Italians round on prostitute with Aids

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The Independent Online
A PROSTITUTE on the Adriatic coast, much sought after because she was willing to practise unsafe sex, has been discovered to have Aids. She has been formally placed under investigation for "attempting to inflict grievous harm through contagion", while up to 5,000 men believed to have come into contact with her since she contracted the HIV virus are being seen in the media and by the justice authorities as her victims.

She has been continuing to ply her trade in Ravenna for almost two years after she first realised she was HIV-positive.

The name and photograph of 49-year-old Giuseppina Barbieri were published to alert up to 5,000 men believed to have come into contact with her since she contracted HIV.

The tone was one of righteous indignation that she should have sought to deceive the flower of Italian manhood in this way. Two phone lines were set up to allow anxious men to obtain information from the police. The only thing keeping Ms Barbieri out of jail was the fact that she was admitted to hospital for tests.

So strong was the prevailing public mood that almost nobody thought to point out the obvious risk her clients were knowingly taking by agreeing to have sex with her without a condom. Nobody appeared willing to concede that she must have been desperate - even though she was quoted telling the police that she could not afford to stop working, and had decided to practise unsafe sex in the first place because it was the only way a woman of her age could continue to earn a living.

And nobody appeared to question whether her habits were her own choice or that of her pimp, Fernando Pognani, who was also arrested but on the lesser charge of living off immoral earnings.

The reaction to Ms Barbieri's story has much to do with the Italian view of prostitution. Despite the existence of vicious pimping gangs, prostitution is widely seen as a harmless way for young men to be introduced to sex. Prostitutes are looked upon as kindly mother figures providing some kind of public service not, as they tend to be, victims living on the borderline of slavery.