Polish Prostitutes – Meet The Forest Whores Outside of Warsaw
We were driving at about 100 clicks an hour. I’d seen some pretty forests in Poland, but this wasn’t one of them. Dark, craggy, and apart from the passing traffic it would be considered isolated. It wasn’t a freeway, it was more an interstate back-road. I saw a lady standing by the curbside in the sand by some trees. There was a large black plastic bag by her side.
Lots of makeup, attractive, and well dressed. Something seemed not-quite-normal. It was a strange place for such a lady to just be hanging out. Within a couple of minutes, I saw another. My mind subconsciously twigged. It was the third spotting, two ladies in matching mini-skirted uniforms, that erased any doubt in my mind. I had entered the lands – of the Polish forest whores.
Brothels, whore-houses, chicken houses, cat houses, dens of iniquity, knock shops, houses of ill repute, and bordellos are illegal in Poland. As the old adage goes – pimping may not be easy – and in Poland, pimping is also illegal. However, in Poland, consensual prostitution – selling sex – is perfectly legal. Motivated by these laws, industrious Polish prostitutes have taken their wares and prominently displayed them along roadsides that cut through the forests surrounding many cities in Poland.
click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article
Commonly, these ladies are referred to as tirówki. TIR is an abbreviation for Transports Internationaux Routiers – the moniker given to the many heavy-duty truck drivers that also travel these same wooded roads. I won’t profess to know who the main clientele of the forest prostitutes are. I will say that with drivers facing endless hours in the truck cabin away from home, well, combine that with the tirówki nickname and the conclusions are there to be drawn.
Despite the legality of prostitution, the forest prostitutes are members of the only profession that officially remains un-taxed in Poland. Unfortunately, this also means that these citizens are not entitled to any social benefits, such as health-care and other social welfare. In a country where all efforts to promote safe sex are hindered by the dominance of the Catholic Church, this is worrisome.
According to the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, ten percent of all Poles under investigation by the tax office have reported their occupation as “prostitute”. The Warsaw Business Journal wrote about Polish tax authorities having to instigate procedures and systems specifically to interview the vast numbers of people claiming to be prostitutes. Avoiding income tax may not be so easy. Self-proclaimed prostitutes are now being asked to provide evidence of their working life, such as photographs or client testimonials.
Driving from Warsaw to Augustow, I would estimate that I saw around forty forest prostitutes. Certain Polish legislators are not happy with this level of street prostitution in Poland. So, in 2007 a proposed nation-wide ban on miniskirts, heavy make-up, and see through or low-cut blouses was proposed. Considered as an appropriate method to rob prostitutes of methods of advertising, fortunately the ludicrous proposal was not acted upon.
Personally I didn’t expect to see scores-of-whores adorning the forested back roads of the Polish countryside. That morning, I was researching one of the most ancient forests in Europe, located not far from where these photos were taken. By lunch, I was reminiscing with friends about the surreal and strange world of the forest dwelling prostitutes of Poland.
The thing is, I have many female readers. Above all, I respect, protect, and admire women the world over, especially those nearest and dearest to my own heart. I make no personal judgments on the forest ladies. Sadly, I am sure many of them are working as prostitutes so that they may simply have a roof over their heads, and meals each day.
Even sadder is that some are seeing their dangerous jobs as a way to get that new BMW or big screen TV.
PS, for accuracy and journalistic integrity, there are no doubt some other things I should mention. Such as but not limited to: not all of these ladies are Polish citizens, to some people whore is a bad word, and Poland is an incredibly interesting, diverse, and beautiful nation that doesn’t consist solely of prostitution. Obviously, prostitution and exploitation go hand in hand, and many will be wondering whether the accompanying photos could be considered exploitation, or at least poor taste in choice of subject. This site has featured many examples of street photography from around the world, and to me, these photos fit fairly into that genre.
It’s real life.
PPS, my next leg includes Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Albania, and other nations of the Balkans.
50 thoughts on “Polish Prostitutes – Meet The Forest Whores Outside of Warsaw”
This is sad but I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it may not be for food and roofs over their head as much as earning enough for rent plus a new iPhone 5 or Chanel shades. Ok, I said that, but you know what I mean. We saw the same kind of thing (middle fingers and all) on our roadtrip through Costa Brava in Spain. I guess standing on the side of the road makes sense if your main clientele is truck drivers, but it’s still pretty shocking to come up on. Sad subject but as always, amazzzing captures.
Safe travels x
Hey Larissa, hope California is still treating you fine. Yes, it’s all a little sad, a little shocking, but totally intriguing at the same time. Thanks for the well wishes!
