Previous Next

Prostitute in a Polish forest. I’m sure there’s a perfectly innocent explanation for that parked truck being there. All photos: Author

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, whorehouses, 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.

View Larger Map

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 these citizens are not entitled to any social benefits, such as healthcare 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, 10% 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 40 forest prostitutes. Certain Polish legislators are not happy with this level of street prostitution in Poland. So, in 2007 a proposed nationwide ban on miniskirts, heavy makeup, and see-through or low-cut blouses was proposed, considered an appropriate method to rob prostitutes of means of advertising. Fortunately, the ludicrous proposal was not acted upon.

Smartly dressed, a Polish prostitute waits for a customer on her designated corner.

Tools down, time for a cigarette break. Polish forest prostitutes.

This photo was originally captioned “failed travel bloggers making ends meet.”

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 these 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 many are probably 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 [as well as the site of original publication] 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.

    Editor’s note: This post was originally published by Yomadic and is reprinted here with permission.

Women's Rights


About The Author

Nate Robert

Nate Robert is a dilettante photojournalist and long term traveler. Journeying through fifty plus countries (and counting), Nate documents his infamously off the beaten path adventures over at YOMADIC. He is currently thinking about who would win a fight between a pack of wild Albanian dogs, and a Transnistrian Brown Bear. His hobbies include street photography, collecting very small rocks from beaches around the world, and writing interesting author bio's.

  • tom

    A few of them are Polish (<10%). Mostly from Romania or Bulgary.

    • Zack

      I think you meant Bulgaria, because Bulgary is a perfume brand.
      Where prostitutes are from is not relevant to the fact that they still do what they do, and prostitution exists in every country….so they cannot all be Romanian or Bulgarian = common sense.

  • A.

    a very poor article. I do not deny the existance of prostitutes along the main transit roads in Poland, however, what is written here is mainly sensation seeking not true journalism:(

    • sparkpunk

      Just because someone else’s normal isn’t your own doesn’t make it sensationalism. And just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t make it “bad” journalism.

      • Nate Robert

        Most intelligent comment so far, thank you.

  • keo

    i believe the word whore is widely considered pejorative and offensive. did you really had to use this term?

    • Nate Robert

      No, I did not really have to use that term. But I did. And yes, I agree some people are offended by the term. Others are not.

      • Nesquick

        Wow, you are such a deep person!

        • Nate Robert

          Thanks for the compliment, I appreciate it.

  • Tim & Nat ✈

    We saw the same thing in the Tuscan countryside, women with parasols standing in the middle of farmers fields, the difference being prostitution is legal there.
    I love your photos, they bring a certain beauty to a still taboo profession.

  • Ben Price

    I was in Poland in May. Drove from Krakow, to Warsaw, to Augustow (up near the Lithuanian border). Interesting article. Saw many of these girls, and I myself was wondering about some of the back-story there.

  • Dosta

    Interesting topic, but it’s problematic to your journalism that you use the word “whore”. Cutting all the bullsh*t, it’s a derogatory label. You know it. I know it. When you use words like that, you are classifying these women as lesser and inferior and thus diminishing what is in reality mostly a human trafficking / poverty problem.

    Throughout Poland we have very few opportunities for lower income women to rise up, and yet many still come here from other countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic because they think they will make a success here, or they have friends here. Using the word “whore” as the term for these women makes it much, much easier to dismiss the horrible things that happen to them (murdered, raped, brutalized) because she was “only a whore”.

    • Nate Robert

      You lost me at “journalism”.

  • polish

    Despite the legality of prostitution, the forest prostitutes are members of the
    only profession that officially remains un-taxed in Poland.
    [...]. In a country where all efforts to promote safe sex are hindered by the
    dominance of the Catholic Church, this is worrisome. – WRONG!!!!! The prostitutes are un-taxed in Poland because it’s illegal to take benefits of other’s prostitution, thus taxing it would be a crime. The church has not much to do with it.

  • Joanna

    “many are probably seeing their dangerous jobs as a way to get that new BMW or big-screen TV”. Seriously? What do you really know about “whores”? Have you ever talked to any? And where is all the other “information” taken from? You didn’t translate “Gazeta Wyborcza” with Google Translate, did you?

    Calling these girls “whores” you only show your real attitude towards women. I’m sorry for your dearest.

    • Nate Robert


      • Guest

        PS, as a return insult I could offer “go fuck yourself, Joanna”, but I won’t.

  • Fresherty

    “Attractive”? Honestly? Anyway – those girls represent lowest tier of prostitution in Poland, and in most cases aren’t Polish at all. Because Poland is close to much poorer countries, such as Belarus, and to less extent Ukraine, as well as on one of the highest-volume route from the East (here: Russia) to the West (here: “old” EU), it is great spot for this particular type of prostitution.

    Don’t be fooled. Those girls surely have a pimp – he (or she…) might be driving up and down the road, or just sitting somewhere in a car. Because it’s basically middle of nowhere he/she might just leave them there since where the hell would they go?

