The gradual closure of Turkey’s 52 state-run brothels is emerging as a controversial tactic in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declared war on prostitution. While Erdoğan’s supporters denounce brothels as a form of “slavery,” sex workers fear the campaign poses risks to their health and safety.
Closing down state-run brothels “will not keep men from visiting prostitutes,” explained 48-year-old Istanbul sex worker Berna, “but it will push even more women into illegality and the back streets, where they will be without protection, and without any rights.”
Brothels have existed in Turkey since Ottoman times, and were tolerated by Ottoman rulers. During the first years of the Turkish Republic, state-run brothels were established as a way to control prostitution closely on all levels. Under the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), though, the emphasis appears to lie more on stamping out activity many Turks view as a moral outrage.
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Constanze Letsch is a freelance writer based in Istanbul.