a stable self-esteem or a stable income.”
Social workers helping sex workers find it not surprising at all that many of them have children. Very often women persuade themselves that they sell their bodies for their children’s sake. Other prostitutes have abortion after abortion. Magda, who speaks about her children with great love, shares that Natalia does not care much for her own two children.
“I got pregnant once. It was the result of a condom burst with a client. I did not know what to do and I told the girls in the club that I had this big belly because I had stomach problems. I had an abortion. It was my first one. I have had three abortions so far,” says a Bulgarian 31-year-old girl cited in Pictures of Reality.
Magda admits that she tried to stop doing this several times, but she started all over again mainly because she needed money.
“I want to put an end to it once and for all!”
Asked when this will happen, she smiles somewhat guiltily and answers: “Soon!”
Natalia and Magda admit that sex workers are often wary of their clients. Therefore, they sometimes refuse sex with people who look suspicious.
“Their faces betray them,” Natalia laughs.
Bulgaria has no rules regulating sex work: It is neither legalized nor criminalized, although pimping, trafficking, forced prostitution and underage prostitution are crimes.
“Organizing and offering venues for prostitution are also criminalized. As a result of this, not just managers but also indoor sex workers who work collectively may be punishable under the law.”
“No one protects people who prostitute in Bulgaria. In some Western countries, the police protect them, but here in Bulgaria, institutions do not care about them,” Rayna explains.
As for Germany, prostitution there is legalized and recognized as work. Citizens of the EU member states (with the exception of Bulgaria and Romania who need work permits) can work as employees.
“In Bulgaria, they hide in the bushes from passers-by, from the police – from everyone”, Magda says.
According to accounts by sex workers, there was a fad among policemen some time ago that involved arresting sex workers and making them clean the police station. They repeated this several nights in a row.
“Everything depends on fashion. This came to their mind some time ago; then another idea will come to their mind,” another anonymous girl reveals.
In addition, health care for sex workers is problematic because of a shortage of funds. In the past, the Health and Social Development Foundation had a medical doctor working in the mobile cabinet, which visited sex workers during fieldwork. Unfortunately, at present there is no medical doctor — only a nurse taking blood for testing. The organization will soon have to seek new sources of funding because the terms of old contracts will soon expire. Funding by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — one of the foundation’s primary donors — was drastically cut over the last few years.
Meanwhile, in contrast to other countries, Bulgaria lacks funding for programs providing alternative life choices to sex workers. In Germany, for instance, there are daytime German language courses, as well as computer skills courses aimed at enhancing competence and self-confidence to increase their social options.
Magda is severe towards herself — she frequently calls herself and other sex workers “stupid.” She goes back to her past and reproaches herself for her mistakes. Her life before she started selling her body, however, was not cloudless at all. Her husband died shortly after their wedding and soon after that Magda entered a clinic due to a nervous breakdown.
She became a sex worker by force in the 1990s: turbulent times when “there were much more pimps.” This happened after Magda fell in love with a boy but a friend of his, who was prostituting, locked her in an apartment and brought men to her. In the beginning, “it was extremely unpleasant”, but afterwards she got used to it. After a few months she managed to run away. She then realized she was without money and already used so she started working for her own sake.
We finished the conversation and parted ways. As Magda headed for her accommodation, the daughter of one of her flatmates playing in front of the building rushed towards her and hugged her legs.
The neighbor continued watching them from aside, frowning.
*The scope of work of the organization includes Health programs for vulnerable groups
** Published in the frames of the international project INDOORS