Social work does not come without risk.*
Alexa is a 37-year old social worker for TAMPEP. As a social worker, she is entrusted with the responsibility of guiding victims of trafficking through the process of applying for temporary residency, and enrolling in social welfare programs. Another important, albeit less frequent, aspect of her work, is to assist victims who decide to denounce their traffickers. Alexa advises and accompanies this minority of clients through the legal, judicial, and social systems that are the framework for Article 18, a law providing protection and social assistance for victims who denounce their traffickers.
Since TAMPEP first opened its doors, it has assisted thousands of women under the Article 18 provisions. Article 18 is a law which grants residency permits and provides social welfare assistance to victims of human trafficking, regardless of whether or not they cooperate in criminal investigations. TAMPEP has assisted less than 60 women make denouncements against their traffickers. It is not difficult to understand why so few women choose to go to the authorities. The women fear that the traffickers will kill them or retaliate against their families.
Last week Alexa accompanied a young Albanian woman, Eva, to the Questura (the police), where Eva made identifications of her traffickers by looking at mug shots of members of the Italian mafia and Albanian crime organizations. Eva is 23 years old. Two years ago Eva was kidnapped from Albania and brought to Italy. She was then forced to prostitute herself. If Eva brought home less than 500 euro in a night, her pimp beat her. As her pimp became increasingly violent, she finally decided to denounce her traffickers.
A certain amount of risk is involved in such cases. For Eva, her exploitation was at the hands of not just her pimp, but also a large organized band of Italian and Albanian men. The Italian and Albanian crime organizations, who risk exposure by the escape and testimony of one young victim, are likely to be on the look-out for Eva. The Questura warn Alexa that the members of the Albanian trafficking network are established killers.
For this reason, Alexa has not yet taken Eva to the free health care facility for foreigners, where she could be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, a standard procedure for TAMPEP in its assistance of women. Alexa delays this step through fear that the facility is being watched by the crime organizations. Aside from this kind of discretion in traveling, there are few other precautions that Alexa can take to protect Eva. Alexa and Eva must make the requisite rounds through the city in the process of making a formal denouncement and obtaining a residency permit.
The process can last from a few months to one year. It demands the close collaboration of the police who investigate the case, verify the woman’s story, and present evidence for criminal proceedings against the accused traffickers. Fortunately, Alexa has a very good relationship with the police, and this makes the process of making denouncements smoother. Just today, two undercover detectives dropped by TAMPEP’s office to check in with Alexa about current cases. After the police investigation, the process culminates in a trial where the victim testifies against the accused.
Alexa laughs a bit when asked if she is worried about her own safety during the process. Nothing has happened to her yet, she replies with a smile, no one has ever directly threatened her. Last year when she accompanied another victim to Calabria to testify against her Italian traffickers, their car was followed by associates of the traffickers after they left the proceedings. Fortunately, the car Alexa was in was an undercover police car, driven by a police officer, who eventually shook off the pursuers. Alexa has had closer encounters during her work with the Street Unit, where on more than one occasion the Street Unit has encountered the papones (the pimps).
Finally Alexa adds that she cannot show fear in front of the victims she assists, because these women put their faith in her. Alexa’s duty as a social worker is more than navigating them through the legal process of denouncement; it is her duty to provide a sense of security to the victims.
* (Names and certain details have been changed to protect identities).
Posted By Julie Lee
Posted Jul 17th, 2003