Drugs, prostitution and homelessness: The human impact of the Greek financial crisis

Running down the road in a short skirt and impossibly high heels, the girl screams. Running with a friend, they are young women trying to get away from the male teenagers shouting abuse at them. One girl ends up falling over in the middle of the road as one of the men makes a grab for her. Eventually, the men walk away and leave them alone.

This scene was more than simply teenage boys abusing women. These women were prostitutes, living in the Greek capital Athens, and this kind of incident is getting more and more common as the true impact of the Greek financial crisis sets in.

Strike action is a common occurrence in the city centre. A transport strike on 5th October brought Athens to a complete standstill, and many of the major tourist attractions, including the Acropolis, were closed for the day. In a city that thrives on tourism, these closures only exacerbate the financial problems this country faces. Only five days later, and public transport workers were on strike again.

Students protested at the university

Prostitution is rife in Athens. In Greece, prostitution is legal, all brothels must have permits and the women must carry a medical card that is updated every two weeks. Nevertheless, Greece does have a problem with women being illegally trafficked into the country and being pushed into prostitution, and a rise in HIV is being linked to prostitution and drugs. 

Drug abuse is all too apparent. The scenes of drug dealing through a car window, men staring into space at a bus stops and women asleep in the street, half eaten souvlaki still in hand are all too common.

Homelessness has also reached imaginable levels, and it is hard to walk down a street without witnessing poverty as a result of the austerity.

Children are sent onto trains and down busy tourist roads, playing instruments and begging for money. It is hard to ignore their plights, but it seems wrong to give them money, assuming that doing so would only encourage adults to send them to collect money rather than to school.

The truth is that while bus and tram drivers went on strike, there are people with serious problems that the government simply cannot afford to help. There are even reports of people purposely injecting themselves with needles used by people with HIV as a way of getting the added benefits associated with being infected with the disease.

While in the nicer areas Athens, surrounded with nice shops and restaurants, it was easy to forget about the protests. All that was reported on the news stations was of the strikes themselves, but even the British press have got tired of that story. But out in the open, just around the corner from my hotel was the real, human impact of the financial crisis. And it’s much worse than I ever expected it to be.

The fact is that Greece is a European country but some of its people are suffering in a way people in a European country should not. Their government has made some truly diabolical errors with their finances, but ultimately, it is always the average person that suffers most. There is no real answer to the problem, and we can only hope that they can pull themselves out of the mire before even more people end up on the streets or addicted to drugs.