Michelle Lanspa

Michelle Lanspa (Transnational AIDS Prevention among Migrant Prostitutes in Europe Project – TAMPEP): Michelle is from Omaha, Nebraska. She graduated from the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown university, where she majored in science and technology in international affairs with a concentration in international health. Michelle participated in many social justice activities and groups at college, including the Georgetown-UNICEF club, Education Without Boundaries (Project Argentina), and Global Justice Now (the Student Campaign for Child Survival). Michelle loves learning language learning. She learned Italian and Arabic, and had a chance to practice her language skills as an intern at the US Embassy in Rome and while studying abroad at the American University of Cairo in Egypt.

Migratory Projects – Staying Positive

28 Feb

A few days ago, I watched a film on the trafficking of human beings through Mexico to the United States. This was not a documentary, but one of the few, Hollywood-like films made on this subject. Even though I work with “victims of trafficking in human beings” everyday, the emotion that filled me yesterday watching this movie reminded me how much I block out all the most painful, dehumanizing details of the pasts of the persons we help here at TAMPEP.

Sometimes we talk about the migratory projects of the girls we help. For example, how this or that girl’s migratory project was interrupted by the strong machine that is trafficking. A girl leaves Romania, Morocco, Brazil, or Nigeria, or many other countries with promises of great job opportunities in Europe. What sometimes happens? Instead of sending money home to her children she is caught in an exploitative situation, controlled by and indebted to her madam or pimp. Should she at least escape from the debt, the possibilities of finding jobs, especially ones with legal contracts, and of obtaining real documents are slim.

Even when I’m not thinking about the more dramatic scenes, like those in the movie, of some of the pasts of these women – walking days through the Sahara to reach an embarking point across the Mediterranean, being raped along the journey before even setting foot in Europe – the everyday reality here of simply not finding work is depressing enough. Immigrants especially face difficulties. Those with documents can search out work in factories, cleaning agencies, homes of elderly people, or among businesses of their cultural community. Racism, or at least strongly held stereotypes, I feel, are relatively still strong in Italy, and limits and makes this search even harder – especially to find dignity and respect, and most importantly, a contract from one’s employer.

Yesterday I went to the court house to hear the testimony of a madam several of the girls under the care of TAMPEP have denounced (see blog “Not Legal, But Tolerated” for explanation of this legal procedure). Again I witnessed disappointment – even though the woman being questioned was possibly a criminal who has profited off the shame and pain of many girls, I still felt the way some of the Italian lawyers and judges treated her and the translator was overly disrespectful. I would argue that even if the judges were already convinced of her crimes, her awfulness, I felt the whole ordeal was not taken seriously by their behavior. Granted, this was my first time at one of these proceedings, but I don’t think it’s ever very polite to laugh at the responses or confusion of someone, obviously throw bored glances around the room, or blatantly not pay attention to the person speaking.

This month I have tried to call attention to the fact that the women we help here at TAMPEP have had difficult pasts, and even when they persevere to denounce their exploiters, seek legal employment, many difficulties unfortunately still await them. Of course, that’s why TAMPEP exists, to help them with all these things, confrontations. It’s just that sometimes it seems so depressing. But we are strong and we want to help, and most importantly, these women are also very strong, and they do not give up easily!

Posted By Michelle Lanspa

Posted Feb 28th, 2009


  • Judy Quest

    February 29, 2008


    What you are saying, Michelle, is so true of so many people who are marginalized. They have lost their claim to their “stories” as humans. How great of you to recognize this. This is so true of so many old people as well. At least you recognize the dignity of these women and their struggle. Judy Quest

  • I wanted to share with you, and invite you to participate, in a competition on human trafficking. please read below for more details.

    ” Ending Global Slavery: Everyday Heroes Leading the Way”

    Humanity United and Ashoka’s Changemakers are launching a global online competition to identify innovative approaches to exposing, confronting and ending modern-day slavery.

    Today over 27 million children and adults are in slavery or bonded labor around the world—more than any other period in human history. As one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, slavery remains largely hidden from the public eye and thrives on the rising global demand for inexpensive, unskilled labor and commercial sex.

    “Ending Global Slavery: Everyday Heroes Leading the Way” aims to find holistic solutions to modern-day slavery by recognizing individuals and organizations that raise awareness of the issue’s root causes, liberate those in bonded labor, and reintegrate former slaves into their communities.

    The competition is hosted on http://www.changemakers.net. Funding will be awarded for the most innovative policy-level and grassroots models.

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