Most definitely, Bethaney!
But why the forest? That seems like a dangerous place to conducting such business.
Totally agree. I’m hope they’re really considering just how dangerous it could be.
The caption “failed travel bloggers making ends meet” always has me laughing so hard…until I come to my senses that this is definitely no laughing matter…it is sad. Thanks for the post!
Funny/sad, it’s whatever each of us decide. And, your’re welcome.
One day I’m going to start a security company dedicated to the sex industry. I think the super huge dangers associated with street walking prostitution are compounded by the prohibition of pimps and pimping. This is demonstrated so clearly in the Polish woods! Who knew?! Its also real in Highgate as you well know. People are entitled to be alone wherever they may want to exist, or work, (just making it clear that I completely reject victim-blaming) but I’m pretty sure these ladies would prefer to have some security.
Nat, as you are aware, I’m very familiar with Highgate, and thought of you when writing this article. A security company…that’s thinking outside the norms for sure, but there needs to be some thinking, because the laws as they stand just aren’t working for anyone. And I agree – at the very least these ladies have a right to feel safe.
They sure aren’t. I really want to be told of a country, even a town, where this industry is incorporated properly into life and legislation. I struggle to agree with the illegality of street walking in WA, I think freelance should be an option for most careers. Then comes that segway conversation where all prosties are concerned – healthcare…. I reckon a lot of desk jobbers would suffer more illnesses than a missus getting more than her 20 minutes, 3 times per week in the fresh air of the Polish Forest, but perhaps I should be less cynical and defensive, and admit that prostitution is a pretty grim business.
I’m no expert, but it seems to work pretty well here in The Netherlands, and from what I saw a couple of years ago, Austria. It’s legal, out in public, and it seems to be regulated. I haven’t seen any lonely street walkers here (I’m sure they exist). Love the desk jobbers vs street walkers comparison, I think you’re on to something there ;)
Nate, I have to disagree with you. Recent investigations on the red light district in Amsterdam showed that the majority of the women were in fact being pimped by crime rings. In addition, a large number were forced into prostitution against their will.
Thanks for the clarification Ariana. As I said, I’m no expert.
man..I bet some bad stuff happens there. I saw some police show (total rubbish!) about just such a place and a bad man…well it was horrible. And yes some will do it for survival, some because they feel so bad about themselves and some because they like money for “things”, but god, you one has to ask oneself, how can a person do this just for a mobile or whatever? It’s pretty extreme
In any case a great piece of reportage here Nate. thanks!
Cheers Paul. I bet some bad stuff does go down (unfortunately). Thanks for the comment, doing my best to lift my reportage game.
What a bizarre and fascinating story! Love the pic of the girl giving the one-finger salute too! Unreal.
Even if they had access to healthcare and the AIDS rate was 0% among these women, there are far more substantial ways women can contribute to society than to stand on a street corner and indulge some pervert truck driver’s fantasies. It’s sad they don’t realize there are always other options. Judging by how young they are, I’m more inclined to think they’re feeding a drug habit or splurging on iPhones than feeding their families.
A really interesting article Nate especially around the laws and tax issues of being a prostitute in Poland. I like these kind of articles as they are very different form the usual travel blogs. Keep up the good work and all the best for your future adventures.
As I said in a previous comment, always learn at least one new thing reading your posts!
Just curious is the bird (in the last photo) aimed at you for taking the photo, or someone else off image?
Thanks mate… I’m not 100% sure… at the time I thought she was flipping the bird at me, but looking at the photo, it could have been a car in front of me. It’s a mystery for the ages ;)
Enjoyed reading this, well researched piece. It reminded me of the same roadside trade that goes on at the border between Spain and France at La Jonquera.
I enjoyed reading your article, in part because this is topic that is often viewed as taboo. I live in Italy, where the situation is similar: brothels are illegal but individual women (and men) are legally allowed to work as prostitutes.
I see 1 or 2 young women waiting for customers almost every day on my walk home. Judging by their looks, like many other young ladies I see selling themselves, these two women are not originally from Italy. In my opinion, a large majority of women working in this profession are probably being exploited or are at least in a very desperate situation and have concluded that they only have one option to survive and/or help their families. I honestly can’t imagine being an 18- or 20-year-old woman and deciding to put my life at risk by entering the cars of strange men every single day.
I live in a city, but I have also seen prostitutes in the Northern Italian countryside, and the images are very similar to your photos!
