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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 12:15 GMT
Red light district for Venice
Venice
Prostitutes will be kept away from Venice's historic centre
The city of Venice is to set up red light districts for its prostitutes, where they can operate safely and out of the sight of residents.

Venice railway station
At the moment, prostitutes gather round the railway station
The plan, proposed by the local council, is to designate special areas for the prostitutes, and send vans to provide condoms, health care and hot coffee.

Beppe Caccia, the official in charge of Venice's social welfare, said the zones were "preferable to harassing the women or ordering police raids".

Prostitution is not illegal in Italy, but living off a prostitute's wages is.

Brothels

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recently re-opened the debate on prostitution by suggesting that Italy should legalise brothels, which have been outlawed since 1958.


This way the state would legalise the trade in human flesh and become an accomplice of the pimps

Catholic campaigner

He said that he was ashamed of the sight of women plying their trade on the streets, and that they also needed protecting.

At the moment, many sex workers are based around Venice's railway station. Residents have demonstrated against them.

Between about 50,000 - 70,000 women work as prostitutes in Italy, many of them illegal immigrants forced into the trade by traffickers.

Italian radio said the "zoning plan" would relocate prostitutes to the sparsely inhabited outer areas of Mestre - Venice's mainland quarter - although other reports said the area of the red light district had not yet been decided.

The women are worried about working too far away from clients, or being vulnerable to robberies.

Catholic protest

Church leaders in the predominantly Catholic country said the idea was obscene.

Father Oreste Benzi, who works to rehabilitate prostitutes, said: "No woman chooses to sell her own body... this way the state would legalise the trade in human flesh and become an accomplice of the pimps."

Woman dressed up as Venetian courtesan
Venice was famed for its sex workers in the 17th century
But the city council will also set up advice centres for the prostitutes, and social workers will encourage them to leave the sex trade.

Carla Corso, of the Committee for Prostitutes' Rights, said regulation was better than repression.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera said the plan was fitting for a city that was famous for its lavish courtesans - essentially upper-class prostitutes - under the Venetian Republic, and was the birthplace of Casanova.

See also:

24 Dec 01 | Europe
Greek sex industry uncovered
20 Dec 01 | Europe
German prostitutes get new rights
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