Rise in Iranian Prostitution Blamed on Strict Sex Rules, Economy

A recent serial killer in Iran was understood by some to be battling corruption and a social scourge -- prostitution. Saeed Hanaei went to the gallows for murdering prostitutes. "If I removed corruption, it was for the good of the people," his gravestone read. Hanged for killing 16 women, many view him as a hero.

Official statistics in Iran suggest prostitution is increasing in the Islamic Republic. "Based on our findings, the number of prostitutes is unfortunately on the rise. There are now an estimated 30,000 working prostitutes in Iran," said Hadi Motamedi, a top official at the State Welfare Organization.

Motamedi could not say how much prostitution has increased, but women waiting on customers in the streets are more numerous than in past years. Prostitutes are believed to work independently, though police have reported organized rings mostly by women in private homes.

Iran's strict Islamic rules allow little socializing between the sexes, and young Iranians have been jailed and flogged for dancing together at birthday parties. "Parents who are suspicious of their children, don't give their children any choice or freedom, and always impose their thinking on them, force such children to flee homes," said Hamzeh Ganji. Ganji said young girls who leave home often must become prostitutes to survive.

More than half of Iran's 70 million people are below age 25. The unemployment rate is officially 15 percent, but private experts say it really is about 30 percent. One psychiatrist, Mahdis Kamkar thinks that the rise in prostitution is a symptom of broader social problems such as "troubled families, divorce, identity crises and social contradictions."

Ganji argues that allowing brothels to be legalized and run by Islamic rules would enable the authorities to control AIDS and other STDs, "and the rest of the society will live in peace without women afraid of being molested or wrongly approached by customers in the streets." But many clerics scoff at the idea that Islam could ever condone sex outside marriage.

Meanwhile, his family and others defend Hanaei, the serial killer. "I'm not sad that my dad is dead. I'm sad because he failed to achieve his goal," his 16-year-old son, Ali, told the Associated Press. Not everyone is happy with that response, including the government.

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