Following the abolition of the casino industry in Turkey in 1998, which then moved to the TRNC, a rash of nightclubs have followed in its wake.
The casino industry in the TRNC, originally intended to be an extra incentive to draw tourists has become the main attraction. Fifty nightclubs are also in operation in the North, with about 500 women working in them. It is alleged that many of the clients come from the casinos who have arrived on special tours from Turkey. Many local men also use their services.
The working conditions of these women has been slammed by newly elected MP for Nicosia Dogus Derya, who has said that those “women are used as sex slaves at the nightclubs”.
The sex trade is regarded as an open secret. Female nightclub workers who come to the TRNC are required to leave their passports with the police and have weekly health check-ups at the hospital, which essentially legitimises the sex industry in the North.
Nightclubs have come effectively to function as brothels. Prostitution is illegal in the TRNC, and conviction carries a two-year jail sentences and fines of 1,000 Turkish Lira for bar girls who prostitute themselves or for those who force them to do so. Yet, in the words of former social services officer Baris Basel, “The state acts as a middleman in the prostitution trade.”
The women come from Eastern Europe and lately from Africa and Turkic republics in Central Asia. Some arrive having made the decision to be sex workers, however, others have been fooled into thinking that they will find work as dancers or babysitters. These women than are obliged to hand their passports over to the police and are persuaded to sign contracts which indenture them into service against travel and working permit fees. They then find themselves working as bar girls and being forced to work as sex workers, with no means of escape as they are under contract.
“The confiscation of the passports of prostitutes, who arrive on the status of ‘workers,’ is at the core of sex slavery. The agencies that bring the women seize their passports as soon as they arrive to prevent them from working for rival companies or going to the South. In this sense, the state is aiding businesses involved in white slave trafficking,” writes Arslan Menguc in the Turkish Cypriot daily Vatan’.
Police raids on the nightclubs have recently increased, creating protests from the owners who say that the raids seriously cut their profits. The head of the Union of Entertainment Establishment Employers, Erdogan Seniz pointed out the hypocrisy of these actions as he says, the governments calculate their taxes based on the number of girls working in the clubs.
MP Derya, says that she was not against sex workers but sex slavery, stressing that the trafficking of women should be criminalised.
It would take a lot of courage for this government to act but surely the way forward is to end the hypocrisy; decriminalise and regulate the industry and ensure that sex workers are there of their own free will.