African prostitutes in Europe



The following entry is a repost of one of my articles written for Parlour Magazine. Parlour Magazine is the premier online destination for women across the globe, offering the best in fashion, beauty, politics, music and breaking news. I write about living in Berlin from the perspective of a Black American Woman.

This article sparked a lot of discussion as many women of color shared similar experiences while abroad.


As a black woman in Europe I have been mistaken for a prostitute more times than I can remember. I apparently fit the mold, and after I complain about the phenomenon, white Europeans have told me that it is an “honest mistake.” Thousands of women of color are trafficked into Western Europe and end up in the sex trade, so many people have assumed that I am one of them.

Barcelona, Spain

Enroute to Morocco, I decided to stop over for a few days in Barcelona. One of my friends from the States was on a round the world tour and we happened to be in the city for a few days. Looking for any excuse for a party, he also convinced another mutual friend to meet us. So there I was in the beautiful Barcelona with two white dudes from California. While strolling down a busy promenade all three of us playfully had our arms linked. I was in the middle, naturally: enjoying the warm night air and the company of two friends while laughing my head off. We were interrupted by a stout man holding four cans of beer. He didn’t say anything just extended the beer to my friend on my right and then grabbed my arm, trying to unhook me from my companions. My friend on my left put his hand on the guy’s chest as if to say, ‘Back the hell up.’ Expletives were exchanged and then came the shoving, eventually my wrist was freed. I stepped back and took a minute to observe my surroundings. As I looked around my eyes met the faces of other black women, and when I looked beyond those faces I saw more black women in the distance, on the benches, up against buildings, all having exchanges with men. My beer-deflecting friend must have had the same realization in that very moment because he said, ‘Holy Shit Nicole, this dude thinks you’re a hooker.’

London Heathrow Airport

While trying to check in for a flight to Copenhagen, a young Danish counter agent took a vested interest into my traveling habits. I would visit Copenhagen every four weeks for regular relationship maintenance, accumulating a ton of passport stamps. On examination of my passport the counter agent asked me what kind of job did I have that I could afford so many flights to Copenhagen. I was about to say something smart when she said, ‘No wait, let me guess you have a boyfriend,’ placing air quotes around the word ‘boyfriend.’ I weighed my options in that moment, imagining myself yoking up homegirl and slamming her head into the flight desk but apparently stuff like that is frowned upon in airports. I took a deep breath and asked to speak to her supervisor. The counter agent next to us went to fetch them and I said I wanted to file a formal complaint. I was basically told that I fit the profile for sex workers because I was “exotic looking”and took frequent trips. I never received an apology.

Copenhagen – Red Light District

During my first trip to Copenhagen I stayed in a hotel downtown near the main train station. Looking to enjoy the nightlife I asked my trendy hotel staff where the cool kids hung out. I was instructed to a club that he marked on my map and I set out on the town. He forgot to mention that to reach my destination I had to walk through the red light district. As I began to notice all the women soliciting I convinced myself that I had taken a wrong turn. I pulled my gargantuan map out and positioned myself under the street light so I could actually see. I was lost, I must have been examining my map for three minutes before some dude rolled up to me in his car. It took me a while to notice him because my map must have been the size of his car. I peered over it, into the vehicle and I see this clown massaging his crotch. He must have mistaken my disgust for genuine interest because in broken English he said “My penis … I wish … for you … to suck it.” I was furious. Granted I was in the red light district but I had a damn map! Prostitutes usually don’t have maps. In my rage I took my heel and kicked his door in. The working girls around all started to cheer and clap as he sped off with his junk in his hand.

Any other women of color have experiences like mine? How did you respond?

 

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53 Responses to Black in Berlin: Fitting The Hooker Mold with Blackness

  1. dtfamu89 says:

    omg… I'm going to Barcelona this summer for a few day before moving on France and Italy. As I am "extoic looking", I hope I won't have to deal with this. But if I do, I know not to take it personally. Thanks for sharing.

  2. catae says:

    I hate stereotypes! If you travel alone they are always suspicious. I always got X-rays getting out of my hometown in Cali just bc I was alone and traveling to/inside the US. Then i get to the US and just bc in Spanish they think im a maid. Im an engineer and this is male dominated profession that isn't any better w stereotypes… I've really enjoyed your blog. Got here from oneika's blog.

