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Locked up in a Bed and Breakfast room, not allowed to go out unless someone controls her at sight, and forced to prostitute herself day and night. It is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl from a small town in Romania. Her parents had entrusted her to a fellow citizen who was supposed to take her to Italy. They had told her that she would have had a chance to find an honest job and have a better future there. Instead, she ended up in the hands of her jailers. At first, they used threats, blackmail, and beatings to make her pose for erotic photos, which were spread on the Internet to find new customers. Then she was forced into prostitution.

The Romanian teenager is only one of the people who have become victims of human trafficking within the boundaries of the European Union. A thriving market that grows thanks to a high demand for sex. Some EU countries have become aware of it and decided to find remedy. Thus, they reversed course and started punishing clients. Such is the case in France, where an anti-prostitution law entered into force in April. France has become the fifth European country to penalize demand, after Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and the United Kingdom.

The Vatican spoke out again against this kind of slavery. A few days ago, over 150 judges and other judicial staff members met for a summit against human trafficking and organized crime. Their work, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, has led to the drafting of a document that states that “the elimination of modern slavery is a moral imperative for the 193 Member States of the United Nations at present”.

“We affirm that modern slavery, human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and human trafficking are crimes against humanity and they should be recognized as such. Organized crime, which directly or indirectly aims at expanding modern slavery, must be considered a crime against humanity as well.” This is the opening of the document written in Casina Pio IV, where the meetings took place. The summit had been strongly encouraged by Pope Francis who gave a speech in front of the magistrates on the first day. On that occasion, the Pope reminded that “accepting a vocation means also feeling and proclaiming oneself free.”

“Free judges and public prosecutors: but free from what? From the pressure of the governments; free from private institutions and, of course, free from the ‘structures of sin’ mentioned by my predecessor Saint John Paul II, in particular free from the ‘structure of sin’ of organized crime – the Pontiff said -. I know you are under pressure, subjected to threats, and so on; and I know that being a judge or a prosecutor today means risking your life. The courage of those who want to continue to be free practicing their legal function deserves recognition. Without this freedom, the judicial power of a nation is corrupt and generates corruption. We all know the caricature of justice in these cases: Justice blindfolded: the the blindfold falls down and covers her mouth.”

The document – signed also by the Holy Father – lists ten goals to fight these crimes, to strike criminal organizations more effectively, to support and protect victims, with a special focus on their legal protection, in order to avoid rejections and repatriations that might make the victims fall prey to exploiters again.

Penalize customers, strike traffickers and mobsters through confiscation of their assets. This is the modus operandi indicated by the Pope. An “Italian method” that, in the Holy Father’s intentions, should be followed to “rehabilitate and compensate victims and repair our society.” Moreover, in the document, all nations are invited to recognize prostitution as a crime against humanity, as it has been already ratified by the Palermo Protocol of the United Nations. The signatories of the declaration also stressed that the “punishment for the clients of sexual services must be part of the legislation for an effective struggle against slavery and trafficking”. As to the victims, magistrates ask guarantees for an “adequate support to include civil and legal assistance, a secure witness protection”, measures that can be implemented while fostering cooperation with programs active on an international level.

According to a report of the European Commission, the first one on human trafficking, there would have been 15,846 victims of trafficking in the EU between 2013 and 2014. The Europol dossier does not mention women and prostitution, but also women and children involved in black economy.

Prostitution still represents the main kind of slavery, concerning 67% of the victims of human trafficking, followed by “labor exploitation” (21%). The victims of racket are mostly women (76%), but one in ten is a child (15%). An insult to humanity.

Various gimmicks are used to feed the continuous and constant human trafficking: forced marriages, organized crime, exploitation of disabled peoplle, activities in the context of migration phenomenon and that of the flow of asylum seekers. The Web and new technologies play a vital role in this vile business due to their more and more frequent use as a means of “recruiting” victims.

In this scenario, law enforcement play a key role in trying to curb the flow through international coordination. However, punishing the exploiters and free the victims is sometimes not enough. Girls who are saved from the street are scared, they do not trust the others anymore, and they are deeply wounded, not only physically but also psychologically. Invisible chains that are likely to keep them bound forever.

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