Undeterred by Estonia’s HIV infection rate, which is the highest in the European Union, Finnish men are again flocking to the country for sex after a pause during the financial crisis.
Finns are the single largest group buying sex in the Baltic country, say Estonian prostitutes. Street prostitution is more visible now than before the global recession, with many women saying they service numerous customers per day.
"It’s sad—this is what can happen to people who don’t have a support network when their lives are in crisis," said Katri Eespere, an equality expert at the Estonian social affairs ministry. "Up until 2005 we managed to close down all known brothels, but the collapse of the economy forced a new generation of prostitutes into the streets."
With more money in their pockets, Finnish men are again travelling across the gulf for booze and sex in the country’s medieval capital.
“It’s a myth that only sexually deprived men buy girls,” said Eespere, who has studied sex buyers’ attitudes. "For the most part it’s a form of entertainment."
When the Finnish economy took a downward turn Estonian sex workers adapted and many travelled to Finland where demand remained high.
Prostitution is legal in Estonia and studies have shown that most Estonian prostitutes belong to the country’s Russian-speaking minority. Many women working on the streets are single mothers.