ROME—Sex, as they say, sells. But in the case of a growing number of young women, virginity is an even hotter commodity.
An 18-year-old Italian woman known only as “Nicole” is the latest, it would seem, to offer up her hymen for high stakes, as first reported by the British tabloid The Sun. The young woman, shown in a video from the website “Elite Models VIP,” claims that she came up with the idea after dating an older man who was quite desperate to deflower her, which she says made her realize at age 16 how valuable a first fornication was.
She had hoped to give herself for love, the story goes, but apparently got tired of the wait to find Mr. Right. Now 18, if “Elite Models VIP” is to be believed, she’s putting her virginity on the block expecting it to sell for six or even seven figures. (Note that “Elite Models VIP” has no ties to Elite Model Management, which represents some of the best-known females and males in the fashion business.)
“I wanted a good education so I started looking on the web for ways to finance my studies and I came across a series of auction adverts and found there were girls who had sold themselves for £3.1 million [$3.79 million],” says “Nicole.” “So I decided I would do the same when I turned 18.
“I hope to get as much as possible to fund my studies, to help my sister and my family, and buy my parents a house,” she says in a charming Italian accent.
Nothing can be verified independently about the video of “Nicole”—not her story, not her identity, her age, or, much less, her virginity. Repeated calls to Elite Models VIP, which has a country code in Spain, only led to an answering service.
But whether this video is real or fake, the sale of virginity both by choice and by force is shockingly common in the global marketplace for prostitution.
The International Justice Mission is a nongovernmental organization that works to identify and rescue young victims of cybersex trafficking. It has found that the median age of the victims is between 15 and 16 years old, but more than half (54 percent) of those rescued were under the age of 12.
Others who research this phenomenon have found that men will pay almost twice as much for a pre-pubescent girl’s virginity as for one who has already reached puberty with prices sometimes reaching up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
On the dark web (the unindexed section of the internet that operates without regulation and can only be accessed through specialized browsers), the virginity of women sold into sexual slavery is commonly offered up to the highest bidder through anonymous auctions using cryptocurrencies. Street children from Cambodia and the Philippines are the most common victims, often sold into sexual slavery by their own financially desperate parents, but there are children—and their virginity—from all over the world being offered online.
In Colombia, as The Daily Beast reported in 2016, girls as young as 10 are sold to the highest bidders, many of whom are men from the United States, Mexico, or Japan who join the auctions as part of lurid sex tourism packages.
The virginity of young Nigerian teenagers sex trafficked into Italy used to be a very popular sell, with private auctions run by madams a common part of the initiation for many young women arriving in the country. But now that most young women get caught up in Libyan detention centers where they are raped, they are rarely virgins when they arrive and the auctions are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
There is a massive difference, of course, between those who are forced and those who choose to sell themselves to the highest bidder. For one, those who choose to sell themselves can do so via legitimate or semi-legit websites while those who are forced are hidden on the dark web.
A quick Google search turns up scores of registered websites recruiting virgins who allegedly want to sell their first time. Many require doctors’ certificates to validate virginity and some claim to provide psychological care because “once virginity is gone, you can’t get it back.” (This ignores the thriving business of hymen reconstruction in countries where lost virginity sometimes leads to loss of life.)
One site called Virgins Wanted, hosted on an Australian server, offers to send information about “how to sell your virginity online” to anyone who dares fill out an online form.
The most popular virgin-selling site for those who choose to come of age for a profit is called Cinderella Escorts, based in Germany, which is apparently run by a 26-year-old man named Jan Zakobielski who for a time lived in his mother’s basement in Dortmund, Germany. Forbes magazine interviewed him by email last April after he reportedly sold an 18-year-old Romanian woman’s virginity to a Hong Kong businessman for $2.4 million.
The site made headlines again in November when it allegedly brokered a $3 million deal for the flower of a 19-year-old American virgin known only as “Giselle.” The price supposedly was paid by a businessman from Abu Dhabi who was pleased with his purchase.
“Giselle” said she had no regrets. “It was a dream come true,” she said in a statement after the deal was done. “Every woman has to decide on her own if it is worth [it] to give her virginity for free to a boyfriend who maybe later on will break up with her, rather than selling it. But I made my decision and now I can study wherever I want, buy a new house and travel around the world. It gives me a lot of opportunities.”
Cinderella Escorts founder Zakobielski told Forbes that his agency takes a 20 percent cut. It arranges the hotel and sends a guard to stay nearby in case the virgin “changes her mind.”
Zakobielski also said in that email exchange that he is not a pimp and is actually helping women. “I am a businessman and everyone can make his own opinion if it’s better to sell it with an official and legal agency which is famous... or to let girls search alone for a buyer.”
He says women going it alone could end up in criminal organizations that will sell them on the black market. “I think it would be naive to think that if we don’t give her a platform she will not search for another way to sell it. We just give people a platform who already have this idea in their mind.”
Barbie Latza Nadeau, the Rome correspondent for The Daily Beast, is the author of the forthcoming Roadmap to Hell: Sex, Drugs and Guns on the Mafia Coast.