  3. @dtfamu89 I take it personally LOL and I get huffy, or as huffy as I can get with my limited language skills in a foreign country

    @catae oh oneika keeps sending people my way!! she is amazing, isnt she? i am also in a male dominated profession. whenever there are meetings they always look to me to take notes. erm is something wrong with your hand? LOL

  4. Shells says:

    This type of stereotyping is rampant in Norway too. I get picked on all the time, and I too take it personally. I mean I look nothing like those hookers these people see on the street so I've never been able to figure out what makes them think I'm one of them.

    I'm just inclined to think it all boils down to good old fashioned racism mixed with a healthy dose of ignorance.

  5. Oneika says:

    Ugh. I always notice the side-eye I get when Liebling and I go to certain places together. I just *know* they think I'm his concubine.

  6. @oneika grrr people. once in a super market in copenhagen i was w/panda and some person kept staring at me. he ended up in the same isle and i spoke to panda who was not too far away, and then he was like "oh you speak english!, well that is surprising" and then chuckled to himself. wtf?

    @shells yes ignorance and racism. i mean their power of deduction is amazing! dark skin…female…in a non black country ::brain calculus: output HOOKER

  7. Mdc says:

    I had the same experience while I was in Germany. I was actually waiting for the traffic lights to change when a guy asked if I wanted to share his kiwi that he was sucking on rather suggestively!!! I was waiting to cross the damn road in broad daylight!!!!! Oh wait – black – non-black country = hooker!

  8. catae says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. catae says:

    hahaha yes… we also fit the secretary mold!!!! so annoying!! what do you do? I would love to live in Europe for a while. Best of luck in 2012

  10. I got mistaken years ago in a small town in Spain for a prostitute. I didn't realize it until later though. The man kept saying something like "pitar" I didn't know what that meant. When I finally looked it up, I saw that it means "to blow". Nice… :(

  11. The same occurs in Latin America as well — I don't think I was mistaken for a bonafied prostitute per say, rather someone that was "easy", simply because I am black; I was propositioned on the street by men in cars many times. What was really disgusting about all of it, was that I was seventeen at the time (and looked about fourteen, lol), and usually dressed in my school uniform when propositioned.

    When me and my sister lived in Germany, we were mistaken once for prostitutes as well — which was doubly insulting given the neighborhood in which we lived and the fact that we were wearing uni clothes. I remember befriending a Sierra Leone futbolista who was infuriated by the insinuations thrown our way.

    I have nothing against women who have to make a living, and I only fault clueless men for propagating this behavior…

    Mdc said it right: "black – non-black country = hooker!"

    SMH.

  12. Rhona says:

    Disgusting! I think I would have broken that guys car window with my foot if I were you. Thankfully I was never mistaken for a prostitute while in Germany (that I know of at least). It's too bad that we are seen as hookers period in some (all?) parts of Europe. I still love the continent but makes me slightly wary.

  13. I love your post…. the other thing more disgusting than this, is when you are mistaken for a "working girl" because your husband looks white….. I live in the Middle East, and although my husbnad and I are both Africans, because he is from North Africa and I am from West Africa, I am assumed to be his purchase for the night whenever we go out on a date!!!! I try not to let it get to me!!!

  14. my jaw dropped reading this! I cannot believe people are so damn ignorant.
    on another (and much more positive) topic… I am loving your blog and happy to have found it!

  15. thanks everyone for the great comments and for sharing your experiences. it comforting and also amazingly disgraceful that I am not the only one!

    big 'WELCOME' to new readers and followers. i appreciate the continued support and you guys spreading the word

  16. kuesooM says:

    Tell me about it. Genoa, Florence, Rome, Milan, Copenhagen, Oslo, Geneva!….and loads of spots in Germany.

    Worst was in Genoa where one of the souvenir sales guys assumed I was his regular and I had no idea what he was on about!

    My bf gets looks (and encouraging smiles) when we check into hotels…

  17. You don't be in a red-light district. I was sitting in first class on a train in Italy knitting and I got propositioned repeatedly.

