Thursday, 1 October 2009

'Galerianki': Poland's Lolita Mallrats

'Galerianki' is a new word in Polish. The easiest way to translate it directly into English would be to use the American term 'mallrats'.

But whereas 'mallrats' conjures up images of geeky comic book fans (as seen in the Kevin Smith film) who hang round shopping centres because they have nothing better to do, 'galerianki' signifies something much more unpleasant-- underage girls, some as young as 12, who exchange sexual favours in return for cash, clothes and gadgets in Poland's ever-increasing number of shopping centres.

The term, and the phenonomen which spawned it, have come to public attention partly because of a new film, "Galerianki", which won the Golden Lion award for best directorial debut. (Katarzyna Rosłaniec)

The following is a brief extract from an interview with Dr. Elżbieta Michałowska, a specialist in social problems amongst young people:

Q: You claim that the problem of 'galeriankis' is one of the most dangerous trends amongst young people, and that it is becoming more and more common. Is the situation really that bad?

A: 'Galeriankis' are just the tip of the iceberg. Underage prostitution in general is sadly on the rise. Different motivations and needs create different types of prostitution.
There is forced prostitution, which usually takes place at home: The mother retires from prostitution and the daughter takes her place. A few years ago I carried out a study concerning pathologies in poor neighbourhoods in Łódż. I found some cases where the father would follow his daughter on the way to school, soliciting clients. During lunch break, the client would have sex with the girl and the father would keep the money.
There is also unforced prostitution, normally carried out by drug addicts and homeless youngsters. Sometimes the girls are paid in sandwiches rather than cash. These cases are truly desperate.
'Galerinakis' are not desperate. In their case, cultural factors are more dominant than economic factors.

Q:What do you mean?

A:I mean that they treat their bodies like a good or product. A quick look at magazines like 'Cosmopolitan' reveals that the body and sexuality are the main topics: How to improve and maintain your body in order to be attractive. Music videos on 'Viva' (TV channel for da yoof in Poland) aimed at young people, are the same. It is an erotic volcano. The artists appear in what are little more than adverts for their own bodies, paid for by men. Now, i'm not a puritan but it scares me what young people can watch theses days. In modern pop-culture, the body is a product and it is to be consumed. This ethos is most common amongst the young, the teenagers brought up in the free market. These days I read blogs and internet forums as part of my research into 'galeriankis' and I have found something which is becoming more and more popular: Selling virginity. These girls are putting their virginity on sale.

Q:How much does it cost?

A:Recently the going rate was around 1000-1500 złotys.

Not much.

A:Not much, yet it still goes on. As well as the cultural factors which we have discussed, we have to talk about the commercialisation of modern life. Underage girls aspiring to prostitution is one effect of this. They earn the things that they want, or that they think they need. 'Galeriankis' more often exchange sex for gifts, not money: an MP3 player, the latest model of mobile phone, some good cosmetics......

Dr. Elżbieta Michałowska works for the Sociology Institute at the University of Łódż.
Interviewer: Joanna Podgórska

Translated by Czarny Kot 01/10/09 Source: 'Polityka' magazine.