Brothels were legal in Italy until 1959, when then minister of parliament Lina Merlin introduced legislation to close bordellos and make the ‘exploitation of prostitution' a crime. However, the widespread closure of Italy's so-called case chiuse under the Merlin Law involuntarily pushed thousands of prostitutes back onto the streets.
According to a recent study, approximately 60 percent of the estimated 100,000 prostitutes working throughout Italy sell their bodies along city streets and highways. The majority of sex workers hail from Eastern Europe, Russia and Africa, and about 20 percent are minors. The number of clients is estimated at 9 million.
A law recently passed by Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government has once again made street prostitution a crime with fines and possible jail terms for sex workers, pimps and clients.