Life is sweet in Italy- but not for everybody. Last week I participated for the first time in Unita di Strada- TAMPEP’s mobile units of social workers and volunteers who go out on the street to talk to sex workers that they meet about HIV and STD prevention. These units are usually mixed- they include the so-called cultural mediators- people who are usually natives of different countries trained in social work. This means that the unit can reach out to migrant sex workers from all over the world since the cultural mediator can communicate with the sex workers beyond the barriers of language and culture.
As I was reading the blogs of other interns, I found myself thinking about the life I am leading here in Italy – no possibility of getting shot down when taking an airplane, no encounters with tsunami victims or family members who lost their relative in the political unrest. But last week took me out of this comfort zone- it is here in the middle of Turin that I am meeting victims of a horrific practice – human trafficking. Whereas trafficked for prostitution or slave labor, these people, mostly women and children, suffer enormously while being smuggled through the borders and later forced into slave-like form of labor and living conditions. Hard to believe but this is happening all around the world, just under our eyes. Most of the times, however, we prefer not to be aware of this problem. In the heart of the civilized world- the center of Washington, D.C. or Turin, human trafficking and slavery continues in the 21st century.
Thus, last Wedensday, I was faced with real life in this naked, brutal form. I, living in the comfortable zone of security, don’t realize what it means to live on the street. However, faced with two young girls working on the streets, I had to face my own fears.
It was heartbreaking, to see little tiny Jessica (the name has been changed), only around 17 and already a prostitute forced by her Nigerian madame to go out and sell her body. In a way, she made her first step. Unita di Strada approached her on Tuesday night and talked to her about her health condition – she has an infection – and tried to convince her to come with them to the hospital. Federica, our social worker, was extremely happy to hear that Jessica actually made it to Porta Nuova (Torino’s train station) and met with Diana, our Nigerian cultural mediator, who took her to the hospital that specializes in sexually transmitted diseases.
TAMPEP must have an established relationship with Padiglione Denis Piano Terra, because we were admitted without an appointment – Jessica’s case was grave though. The ambulatorio itself, has a special program for migrants, working with the local university: they have their own cultural mediators and are willing to work with the migrant population. All of this for free- as Federica described it as a part of “public service”.
TAMPEP wants Jessica to get away from her traffickers. As a minor, she fully qualifies for the program under Article 18 (the Italian law assisting victims of trafficking who decide to denounce their traffickers) – she wouldn’t even have to denounce them. But who knows, she was really nervous in the hospital, clinging to Diana as her Nigerian sister. Maybe she will change her mind, come for another doctor’s visit and get away. I cannot fully comprehend what must be going on in her mind- she’s only seventeen….
On our way back from the village where Tina now lives, we saw another girl from Albania, who already met TAMPEP’s crew. She was young and really pretty. TAMPEP’s crew was trying to convince her to get a free health check-up; and handed out the usual pack of condoms and leaflets with important information.
I asked a lot of questions – it’s different to read and discuss the cases of trafficking and this phenomenon in theory; today I was facing two victims of trafficking, face to face. Jessica’s story is particularly interesting as it shows the sophisticated ways that traffickers use to make their business successful and profitable. Jessica is in Italy legally – or so it seems. She has some fake papers of another girl from Sierra Leone, who received her first residence permit as an asylum seeker.
This means that she will have to go and renew it in couple of months but she will only get it if a council in Rome that approves of asylum cases screens her story and approves it. As Jessica, a Nigerian, would not probably be able to convince them about the validity of her case she would be turned away and given a notice of expulsion. However, this could take up till two years; and in the meantime, the traffickers can successfully and legally keep Jessica in Italy. After this period, she will pay off her debt and can go away freely but as a clandestino (an illegal migrant). But why would her traffickers care about it anymore?
Stories of trafficked victims are oftentimes very similar- they follow very similar patterns of recruiting, smuggling, etc. But behind these cases are real people, who suffer everyday. Let’s not forget about them…
Posted By Ewa Sobczynska
Posted Jun 27th, 2005