TEHRAN — Intelligent and confident, Parisa, 23, is from what could be loosely termed a middle-class family and has a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from Islamic Azad University.
On weekends, she sells her body for profit on the streets of North Tehran.
a lot of fun. My time is very valuable," says Parisa, a diminutive
computer technician using a pseudonym to shield her identity.
is part of a new phenomenon here — young, educated and independent women
becoming occasional, part-time prostitutes — driven by the Islamic
republic's weakened economy.
A single transaction can make her
$80, three-fifths of what she earned monthly at a mid-size tech firm
before she lost her job about five months ago. And Tehran has no
shortage of sex-starved young men — sons of wealthy parents — who are
willing and able to cruise the streets in search of pleasure at a price.
choice do I have?" Parisa says. "If I [leave Tehran and] go back to
Khorramabad, then I go home a failure. My parents can't support me. With
the rising price of everything, I'm afraid to ask them how they are
Long-standing international sanctions
against Iran's nuclear program are squeezing Iran's economy with
restrictions on its oil industry and central bank.
have long denied Western suspicions that the atomic program is geared
toward making a nuclear weapon. They say the program is for peaceful
purposes but have denied international inspectors access to nuclear
Meanwhile, out-of-work civil engineers are driving
taxis 14 hours a day to make ends meet, and school teachers are reducing
the amount of meat they buy every month to feed their children.
A wealthy male neighbor of Parisa's expressed outrage at the economic situation.
girls are selling themselves on the streets! You never saw this five or
six years ago," he said. "And all [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei] can talk about is the nuclear program. What nuclear program?
Some Russian-built antique that's been sitting there doing nothing for
Iran's Shiite theocratic regime is widely known for its
strict enforcement of Islamic laws, especially those regarding sexual
behavior. But prostitutes in North Tehran ply their trade openly with
little, if any, police interference. Parisa says she has never had an
encounter with the police.
Punishment for prostitutes and their
clients can include up to 100 lashes and jail terms. The prostitute can
be executed if she is married. But under this country's corrupt judicial
system, a few dollars can buy off a policeman, and what few cases are
prosecuted rest on the discretion of a presiding judge.
streets of North Tehran, prostitutes negotiate prices with would-be
clients through their car windows. Sometimes they will go home with men
with the expectation of receiving cash at the end of the night, an
approach that often can lead to acrimonious disputes.
she worries about her safety. "I have heard stories about policemen,
about perverts," she says. "But so far I have been OK. I know how to
Iran's theocracy has allowed a practice called
"sigheh," or temporary marriage, which Sunni Muslims have banned but
Shiite Muslims have accepted. Unmarried women and men can receive a
"license" to have sexual relations for a designated period of time. The
practice has been used most frequently near religious seminaries and
during pilgrimages to holy cities.
Parisa says she hasn't bothered to try to get a sigheh to protect her legally in case the police come knocking at the door.
cares about such things anymore, not in Tehran anyway," she says,
laughing. "The police don't care. The mullahs don't care. And definitely
these bache [kids] who pay me for my time don't care about their
• Brendan Daly is a pseudonym to protect the reporter from Iranian government reprisals.