|Photo Angelos Tzortzinis|
From New York Times 22.5.2013:
Societal Ills Spike in Crisis-Stricken Greece
By LIZ ALDERMAN
ATHENS — “Five euros only, just 5 euros,” whispered Maria, a young prostitute with sunken cheeks and bedraggled hair, as she pitched herself forward from the shadows of a graffiti-riddled alley in central Athens on a recent weeknight.
As a chill wind swept paper and trash across a grimy sidewalk, Angelos Tzortzinis, a Greek photographer, caught sight of Maria lowering her price to the equivalent of about $6.50. Maria, who would only give a pseudonym, had hoped to get some money for food — and for a cheap but dangerous new street drug that has emerged during Greece’s crisis, guaranteed to obliterate her sorrows, if only for a moment.
With the country heading into the fifth year of economic depression, and unemployment near 60 percent for young people, greater numbers of women and men are offering their bodies for next to nothing to get any scrap of money. According to the National Center for Social Research, the number of people selling sex has surged 150 percent in the last two years.
Many prostitutes have been selling their services for as little as 10 to 15 euros, a price that has shrunk along with the income of clients afflicted by the crisis. Many more prostitutes are taking greater health risks by having unprotected sex, which sells for a premium. Still more are subject to violence and rape.
Now a new menace has arisen: a type of crystal methamphetamine called shisha, after the Turkish water pipe, but otherwise known as poor man’s cocaine, brewed from barbiturates and other ingredients including alcohol, chlorine and even battery acid.
A hit of shisha, concocted in makeshift laboratories around Athens, costs 3 to 4 euros. Doses come in the form of a 0.01-gram ball, leaving many users reaching for hits throughout the day. They include prostitutes, whom Mr. Tzortzinis photographed in a seedy central neighborhood of Athens called Omonia, next to a large police station.
Shisha is most often smoked. But it is increasingly being taken intravenously; because of the caustic chemicals it contains, a rising number of users are winding up in the emergency room. Health experts say the injections are also adding to an alarming rise in H.I.V. cases around Greece, which surged more than 50 percent last year from 2011 as more people turn to narcotics.
With scant money left in the government’s coffers, and an austerity program in place until Greece repays hundreds of billions of euros in bailout money, programs for health care, treatment and social assistance have been curbed sharply.
That leaves the problems in the hands of Greece’s police to clean up. In daily sweeps, officers at the nearby police station arrest prostitutes and jail them overnight. There, they are out of reach of the drug, but also cut off from assistance of any type.
For Mr. Tzortzinis, who grew up in the area, seeing women give themselves for as little as 5 euros underscores one of the many horrors of Greece’s drawn-out crisis.
“These women need help,” he said. “But they cannot help themselves. Nobody is helping them.”