Sex Work in Italy

Disputes regarding prostitution and the rights of sex workers: when might you need a Cassation lawyer in Rome.

What is sex work?

“‘Sex work,’ or the sex trade, is a term used to refer to all aspects of work in the sex industry, primarily prostitution.

This can encompass a range of activities such as escorting, prostitution, exotic dancing, pornography, camgirl/camboy work, phone sex work, and more.

The term ‘sex work’ was coined in the 1980s by sex workers’ rights activist Carol Leigh.

The aim was to legitimize these professions, reduce associated stigma, and underscore that this is labor deserving of rights and protections like any other work. The use of the term ‘sex work’ reflects a shift in perspective: from viewing sex work as a moral or criminal issue to viewing it as a human rights and labor issue.

It’s important to note that there are many discussions and controversies regarding sex work, including issues related to legality, morality, personal autonomy, abuse, and exploitation. In some places, various forms of sex work are legal and regulated, while in others, they’re illegal. Many sex workers’ rights activists advocate for the decriminalization of sex work, allowing workers access to legal protections and safer working conditions.

Is being an escort or using the services of an escort legal in Italy?

Yes, being an escort in Italy is undoubtedly legal, as is using the services of an escort.

The situation for sex workers in Italy is complex and faces several legal and social challenges.

Currently, prostitution itself is not illegal in Italy, but organizing or exploiting prostitution is considered illegal. This means activities such as maintaining brothels, pimping, and human trafficking are all illegal activities. This model is sometimes termed ‘prohibitionism.’

As a result, while sex workers can technically work, they lack the legal protection they might have in countries that regulate prostitution. Italian sex workers often face social stigma, violence, and may be fined for public order violations.

The Merlin Law of 1958

The Merlin Law of 1958 closed legal brothels in Italy with the intention of ending the exploitation of women, but many argue it had the side effect of making sex workers more vulnerable.

Various activist groups in Italy are seeking to change laws regarding sex work, arguing that decriminalization and regulation can provide sex workers with more security and dignity. However, these efforts are controversial and face significant opposition.

It’s important to emphasize that this is a general description, and the situation can vary significantly depending on the specific context of each sex worker. Sex workers can range from those who freely choose this work to those who are forced into this situation due to circumstances like poverty, discrimination, or human trafficking. The experiences of sex workers can also vary based on factors like ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics.

Exploitation of Prostitution

The exploitation of prostitution is a crime and can occur with any form of exploitation or economic benefit from a sex worker’s labor.

Exploitation can also be facilitation, which means any activity aimed at facilitating the act of prostitution, so it could even include just connecting a sex worker with other clients.

Even posting a sex worker’s services on a website under certain conditions can constitute exploitation of prostitution.

Exploitation and facilitation of prostitution are two distinct but often connected concepts related to the practice of prostitution. Let’s define them more precisely:

Exploitation of Prostitution: This term refers to exploiting a person involved in prostitution through coercion, violence, threats, or abuse of power. Exploitation can manifest in various forms, such as human trafficking, grooming, trafficking, sexual exploitation of minors, or employing vulnerable people in conditions of forced labor. In these situations, the person involved in prostitution is deprived of their freedom and fundamental rights, often forced to work against their will.
Facilitation of Prostitution: Facilitation of prostitution involves facilitating or promoting the practice of prostitution by third parties. This can include providing support services such as workplaces, advertising, protection services, or organizing paid sexual encounters. Facilitation can involve both individuals and organizations that profit economically or gain personal advantages from the practice of prostitution, without necessarily involving acts of exploitation.

Shared Apartments and Exploitation of Prostitution

A common scenario leading to investigations for the crime of exploiting prostitution involves the presence of multiple sex workers in apartments.

Indeed, for a possible condominium that finds the presence of an apartment used for this purpose objectionable, it might be easy to prosecute the owner or primary renter for the alleged ‘exploitation’ of the colleague.

In such cases, it would be necessary to verify the actual relationship between the two or more workers present on the premises, with the risk that an excessively high agreed-upon sub-lease price could be seen as an indication of ‘exploitation’ or ‘facilitation.’

What rights do sex workers have in Italy?

Sex workers have the right to safety and dignity, and as human beings, they are entitled to all the protections derived from the constitution, international conventions, and laws.

Prostitution itself is not illegal in Italy, but many activities related to it are criminally punishable, such as exploitation and human trafficking, or facilitation of prostitution.

Therefore, a person can legally sell sexual services in Italy but cannot work in a brothel or have a protector or manager. This legal model, as mentioned before, can be described as ‘prohibitionist.’