    Prices charged by “tirówki” are low, I mean, really low. Considering pimp’s cut it’s not really that much of a temptation for most Polish women. Those usually offer themselves in bigger cities, putting ads on certain sites. I used word “usually” since statistics are terrifying, especially among University students. There’s also much less… obvious route – woman might try to find a “sponsor”, who would cover her rent and other expenses in exchange for … well, sex. The latter 2 types are not, by any means, what you would call “professional” prostitutes. Those exist as well, but … well, another story.

    One more ‘side’ note – do not trust figures given by Catholic Church in Poland. Real number of believers is lower – high, if you compare it to countries like France, but still. I’d say in most cases avg Pole is less religious than avg American. Problem with using protection is out there, but I wouldn’t pin it on CC in this particular instance, since all clients are 18+. If there’s unprotected sex between client and prostitute, it’s just pure stupidity or residual effect of good old communism. CC could, and SHOULD be blamed for lack of sexual education in schools (as in: none whatsoever or, even worse, priest talking about God knows what). That leads to teenage pregnancy, again – another story.

  • EHA

    Matador is trolling for reactionary comments in its decision to publish the word “whore.” I would consider this journalism had you actually stopped and spoken with any of these women. Recycling someone else’s story/statistics and shooting out a little narrative about “that time you glimpsed some prostitutes” isn’t travel journalism. This story was a huge disappointment to me.

    “Failed travel bloggers making ends meet???” Jesus christ, guys.

    • Nate Robert

      Just to be clear : Matador republished the article exactly as I printed it, including the word “whore”. They also republished the captions on the photos exactly as I originally printed them. Also, thanks for your compliments, I appreciate it.

      • EHA

        I don’t care that it was published before. I care that Matador threw this insensitive, ill-informed garbage up on the network just to see how many people would come out of the wood work to argue about the word “whore.” You have failed to directly address any of my other concerns. That it was published before is not an explanation for why you feel you have the authority to label and judge these women without ever having spoken to them. Furthermore, what about the ethics of photographing people who clearly don’t know they are being photographed or, in one case, clearly do not appreciate it? You failed at your job. And so has Matador for publishing it, as far as I’m concerned.

        • Nate Robert

          Thanks for the reply EHA, I feel happy to discuss with anyone who takes the time to reply. I will start with the easy one – photographing people who don’t know they are being photographed. There is a long history of photographing people without their permission, in an effort to capture candid moments of the “human condition”. I will say, these photos are by no means representative of great work of this style of photography – however – the point remains, taking candid photos of people without consent, is a perfectly ethical thing to do – indeed, it is done millions of times every single day. I am happy to be collectively grouped with the tens of thousands of people who take photos of other people, every day. However, I definitely do not deserve “special treatment” for undertaking this practice.
          As for being “ill-informed” you would need to expand on that, I’m not sure what is “ill-informed” and any factual errors I am more than happy to correct.
          As for Matador publishing this article – I cannot vouch for their intentions – you would need to ask them. Our conversations have been brief. They like my style of writing, and subject matter, and will be republishing further articles.
          As for “authority” – this is where you are wrong. I do have the authority. It is my blog, my domain, I don’t work for money, I have no employer, and I’m not trying to get work as a journalist nor a photographer. The blog is my travelogue, as simple as that. I answer to nobody, and can do what I want. That, is authority.
          As for “judging” the women – did you fail to read the sentence where I specifically said I am NOT judging these women?
          Read it again.
          Which leaves us with the word whore. As I said, some people find the word offensive. I don’t. There are a list of other words I could provide you with that I am also not offended by, or, you could get off your fucking high horse and realise it’s just a word, that YOU have a BIG problem with. I don’t. Therefore, you have failed with your interpretation of the intention of this post.
          Whether you are “disappointed” with the blog post or not, simply, I don’t give a fuck. I can do what I want, and I’m happy with my work, and myself as a person.
          I suggest you stop reading my work from this point forward, and guess what? I have enough readers that understand me as a person, a compassionate person, so that one, two, a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand less won’t make any significant difference. I don’t do this for money, I do it for love.
          Can you say the same thing about your own life? Or are you whoring yourself out for a paycheck each week?
          Thanks for replying.

That normalizing rhetoric serves nobody who ends up being a ‘baby’ to some...
We've set a goal of donating 100 bikes to the women's cycling program.
She ran workshops with the goal of empowering women to create a sustainable income.
I push him away. “This is NOT going to happen!” I yell assertively.
I asked my translator to please tell these women that my heart is with them.
“Purdah” is a custom in which women are hidden or removed from the culture at large.
At Matador, we are proud of publishing articles that celebrate strong, groundbreaking...
My understandings of Indian femininity were initially judgmental.
Female travelers, be safe. Male travelers, be safe. But more importantly, keep traveling.
I felt uncomfortable watching a man go through many of the same experiences I've had in...
"There’s at least six decades of history stored in [this apartment]."
Girl, please. That’s not your body. You don't get to decide what it does for money.