  18. geotraveler says:

    Mehn…I can totally relate. I've had similar experiences in Copenhagen as well (actually had the front desk yell at me to get out of my own hotel when I returned late at night). After realizing I was a guest, still no apologies.

    Before I started traveling on my US passport, I had a Nigerian passport chuck full of visas. To immigration authorities, I was either trafficking or a prostitute. It's so frustrating!!!

    • The nigerian wife of a Greek says:

      My sister,so frustrating! I’ve been on vacation in europe many times and lastnight was the second time it happened so blatantly. The first time was last July when I was walking to meet my husband at work in the MORNING!!! This fat white dude pulls over on his motorbike and asks if he could please speak to me. I of course,for the life me didn’t have any idea what for. So he parks,right in front of the church I was walking past and ask me to sit on the bench with him and he proceeded to tell me how would like to fuck me at any price i wanted! I was shocked! But somehow,I still politely told him no,and left,to his greatest amazement! I’m tired. Ive been here only 2 weeks and I intend to stay here permanently with my Greek husband. I left my own business in Nigeria for love. I feel so relieved that there people like you women who can relate.

  19. nearandfar says:

    I'm so stunned, I can't even really comment.

    Felicia, This Time Now: http://www.nearandfar.wordpress.com

  20. In talking with a German friend last night who has never really dated German women, he made the comment that many Brazilian and African women in Berlin of a certain age were escorts :( He said a percentage as high as 40% but I think he just meant to say that it was common. This is disheartening for so many reasons.

  21. Naphtali says:

    WOw Nicole! Quite the experiences. In Italy, I saw the same thing. I was in Rome, (roaming) and a guy saw me with my map and try to pick me up( at the time I was clueless of what he thought) with traffic behind him. Second time was in Salerno, my host went to get the car and this old guy circled me like a shark, calling me alot. I told him to go away, then some locals helped me get rid of him.

    I started to inquire about this stereotype. What I was told was many Black women are prostitutes in these countries because 1)it's hard to get REAL work when black 2) human trafficking.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I an from the States and live in Austria–it is the same here. Especially if you are brown/black and pretty. I was at a place called Livingstone in Austria for dinner ( an American place no less), and I speak German. I heard a table in front of us saying that I was probably a prostitute because I was brown and pretty–even though I was with a couple of Austrians, including my husband. The thing is you have to stick up for yourself, so I went to the bathroom and came back and confronted them and said "excuse me, but you were talking so loud and I heard what you said and it is simply not true. I have my doctorate and I am married, and it is pretty foolish to judge someone´s profession judged on their skin color." They were so in shock, and one lady said–well it was not an insult- and I said well if someone called you something like that based on your hair color would you be offended-she did not say anything. Keep your head up ladies, you are not alone–it will get better in time.

  23. Gizzle says:

    I got approached leaving the hair salon in a busy shopping district in Lisbon. I interned at the embassy so I was dressed for work (just not that kind) and it was broad daylight. I haven't had any encounters since being in Spain this year.

  24. V.X.R. says:

    WOW, I didn't realize this "club" was so big! Room for one more?

    I have a stories when I lived in Mexico City, Dubai, traveling in Italy the list goes on. It's happened in multiple cities in the USA as well although I wasn't considered a hooker, I've been cat called and verbally assaulted, there really is no difference. It's demeaning, disrespectful and vulgar. I simply do not like men who approach me and try to assert their power over me.

    Let me stop before I get to heated. I'm already shaking my head as I write.

    Keep your heads up ladies! Despite this foolishness, we are seeing the world! Traveling is the best education I have received.

    Stay positive!

    V.X.R.

  25. The two times that I know I was thought to be a prostitute were in Havana and Moscow. In Havana the waiter started speaking to me in Spanish when my dining companion complained about being charged for an item we never received. It was then that I realized he thought my companion had hired me for the evening.

    In Moscow while I was in the hotel bar my companion pointed out to me that all the guys in suits where wondering who the new girl was: me. He could understand the conversations he overheard.

    When I was in Barcelona I saw a lot of sisters that were "working girls" but this brother that I met told me that it was obvious that I was not "one of them" and no one else treated me like I was.