In terms of rights, sex workers in Italy are in a complicated position. They don’t have the right to standard occupational protections like workplace accident insurance, pensions, maternity, and sickness benefits because their profession isn’t recognized as legitimate work. Additionally, they can’t report workplace abuses without fearing fines or prosecution for related offenses, such as disturbing public peace.

Sex workers, like all citizens, still have the right to personal protection and safety. They have the right to refuse a client or service and to report acts of violence or crimes against them. However, due to social stigma and fear of discrimination or persecution, many sex workers may feel uncomfortable seeking help from law enforcement.

Several organizations and activist groups in Italy are working to change the law and achieve greater recognition and protection for sex workers, but progress is slow, and the issue is highly controversial. Many stress the importance of listening to the voices of the sex workers themselves in these discussions.

Child Prostitution

Child prostitution is clearly prohibited.

In cases of child prostitution, criminal jurisprudence and finally the Court of Cassation in 2023 affirmed that: ‘Inducing, exploiting, facilitating child prostitution, and engaging in sexual intercourse with a minor in exchange for money or other benefits presuppose general intent, so, for the existence of the subjective element, it is sufficient that the agent is aware of the nature of the sexual acts performed with a subject known to be a minor in exchange for money or other benefits.’

Do prostitutes have to pay taxes?

Yes, prostitutes in Italy must pay taxes on income earned in the exercise of their sex work, even if they do not materially have a business code allowing them to have a VAT number.

For sex workers, there remain only sustainable and appropriate solutions regarding their specific cases.

Tax assessment by the Revenue Agency on prostitution income

The Revenue Agency can contest a sex worker’s failure to file income tax returns and the failure to pay VAT and income tax.

In particular, it can be easy for the Agency to proceed with these assessments in the presence of significant cash deposits in bank accounts with no corresponding declared income.

Revocation of the release for photos and videos

It happens that after making arrangements for a photo shoot or video recording, there are disagreements between the model and the photographer or videographer.

In these cases, it is important to remember that the signed release can be revoked at any time, but revoking it without a justified reason or after receiving compensation can lead to liability for damages caused or the obligation to return the received compensation, etc.

In all these cases, it is first advisable to sign the release before each shooting session, if possible by examining the document in advance, asking the photographer what they intend to have signed and how to regulate their respective commitments.

Another scenario is when the photographer refuses to transmit the material collected during the shoot; in this case, it will be necessary to verify the agreements made between the parties before the photographic service.

Revenue assessment for prostitution income

The Court of Cassation, in ruling 22413/2016, pronounced on the appeal of an assessment notified by the Revenue Agency to a sex worker for her income derived from prostitution activities.

In particular, the Cassation Court rejected the worker’s appeal and hence confirmed the legitimacy of the assessment because:

In the specific case examined, it traced the proceeds of the prostitution exercised by the taxpayer to the category of ‘miscellaneous income,’ assimilable to income from self-employment;
The appellate judge correctly noted that the Office proceeded with the ex officio assessment under Presidential Decree September 29, 1973, No. 600, Article 41, with reference to the years for which the income tax return was not filed; with reference to the year for which a declaration was made, it proceeded in accordance with Presidential Decree September 29, 1973, No. 600, Article 38 concerning the rectification of declarations of natural persons, which expressly refers to the methodologies provided for by Article 39 of the same Decree, including ‘the use of data and information collected by the office in the ways provided for by Article 32’ (in the specific case, bank checks).
The appellate judge did not classify the proceeds from the exercise of prostitution activities as ‘business income’ but classified them according to Presidential Decree September 29, 1973, No. 602, Article 6, and Article 67, letter l) as ‘miscellaneous income deriving from occasional self-employment or the assumption of obligations to do.’ The alleged inconsistency of the reasoning, in the part where it states that the taxpayer engaged in occasional prostitution despite having regular clients, is irrelevant: the exercise of prostitution activity, occasional or habitual, generates taxable income for Irpef purposes, as it is in any case proceeds falling under the residual category of miscellaneous income provided for by Presidential Decree December 22, 1986, No. 917, Article 6, paragraph 1 letter f); the habitual requirement is relevant for different purposes of subjecting the proceeds from prostitution activities also to indirect taxes (VAT) according to Presidential Decree October 26, 1972, No. 633, Article 5, according to which exercising any activity of self-employment as a habitual profession constitutes exercise subject to VAT (in this sense Section 5, Judgment No. 10578 of 05/13/2011, Rv. 618085).
If you’re seeking information in this matter and need the assistance of a Cassation lawyer in Rome, both in civil and criminal matters, feel free to contact us.


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