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Xana, a typist before the crisis, now works as a prostitute. Fontinha, who has spent the past 40 years of her life working with prostitutes, said that never before had the situation in the country been so serious. In order to beat the competition they use brutal methods like cutting the women with razors, and carrying out sensational murders of their pimps to send a clear message and mark their territory.
Half of them were born in Portugal, and the other half were mainly Brazilians, Rumanians, Bulgarians and Nigerians, who were usually victims of human trafficking rings. Oliveira, a researcher at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences at the University of Oporto, did her doctoral thesis on the world of prostitution in that city, the second largest in the country, km north of Lisbon and the capital of the Norte region.
Oliveira studied prostitution in the streets of Oporto for six years, using the ethnographic method in which the researcher goes into the field and learns about what is going on by questioning, listening and observing the practitioners, to analyse their behaviour from their point of view. Her findings indicate that most sex workers, especially streetwalkers, come from the lower socioeconomic strata, have little formal education or professional training, and are from poor backgrounds.
The incidence of drug abuse is high: the main goal of 30 percent of prostitutes is to earn money to support their habit. The level of addiction has apparently changed markedly since , when the effects of the global crisis began to be felt in Portugal. To fight the crisis, drastic cuts have been made in public spending and social subsidies, in a far from promising outlook for the anaemic economy. The fiscal adjustment plan has included the most swingeing cuts in public expenditure in the last 50 years, with the associated social costs of higher unemployment and climbing poverty , which had been brought down after the fall of the dictatorship.
What causes a woman to become a sex worker? IPS asked two women who took up the life because of the crisis. Pamela and her partner also split up. The unemployment rate currently stands at 13 percent, according to official figures, and between 17 and 18 percent according to the trade unions. Most sex workers lead a double life that their relatives do not know about. IPS asked if the women knew how families reacted when they found out what their women relatives were doing.