Hey Jenna, thanks for your comment. Funny you should mention Italy – I arrived in Northern Italy tonight (Milan), and on the drive out to Moncalvo where I am staying, I saw a few women by the roadside clearly waiting for customers. It reminded me instantly of Poland.
It would be interesting to see a longer term photo-journalism study on these ladies, assuming you could gain their trust. Find out more about their personal circumstances and why they work the way they do and that sort of thing. I guess people are drawn to ‘seedy under-belly of society’ type stories, but I think this one is genuinely interesting in its own right.
On a more cynical note, I can’t help wondering if they are genuinely working alone, or whether there is a burly ‘assistant’ waiting in the trees in case of trouble..
That is really interesting Nate, I would have never guessed things could be so obvious. It is sad that some in our world live in this way…
I’ve seen them in Italy too! hanging around in bushes. It was really strange as one minute there were plenty dotted all around the road, then about 2 hours later when we went back there were none. Strange. Maybe its illegal there?
And the question is, why did you go back?
haha. Not why you’re thinking! Simply to get back into town i’m afraid..
Wow, this is very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
You’re welcome Lorenzo.
I agree with the general sentiment of the previous comments that this is a fascinating story and it saddens me that any women would feel the need to prostitute herself, whether it’s legal or not. And just so scary to think what could happen to any of them. I’ve heard a few stories of women rescued from sex trafficking and it’s just not a good situation all around.
Yes it’s definitely true
Oh yeah, it’s true.
Thanks for this interesting post – but I wonder, isn’t it a bit rude to take these pictures without asking? And posting them on the internet without permission? Or at least blurring faces?
At least the girls in the last photo didn’t seem to be particularly thrilled…
What is your opinion, Martin? Should I start blurring faces on Yomadic?
It might make sense in case of people in “delicate” situations, I guess.
Even though those girls’ mothers are unlikely to read your blog, and even though the images aren’t high-resolution, I could totally understand why they wouldn’t want to have their photos on a public website…
I would say far more people see them on the road each day, than there are readers of my website. It’s a touchy-subject, and I appreciate the feedback. Thanks Martin.
Huh. Agreed, fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Sex work is so prevalent all over the world, I suppose there will always be a demand, but whether it’s at a forest or not, there is always a huge risk for the ‘suppliers’.
“Sadly, I am sure many of them are working as prostitutes so that they may simply have a roof over their heads, and meals each day.”
Maybe in Ukraine but not in Poland.
i just posted a comment on your article about travel bloggers and how I found them boring. I hadn’t read anything else on your site yet and as that article was interesting, I clicked through to this one. This is the first travel blog post EVER that made me laugh out loud. Brilliant! I am bookmarking your site.
Great to have you around Jenn, glad you enjoyed the article.
I really appreciate your open perspective with this post. The fact of the matter is, in some countries (I’ve never been to Poland) women truly don’t have many options for providing for themselves or their families. There are so many different factors involved in the sex industry, but it’s an unfortunate truth that this route often brings in significantly more money than many other options women have. In many countries, men dominate the workforce and make it incredibly difficult for women to have the opportunity to earn money or maintain regular jobs. True, I’m sure it’s not their dream job and many, many risks are involved, but sometimes their options are so limited. Thanks for shedding light on this sensitive subject in such a delicate way.
Hey Kelsey, thanks for such a thoughtful comment. And, for understanding that my article really is here just to shed light.
The title should be “Prostitutes in Poland” since most of those women are from Ukraine, Russia,Romania,Bulgaria
I’m not one for pedanticism, but point taken.
I loved this post and for the record I am first generation Polish– both my parents were raised there. Your article was not at all derogatory of Poland– you were just pointing out an unusual tax loophole and backed it up with some great pictures that speak for themselves. As far as comments here about being exploited with no other options– both my parents grew up on rural farms in Poland, and all of my family members have become pretty successful, whether they immigrated here or stayed behind. As far as I know, none of them of them were prostitutes, not that it even matters.
I love learning about these cultural quirks- it’s what makes travel writing worth reading.
I don’t understand why you picked Poland for this?? Polish girls mostly work in brothels, roadside hookers are mostly Romanian(Gypsy) Ukrainian. Poland doesn’t have some serious prostitution issue, has one of the lowest numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS, few drugs addicts. It seems like you have some personal issue with Poles. BTW people declared prostitution on t6xes not to pay taxes silly.
I didn’t “pick” Poland for this – I am a traveller – and I write about, and photograph, what I see. This is just one aspect of the many things I saw in Poland.
I loved Poland, and I can’t wait to go back.
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