  26. R.Isabel says:

    I'm Asian of Chinese descent. On a solo trip in London, I was walking on a pedestrian crossing when a middle aged man in his suit and carrying his briefcase (clearly on the way to work) who was walking in the opposite direction smiled at me and wished me "good morning". I smiled back and continued walking. 2 minutes later I found him walking next to me asking me to accompany him for "coffee" at an "internet cafe" where he wanted to show me some "pictures". It was all too obvious and he was pretty persistent.

    Be alert and stay safe on your travels everyone!

  27. Sophia says:

    Unacceptable! Wow

  28. Ashlea P. says:

    Awww, I am not alone in the mistaken-for-a-prostitute-club. If I am in Berlin at night, it almost never fails that some young punk will ask ‘how much’. Or if I am with my German guy friend, people automatically assume you are from some third world country and “rescued” by a European man.

  29. Wanda says:

    This happened to me in Tokyo. Was walking in Shinjuku with a friend. Apparently, Shinjuku is famous for MANY things, including red light districts, which I did not know. We were being followed by several Japanese men for several blocks. When I asked my friend who lives there, what was the problem she said they were following us to find out whether or not we were Hookers. I felt so humiliated and alarmed! We immediately ducked into a clothing store and they men stood there, WAITING to see when we would emerge!!! After a while they got the hint and left. It also happened again when I was in Toronto…yes… TORONTO!!! I was waiting for a bus and this guy struck up a conversation about the time. Then he pitched: “So where, when and how much?” I was so pissed I told him he really had the wrong idea about me and I walked off…

  30. Nona says:

    Wow. I get mistaken for a prostitute right here in the states…I live in a ‘white’ part of the city in SE Connecticut. I want to move to Norway. I guess it won’t be any different, will it? lol. J/K. It is sad that black women with all the strides we’ve made, are still considered nothing more than booty shakers. Smh. The funny part of it is that I am a plus sized beauty…with locs. Dont fit the video vixen, hookerish stereotype AT ALL. Yet, Guys pull up to me all the time, which REALLY pisses me off! I dont dress like a whore, either…Go figure!

    • Palmer says:

      I saw in your comment that you want to move to Norway. I am a norwegian man, and I am married with a west african woman. My wife have several times been approached by men who believe she is a prostitute. This is really embarrasing that so many people have prejudices against african women.

  31. Diane says:

    Oh man, the guy in the car story made me laugh out loud but the most egregious was the airline employee at Heathrow. WTF??? There are a lot of people in this world that travel for a variety of reasons. How dare she assume you travel for your air quote boyfriend. And what if you did? Who cares? What gives her the right to judge you?
    Diane recently posted..La Rochelle, France and Ile de Re photos Instagram styleMy Profile

  32. Maddie says:

    I’m A British-Indian woman (born in England, lived all my life) and I have just spent the year in Italy.

    I got mistaken for a prostitute twice abroad but it took me absoloutely ages to realise that’s what it was.

    I remember once I was walking down a main road at half 8 and a man pulled over to me and stopped me for directions. But it was only to get my attention. Then he told me he wanted to give me a lift and asked me to come inside his car! I was so upset at the time, I had no idea what the situation was about. But I soon realised he thought I was a prostitute and was trying to pick me up. It was 8.30 on a main road. I had a full length coat on, ugg boots and jeans. And yet I still get mistaken?!

    Another time I was waiting at a bus stop during the day and a main asked me if I “wanted a lift?” I completely ignored him and he just walked away, so it wasn’t too big a deal. A lot of hookers hang out at the trainstation (all sorts of women) so it’s easy to get mistaken there I reckon. The first incident still appalls me though.

  33. Prithika says:

    I live in Barcelona, and I’ve always wondered what it must be like for a black woman living here, because everyone will assume you’re a prostitute.

    It’s awful!

