ROME - Municipal authorities in Rome have approved plans for a red light zone where prostitution will be officially tolerated from April, officials said Saturday as a row over the initiative erupted.
Ignazio Marino, the Italian capital's centre-left mayor, gave his blessing on Friday evening to the experiment in the Eur business district to the south of the city's historic centre.
The local council there has proposed allowing prostitution in one non-residential area with the aim of reducing the impact of a trade currently conducted on more than 20 streets in the district.
Police will be ordered to impose fines of up to 500 euros on prostitutes caught working outside of the permitted area, which will be supervised for evidence of the women involved being exploited. If the experiment proves successful, the council wants to establish up to three separate red light zones within the district.
Local resident Cristina Lattanzi campaigned for the change, describing the current situation as an unsustainable "nightmare".
"Eur is already the city's red light district with more than 20 streets under siege day and night," she told La Repubblica. "There are streets for transvestites, streets for very young girls, streets for male prostitution. Us residents need a bit of peace." Objections to the initiative have been raised by the centre-right opposition on Rome's municipal council, Church figures and even some within mayor Marino's Democratic Party (PD).
"I hope it is just a bizarre idea dreamed up to draw attention to the problem," said PD councillor Gianluca Santilli, who argued that the idea would lead to unacceptable prostitute "ghettoes." Enrico Feroci, the Rome director of Catholic charity Caritas, said the initiative was morally wrong.
"Prostitution always involves human exploitation: trying to regularise it or tolerate it is therefore always mistaken," he said.
Italy has 70,000-100,000 prostitutes, government and other researchers have estimated. Half this number are foreign nationals and two-thirds work on the streets.
The law does not ban the sale of sex but soliciting, pimping and operating a brothel are illegal.