How does one deal with victims of trafficking and migrant sex workers? How does one help someone whose only opportunity in life is to go abroad and try to find a better life there and work – and what if it happens to be prostitution then what? What can NGOs, like TAMPEP really do for these people- can they go beyond providing daily necessities of life and address the more underlying sources of their situation?
These are the questions that haunt me while I am driving around Turin and its environs with Unita di Strada or talking to the social workers here at TAMPEP. On the one hand, there is the dissemination of information – on health, AIDS/HIV prevention, STDs – and this is an important part of our work. The aim is to protect the sex workers from diseases they can contract while working; inform them about their rights, access to public health services and lawyers that work pro bono for TAMPEP. Having gone out the street several times now, I can see how important this part is – we are truly empowering these women to take control of their lives, even if only the small part of it, like their health. This has been an empowering lesson for me as well – from an observer, I had become an active advocate of these issues, right here in Turin, talking to Nigerian and Liberian girls about their situation, informing them about TAMPEP, our services ,etc.
But there are also cases of girls who decided to denounce their traffickers – and take advantage of the Article 18, an Italian law that aims at help and protection of victims of trafficking. Sometimes, however, the girls take literal advantage of this law – like in the case of Sara, a girl TAMPEP has been working with since early May. Sara is a young Nigerian, beautiful and bright girl in her late twenties. Like many other girls, she comes from a large Nigerian family with six sisters and three brothers. Sara found her way to TAMPEP through one of our volunteer cultural mediators and was ready to denounce her traffickers almost right on the spot. TAMPEP found a temporary shelter for her and commenced the procedure under the Article 18. One of the first steps was for Sara to write down her story – she recounted being trafficked from Nigeria in 2003 after being approached by a school friend who told her about people in Nigeria that could help her to study and work legally in Italy. While in Nigeria she was encouraged to learn Italian. Later, before departure, she was given fake documents with her real picture but false name. Having arrived into Italy, she was forced into prostitution (also by means of vodoo), later ran away, tried to contact the police, which gave her the notice of expulsion, and finally met TAMPEP staff.
What really is true about this story is hard to tell – it surely sounds like a classical case of a trafficked victim. TAMPEP staff verified it and found out that Sara was already deported from Italy before 2003 and later came back. Even if her first arrival into Italy in the late 1990s was a case of trafficking, next time she came back voluntarily, being aware of the conditions in Italy and her possible work.
Although there is no doubt that Sara needs help, there is now little that TAMPEP can do for her – she faces deportation and stands little chance of staying in Italy legally. Her case exemplifies however the desperation of these girls to legalize their situation and get a better life in Italy; also, the way in which girls can take advantage of the system in place. Can we judge them and condemn them for that, however? Only those who have seen the absolute poverty and life without opportunities that these girls have to face can have any notion of it. In the end, if your only opportunity for a better life is trafficking and prostitution is that a choice at all?
Posted By Ewa Sobczynska
Posted Jul 20th, 2005