    I’m Indian and my husband is white and lot older to me, so I don’t get mistaken for a prostitute, I just get treated like a passport bride. By Caucasians and Asians alike.
    Prithika recently posted..The Guard or in Spanish El IrlandésMy Profile

  34. Naijaboy says:

    It’s so disheartening to hear what blåck women abroad are subjected to. I experienced the same while on holiday in Majorca. Most were west African women who the government would not allow work yet would not allow to leave the country dus to some documentation pallava. Spent most my evenings chatting to them. Seeing the way the non ethnic holiday makers treated them made me sick! Throwing drinks on then, calling them names…Lord! You are a beautiful people blåk women keep strong!

  35. mo says:

    When I was fourteen I lived in Bonn, Germany. I was waiting at the bus stop after school and some guy pulled up in his car and just sat there waiting, looking at me. He clearly was not waiting for anyone because nobody got into his car and parking at bus stops is illegal. When he finally realised I wasn’t going to get in he smiled and drove away. My dad’s girlfriend also told me that if I am offered work as a prostitute, I should say no. When I asked her why would you say such a thing, she said,”in case you were thinking of experimenting, or because of temptation.” A ”friend” of mine also said don’t say you’ll never do it. When I told my dad’s girlfriend she said with a huge smile on her face, ”because you are from Cameroon.”

  36. Ninaas says:

    Arrrrrgh!!!! Summer 2001 in Italy!!! On my first day in San Remo, while sight-seeing solo in the main commercial area, an older Italian came out of nowhere, grabbed my arm, and basically told me I was going to have dinner with him. I had to raise the vocals 2-3x and push off to get him on his way. At the time, I didn’t know what was being inferred about me–just thought he was being macho. For the rest of the near month-long trip (while alone), whenever I caught glances, much of what I noticed seemed to convey either: agitation/suspicion as in “why is she here” OR perv-gawking. Mind you, I wasn’t wearing tight clothes–regular summer dresses/wedge heels. #2: While seeking a vacancy at a huge Venetian hostel, the front desk woman gave me a hard look over and literally snarled that there were no rooms available (even after showing my international hostel pass). Fortunately, I bumped into the manager on my way out the door and he said, sure, we have lots of rooms! When I checked in, I saw the woman again and she was LIVID that I had gotten in. I don’t know what she thought I was, but I have a feeling she thought I was a tramp. The final nail in the coffin came on returning to San Remo–I was walking past an old couple sitting on the bench. I looked over, smiled, and do you know what the man said aloud in response? “PROSTITUTTI”! Yes. Finally, it all clicked. I couldn’t believe me ears–I looked around as if searching for someone and said, No, not me!!! The wife looked at me like I was crazy–all I could do was just walk away shaking my head. Although it’s been 11 years since my last trip to Italy, that memory will always be embedded in my brain. Don’t get me wrong; I met some very nice Italians, but many just didn’t see accustomed to seeing a BW on holiday.

  37. kchie says:

    I am West African, living in the United States, and have travelled (and lived) frequently in Europe. I don’t think I’ve been propositioned as a prostitute. Of course I’ve had the “ciao bella” and the “tres belle” and the like, and my mind has always processed them as harmless flirtation.

    In either case, I’m well aware that people who look like me make up the bulk of prostitutes in several of these countries. Seriously, the bulk! They are cornering that market and while some of them do it voluntary, I know that many are trafficked sex slaves. Worst yet, they don’t seem to do anything else. I read somewhere that 60% of prostitutes in Italy are Nigerian. Granted I don’t know what the majority of Nigerian women in Italy do.

    So as despicable as it is to get mistaken for one, it is understandable. That European dude might strike out with me, but chances are 7/10 times he’s actually going to be right.
    kchie recently posted..The African Prostitutes in EuropeMy Profile

  38. I have never had that problem during my travels in Europe. I used to think of living in Europe, but after researching the rampant racism that is going on there these days, I believe I may be better off in the States, even the Deep South where I was born & bred.

  39. The nigerian wife of a Greek says:

    I was mistaken for a prostitute last night when I was walking to meet my husband at work. The man whistled to me and motioned for me to follow him in to a dark street and when I walked on,he went in to the corner and kept calling me to come in to the corner to meet him. I was livid! And more so when I told my husband and his first reaction was laughter,and he said you can’t blame the guy,there are 4 black women on the this small Greek island and 3 of them are hookers. To say I was disappointed would be putting it mildly.
    I cannot NOT take it personally. Am I overreacting?

