It is a warm summer night. The city is sleeping peacefully. The great hall of the station is almost empty. In the shadows of the lampposts, there are young girls, waiting for wealthy clients. At 3 o’clock in the morning, one of them collapses to the ground. She is shivering. “This is your only chance to stay alive” a friend had told her, underage as well and forced to work on the sidewalks. Benedetta follows the advice and pretends to be sick. She closes her eyes and lets herself go. Someone notices her. She opens her eyes again at the hospital: perhaps she has never been so afraid in her entire life.
Her madame lives a few blocks away, she needs to get away from there as soon as possible, the girl’s “protectors” are looking for her. A spark of hope appears when Katia, a volunteer, enters the room. Benedetta is under the blankets, coiled. “How old are you?” asks the woman. A jolt, a penetrating look and a simple answer: “19”. Katia has learned Nigerian from the girls she has been hosting in a reception center since 2008. She knows that nothing can reach a wounded heart better than a few words pronounced in one’s mother tongue.
Benedetta leaves the hospital and gets into a car. Less than two hours later, she is out of her hell. On this journey, telling her story becomes liberation. The girl’s mother abandoned her a few days after she had been born. Her father, who had six more children, took care of her. The truth is that she is not 19, but 13. When she was 10, her elder brother told her that soon she would have departed for Italy. She underwent a voodoo ritual: a sorcerer prepared a fetish using Benedetta’s hair, blood and pubic hair. A slap in the face of innocence. During the ritual, the girl committed to pay thousands of euros. Thus began a long journey that was to last ten months, during which she was repeatedly raped by many men: a sad ”taste” of what she was going to be forced to endure in Italy.
In Piedmont, the flow of ”women” immigrants has quadrupled compared to last year. 4,300 Nigerian women arrived by sea at the end of September, whereas in 2014, their number was only a bit over 1,000. Duped by the promise of a job, they are subjugated with rape and black magic. A third of them are minors (between 13 and 17 years of age). This trade develops also thanks to the indulgence of the fathers, brothers or uncles.
Egyptian, Eritrean and Nigerian girls are the most vulnerable because they have to pay their debts for the journey by taking inhuman jobs. The Legislative Decree from August 2015 ensures a high level of protection, providing specialized centers and specific services for hospitality destined to minors. But it is not easy to run away from the racket.
After a dangerous journey which lasts a week, on board a rundown barge, she arrives to the island of Lampedusa. There, she is immediately intercepted by Madame’s protectors; Benedetta makes an attempt to rebel, but gets beaten up with violence until she understands that there is no other choice. Now that Katia from the Pope John XXIII Community is next to her, things are better. From her new home, she manages to call her father: he tells her to stay strong and rebuild her life. When everything seems to be solved, she recieves a a sad phone call from Nigeria : the young girl’s father has been threatened. In fact, girls are controlled and forced into prostitution every day under the threat of curses and retaliation on their families of origin. Thanks to the help offered by Sister Eugenia from the Consolata Missionaries, “a system of international protection” has been activated for Benedetta’s family.
The thirteen-year-old girl manages to call also her elder brother, the one who had sold her to the criminal organization, but from him she receives only intimidations: “Go back to work immediately, remember your promise! But helped by the Community volunteers, the girl decides not to pay the debt, the fruit of psychological blackmail. The Nigerian sorcerer is still in possess of the fetish made with her blood and can do whatever he wants with it. “We pray for her liberation – Katia says -, we have also asked the parish priest to bless her at the end of a celebration: Mass is the most powerful prayer of liberation. It is a true miracle to see her starting all over again”.
Benedetta has many fears with regard to her new life. She must say goodbye to those who have sheltered and loved her. She has promised herself to track down the friend who helped her to flee from the nightmare of prostitution: she wants to take her away from the street. A family available to welcome the thirteen-year-old Nigerian has been found, which will allow her to attend school in order to help her start dreaming again.
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