THE TEACHER

A PORTRAIT BY MICHAELA DRĂGAN

I met the Teacher three years ago on a street in central Bucharest where she was trying to attract customers. Some of my friends lived on the same street and one evening they had a party with loud music, which led the neighbours to call the police. The Teacher was invited to our party and she intervened in a very familiar way with the cops, she did not let them intimidate us, she had the capacity to negotiate and a charm that left us amazed.

Since then I wanted to know more about her. The other day I went to her home, a decrepit house shared by several families in need. I wanted to ask her so many questions, I wanted to record the biography of a sex worker because I knew that she has a message to the world. . But no questions were necessary. The Teacher did not need a pretext to make her retrospective of 26 years of sex work, to evaluate her decisions and choices, and to reach a verdict before withdrawing from what she calls the “first job in the world”: prostitution.

 

The entrance

“In 1989 I was selling flowers and smuggled cigarettes in Bucharest hotels. I made friends with hotel prostitutes. After their program ended in the morning, they were buying cigarettes from me. Jojo, Teddy Bear, Blonde Mariana were the hotel prostitutes and their clients were mostly foreigners”.

Shortly, her husband died in a railway accident and she became a single mother. “I was 17, I had two small children and was pregnant with a third. I could no longer cope with all the expenses”.

Prostitutes were always dressed elegantly. They were stylish and had a lot of money. “That’s when I thought about starting it too”, the Teacher said. “Jojo taught me how to talk, how to behave with customers, how to dress, and she gave me one piece of advice: “If you want to start this job never accept a pimp. Do not let a man make money on your back.” And I took it as such. I have been a sex worker for 26 years. I never had a pimp, nor have I ever been arrested for prostitution. But I was raped, beaten, almost killed by a client who tried to stab me”.

Customers call her the Teacher. During the night she offers sexual services, during the day she is a mother of five whom she took care of thanks to the money she made through prostitution. “Three times I tried to get married and quit prostitution, every time it was a failure. The men with which I tried to build a new life were all worthless: drunkards, crack heads… as soon as they were broke, they’d put me back on the streets”.

 

The customers

While some time has passed, she still remembers her first client. “He was a Greek diplomat, in his fifties, but he was handsome and very tender. He saw I was quite shy and he didn’t force me at all. We didn’t have sex, we made love. It was the first time I had oral sex, the first time I drank champagne and the first time I received flowers. He paid me in German marks, 130 marks. That was a lot of money back then”, she remembers.

The second client was a taxi driver. He looked at her and said, “Girl, do you know your business or are you good for nothing?” After they had sex, he named her the Teacher and teased her saying: “Who does not know the Teacher is at loss.” From that moment on, everyone started calling her the Teacher.

“I always took care to dress up elegantly, with topcoat, winkle-pickers, briefcase, I even looked like a teacher”, she laughs.

I have all kinds of customers, from MPs and priests to waste-collectors. I have an old client, a priest, who calls me to find out when I am menstruating and only then he comes. He only wants to give me head”. Her stories get only more descriptive as she recounts of an MP’s passion for dildos and another one’s for whips. “I also have a sexy stripper, he has a six pack but he cannot get a hard-on, I am the only one to be patient with him. I make them all happy”.

 

The Romanian police

The biggest problem sex workers have is the police. Cops take them to police stations and rape the younger prostitutes. Until two years ago, prostitution was a crime punishable by imprisonment in Romania, and the girls were threatened of incarceration if they didn’t surrender to police abuse. “If they did not rape us, they would ask for bribes, fine us several times in one night, or take our condoms just to humiliate us.” Pimps pay hundred of dollars to ensure police protection for their dirty businesses.

One evening, three years ago, she was leaving a hotel with a client when she found the police waiting for her.

– “Papers!”

– “Yes, if you show me yours first.”

He waved a badge and he made her empty the bag: condoms and make-up. He told her to go with him to the police station for a body search to clear out any doubt of drug trafficking. At the station, the police touched her everywhere before finding the money stashed in her bra. When she complained of physical harassment, they replied that was the right way to conduct a search and threatened to “try her”. “Go on, rape me”, she said, “but starting tomorrow, you will not be cops anymore!” They did not rape her but let her out at 6 A.M. with a fine. “I had lost another night in which I could have worked”.

Two days later, the same customer asked the Teacher to recommend him a younger prostitute. She made the call and the customer took her to the same hotel.

When they got out, the police were waiting for her and she was raped all night by five policemen in one of their cars. “I did not see her on the street for three days afterwards, she said that after the rape she could not even get out of bed, she was all broken inside. I felt guilty for what happened to her.”

After various prostitutes denounced what happened, the Bucharest Police began an investigation. An undercover policewoman was sent on the ground and the Teacher taught her the tricks of the trade. One night, it was her turn to be taken to the police station. They handcuffed her, stripped her naked, beat her, spat at her, took everything she had in her bag. She wanted to see how far the police could abuse a prostitute and only, when they were about to rape her, she revealed her true identity.

Twenty-eight agents were accused of bribery and torture, complicity in prostitution, pimping and illegal confinement as a result of the investigation.

Since February 1, 2014, prostitution is no longer a crime but an offense. Sex workers in Romania can no longer be jailed, but they receive fines that range between 500 and 1,500 lei (115 EUR and 345 EUR) per night, which they will never have the means to pay. The police are more careful now, but abuses continue.

 

The greatest dream of the Teacher

The Teacher has reached the age of retirement. “It’s hard to miss so many nights, customers only want young girls now, not prostitutes over 40 like me”, she says. “I had enough. Every time I leave home for work I pray to come back safe to my kids. But I do not want to retire like any old prostitute, I want to do something for my girls and to set up the first association for sex workers’ rights in Romania”.

The centre will offer, together with a safe meeting space, a lawyer and a gynaecological office, seeing as in public hospitals prostitutes face various degrees of discrimination. Its name will be Maria Magdalene, the famous prostitute from the Bible who was saved.

“Police assault us, society blames us. There are no rights or laws for sex workers”, the Teacher argues. “I am not a whore, but a sex worker. The only whore here is the law”.

 

 

Brief note:

The Teacher prefers to be anonymous when she talks about sex workers’ mistreatment. She has been involved for several years in actions to achieve rights for sex workers in Romania and to stop the police abuses against them. To legally establish an association with these goals requires money that she does not have. Anyone who wants to give a helping hand can contact her here:mariamagdalena.association@gmail.com.

 

Artwork © Barbara Tereshchenko

Malise RosbechComment