  40. Nadine says:

    Hi, I just came across your site as I am constantly looking for comfort in terms of black women mistaken as hookers.
    I have treated like this two or three times while in spain. Last straw was last year in malaga. As i ‘ve told people I was always approached in parks. I love chilling out in the sun and sitting down. I was a approached which seemed at first a young guy being friendly a simple hola turned into “how much , let’s go now” and doing an impression of a blow job! I said no and ingored him and he gave up and went away. It’s been hurtful studying spanish for five years and visting the country. I often seek these stories online so you don’t beat yourself up. I read the replies to the blog black in berlin, many women like myself describing their clothing and hair. It’s sad. My last holiday was a year ago and no plans to go this year. My reason for a break more so after in march this year I attended a intercambio event where you pratice your spanish with natives and learners. I got talking to a spanish guy who appeared to me gay but didn’t find attractive but was happy to be friends with. I was my usual chatty self and like I tell others I like to go out and argeed we could meet as I told him i’ve made many friends/contacts via meetup account so that’s what I put across. What came after that first meeting was seven days of hell! Constant texts, guilt ridden conversations that he wanted company. I met up with him and I sensed such sexual aggression turned out he wanted more than friendship. I told him never text me again!!! I felt hurt as my accounter with him seemed very similar to the behaviour of the spanish men in spain. To have this on your door step is scarey.

    • John says:

      “very similar to the behaviour of the spanish men in spain” – wow what a generalization!
      As offensive as saying all women of race xyc look like prostitutes!

      • Nicole says:

        so you totally ignore the fact that she has been a victim and that she is hurt. wow, you really read and believe what you want “john”

  41. […] Predictably, fair-skinned women are in high demand, as are African women who are perceived to be “exotic” in Europe. To quote one of the members, “they want to make this a five star city; we will give […]

  42. Dave says:

    I have no idea what you look like, but if you do</ happen to look like a prostitute (whatever that look is?) then if you go to a red light area I’d maybe say your experiences in Barcelona or Copenhagen red light district was “fair enough”, one of your encounters was with a drunk wasn’t it? A case of wrong place, wrong time, wrong colour? But your experience in an airport was way out of order.

  43. John says:

    I think you will find that in most European cities it is not necessary for a man to approach a woman of the night. All he has to do is go to the right part of town and he will be solicited multiple times.
    I therefore find your story difficult to believe.
    Also prostitutes in European cities come predominantly from Eastern Europe and Latin American countries, there are women from Africa however I would consider them a minority. A woman of color is no more likely to be considered a prostitute than a woman of any other race in European cities.

    • Nicole says:

      So not only are you dismissing my experiences but the experiences of the women who have commented on this post.

      Thanks for the comment, I guess.

    • Mimi says:

      Yes, you are most definitely dismissing other women’s experiences here. Typical of a white male.

      I am a “high yellow” mulata female who went to Barcelona and was encountered with extremely lustful looks — every time I would make eye contact with a man there he would look at me if I was a piece of meat or if I was naked. It was really uncomfortable!
      Some French men go to Barcelona to get easy sex from the hookers, so it wasn’t only the Spanish men giving me such licentious stares!

      Just.. yuck.

  44. Nadia says:

    I have never ever heard of such a thing. As a woman of color who is American and European and grew up in both places, contrary is the truth. Most women of color (if they don’t happen to be from D.R.) have very nerdy reputations here and usually get high grades. I can’t speak for the country of Spain, but in Central and Northern Europe most Black girls have high-level degrees. Most of my friends are doctors or lawyers. Especially the ones who grew up in that country because there are off the boat African young women who are sold into trafficking I guess, but not the Afro-Europeans. However, I did notice that American Black women lately have been viewed as call girls because of the way they are portrayed in today’s music videos. The same goes for the Middle East thanks to video vixens bragging about being flown out to Dubai on the regular. This goes for Latin women of color as well.

  45. […] all black men as criminals with racial profiling, it treats people as guilty based on their race. Black Women in Europe: Fitting The Hooker Mold with Blackness Reply With […]

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