Rome, Italy, Nov 5, 2016 / 09:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For religious sisters working to end forced-prostitution through human trafficking, there is one thing consistently left out of the conversation: the clients — who they are and how they are dealt with.
“We are especially looking at the problem of clients. It’s a topic no one talks about. Everyone talks about victims, victims, victims. It’s true, women become victims — of the passion of men,” Sr. Monica Chikwe told journalists Nov. 4. She pointed to how in the bible, there was a woman who had been caught in adultery and brought to Jesus, but “if in the act of adultery, I ask ‘where is the man?’ No one speaks about the man.”
“It’s the same thing today. Many speak about the victims, but who is using these victims? Who is the client?” Sister Monica asked, explaining that the clients aren’t homeless living on the street or men with some sort of mental disability. Instead, they are “good men, office men, fathers of families, men who put on a tie and go out on the street as if it weren’t a bad thing.” It’s these men who go out to exploit and use women, she said, adding that her organization seeks to address the problem of clients more directly at the State and government level.
Sr. Monica, a member of the RENATE network against human trafficking, spoke to journalists at a press briefing about their upcoming Nov. 6-12 conference in Rome, titled “The End of Trafficking Begins with Us.” RENATE is a European network of religious who are committed to work together in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation. Members consist of women religious, priests and laypersons who all have professional training in fields such as psychology, counseling, law and law enforcement.
Taking place at the Roman hotel Tra Noi, the conference focuses on the mission that they are “Called to give voice to the voiceless.” In addition to hearing several talks and visiting shelters, participants will also have an audience with Pope Francis Monday, Nov. 7.
In her comments to journalists, Sr. Monica, who has worked in Italy for a number of years, said what they will focus on, other than their slogan, will be how “to stop human trafficking beginning with you.” “It’s a topic in which each one of us must say, ‘what can I do so that this modern phenomena, this cancer, ends?’” she said, explaining that in her work with trafficked women forced into prostitution, the topic of clients is one of the most urgent.
She recounted the story of a young man who went with a group to distribute food and clothing to prostitutes in Rome. When they were getting out of their vehicle, he looked out and saw father’s car. “He was very shocked. It was something so big that this young man had to do rehab, because it destroyed everything for him,” Sr. Monica said.
In another example, the Sister recalled the story of a married man who worked in office, and one night called a prostitute before going home. As the two were headed out to have sex, the man’s wife called and asked if she should throw in the pasta, since it was his usual time to get home. However, the man said he still had a lot of work to do and that he’d call when he was on his way. Once he hung up the phone, the prostitute looked at him and said, “What love do you have for your family?” particularly given the love his wife had just shown him.
This problem, Sr. Monica said, “is one everyone needs to face,” particularly in a country like Italy, where domestic violence rates are especially high and a campaign is currently ongoing in a bid to end violence against women.
“Today we have many feminicides (killings of women) in society...because men use family resources and give them to the prostitute. The love he should have for his wife and family, goes to the prostitute,” she said, noting that when a man then goes home, “his wife is no longer anything.” “His wife is someone to eliminate, to kill. So this problem needs to be confronted from all sides! Because it’s ruining society at every level,” she said. “It must be confronted with the problem of the clients. And the clients aren’t in the sky, they’re among us.”
Sr. Imelda Poole, President of RENATE and a member of the English province of IBVM Loreto Congregation, told CNA that she thinks greed is the ultimate cause of human trafficking. “We’ve developed a society globally through consumerism, but it’s one in which to be rich, to be powerful, to reach your goal. But the richer you become, the more riches you want. And in that greed there’s an annihilation of love,” she said.
Greed also brings an annihilation of respect and human rights, she said, since the “total selfishness” driving greed “leads a person to become very brutal because their conscience becomes totally suppressed, because they’re only operating from themselves.” It’s ultimately “the ruination that’s the human being,” whether they are the trafficker or those being trafficked, she said.
Sr. Monica said that to end the market for trafficking, particularly forced-sex trafficking, education and the enforcement of laws are needed.
“If a girl is there all day today, tomorrow and no one calls her, the traffickers will understand that this merchandise needs to change,” she said. “It starts with the law, it starts with good education.” Modern society has lost the fundamental values that ought to govern the life and actions of the human being, she said, adding that “we must reform our conscience.”
While in many cases laws do exist, they are not applied, the Sister noted, saying they have helped several girls and young women that reported their traffickers, only to have them go to prison for a few days and end up back on the streets.
If the problem of trafficking is faced at its roots, “automatically the traffickers bring their product to the market, it’s not purchased, they will change their craft. The government must have a law that punishes and the law must be applied, whatever it is,” she said. Referring to Red Light Districts in some countries where prostitution is legal, Sr. Monica said “thank God” it wasn’t legalized in Italy, but in other European countries such as Germany the girls aren’t simply wandering the streets, but “are put in a glass container.”
“You have to go and cry” after seeing this, she said, “because they are in glass cases like dresses to go and choose.” “Many times this makes me cry,” she said. “It makes me cry because women shouldn’t be reduced in this way! Woman was not created for this! It isn’t licit for men to take women and make them merchandise!” We must “appeal to the consciences of men,” Sr. Monica said.
Since 2012, her organization has rescued and re-integrated 34 women in a systematic, personalized process. The problem must also be tackled at the root in the girls’ home countries, she said, because when they feel the need to leave due to a lack of opportunities or in order to provide for their families, “this is trouble.”
“Even when we rehabilitate them psychologically, they are damaged,” she said. “Effectively they are destroyed. Even humanly speaking, they are no longer persons. Because what happened is terrible.”
In her comments to CNA, Sr. Imelda said the role of religious women in the effort to end trafficking is key not only due to the professional skills of the members of their organization, but because “we come with a careful understanding that we’re here for protection.” “We’re here for rescue, but for protection and we understand the boundaries of our work,” she said, adding that “we work right across every discipline that can help support this work holistically.”
The key element of RENATE, she said, “is that we have love at the heart of our mission, and we are passionate about this.” Rather than seeking “competition or power or business acumen,” the Sisters are there because “we actually love the human person and we believe that it’s God’s will that each human being has a right to be fully who they were born to become.”