We see them half naked in the streets, at the crossroads, hidden in some ”crevice”. Often, in large cities, we find them on the sidewalks, lately, also in the areas of petrol stations. We know that they are not there by chance, that someone has decided that this is their place. What we cannot imagine is that in addition to being enslaved and having to bring money to the pimps, they must also pay a kind of fee to be able to occupy a given place. A kind of “occupation of public space”, the proceeds of which, however, do not end up in the hands of the State, but in those of the criminals who enslave them. Those women pay for having to prostitute themselves, this is the preposterous truth.
This sad reality has its roots in the past. As far as forty years ago, in fact, don Benzi – founder of the Pope John XXIII association – had shed light on this situation. His work of comfort and hospitality in the streets, in contact with those unfortunate women, had given the opportunity to obtain a picture of the conditions which is much clearer than many statistical analyses. Today the confirmation of the fact that nothing has changed comes from a Save the Children dossier, “Little Invisible Slaves”.
Victims are mostly Nigerian young women, forced to pay a fee that ranges from 100 to 250 euros per week. Nigerian adolescents, the most affected by the phenomenon of trafficking, arrive in our country mainly by land, crossing Nigeria, Libya, and then the Mediterranean. What convinces them are the blinding large gains and the dream of becoming hairdressers, models or that of working as a babysitter or a sales assistants. Often a man or a woman called “sponsor” or “trolley” escorts them to the country of destination or organizes their journey from one country to another.
Their exploitation starts very early, already when transiting Nigeria. Once they reach Libya, they are locked up in guest houses where they are forced into prostitution for months before departing for Italy. Here, for those who arrive by sea, the first passage is usually Naples, where women who do not have a predetermined destination yet are sold. For those who arrive by plane, on the other hand, the destination is usually Turin. The young women are then delivered to a Nigerian exploiter on the spot, the so-called ”maman”, that from this moment onwards will manage their lives, establishing when and where should they prostitute themselves to pay back the debt contracted by their families for the journey. The amount is usually is between 30 and 60 thousand euros, which constrains the young women to sell their bodies for 3-7 years and work under intense rhythms for a few euros. If the women rebel, it is still the ”maman” or her “fiance”, as the pimp is called, who use physical and psychological violence against them.
In Nigerian culture there is still a strong fear of shamans, because of magical rites, and therefore merely the threat to use magic in order to harm the families of those unfortunate women becomes a source of terror, to the point of annihilating totally their personal will. A slap in the face of rationality, but dramatically true and topical.
“Exploitation and the constrictions these adolescents undergo are so intense, that they make it very difficult for them to come out from the circle of trafficking”, emphasizes Carlotta Bellini from Save the Children Italy. “It is necessary to strengthen the network of the ‘houses of escape”, that are one of the main tools of our system for the protection of the victims of trafficking. To stifle trafficking in the countries of origin and in Italy, to intensify opposition to the whole system of exploitation, also through the street units. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary to adopt the National Action Plan against the traffic of human beings that would include specific funds for supporting minors who fell victims to the traffic”.
The family homes of the Pope John XXIII Association are a model of hospitality, from this point of view. The constant work of recovery, precisely in the streets, started by don Benzi and today continued by the members of the Community, has already saved – among many other young women – numerous Nigerian adolescents. A “miracle”, for each one of them; a drop in the ocean of indifference.