Coming to Italy was supposed to provide them with a good job and a better life. Instead, they are forced to sit on the side of the road for hours every day and sell themselves for a few euros. This is the reality of many girls who have been trafficked to Italy and forced to become prostitutes.

OM workers in Italy, along with women from local churches, have been working to support the trafficked girls and raise awareness about their situation. Almost every Thursday afternoon, members of the team go to the streets and talk to those they come across. Most of the girls they meet were brought from Nigeria.

Emma,* one of the women on the team, said building relationships with the girls was difficult in the beginning. “We had to gain their trust step by step” she said. “We could have been anyone. But gradually, they started to trust and to see that we wanted to help them.”

OM team member Katja* explained that the women need “to be shown they have value and a purpose in Christ—that their destiny is not in prostitution, but that there can be another option and a way out.”

The team has worked hard to develop friendships with the women. Every outreach, they greet them by name and offer food and something to drink. Sometimes they bring birthday gifts and clothes. They also provide Italian lessons, so that the girls can better integrate into society. The team is now well received, and many of the girls feel safe enough to trust them with their stories. By providing holistic care and support, OM ultimately aims to lead the women to hope and freedom in Christ.

Traffickers exploit the poverty, discrimination against and lack of opportunities for girls by giving them false promises of a better life in Europe. Some girls are sold by their own family members. The girls are brought into the country by boat or by plane then told they have to sell themselves in order to pay their debt. This debt, upwards of 30,000 euros is in exchange for passage to Italy and employment.

The traffickers use threats and voodoo to fill the women with fear and keep them on streets. They tell the girls if they try to escape, their family will be killed or they will be cursed. These convictions of possible harm have a powerful hold on the girls’ lives and prevent many from leaving the streets.

Working with trafficking victims can be challenging for the OM team when faced with the sheer enormity of the problem. Looking to the future, Katja hopes to be able to care for the women more holistically and to create a network of people who can address their different needs. She hopes to provide psychological and spiritual support to the women, as well as facilitating their social and economic integration. “Otherwise there is no realistic way to begin a new life,” she said.

The OM team wants to raise awareness of the realities of trafficking. “People say, ‘They earn a lot of money; it's their choice,’” Emma reported. “But it's not their choice.”

Another team member said she wished the men who bought the girls would realise they were buying women who are enslaved and prisoners.

“The exploitation affects the individuals for the rest of their lives,” Katja added. “Our culture’s mindset of selfishness and sin drives the trafficking forward. If there were no demand, there would be no trafficking.”

*Name changed for security

Do you have a heart for the vulnerable and marginalised? OM are looking for long-term anti-trafficking team members to work in Italy. Find out more here: uk.om.org/italy-anti-trafficking-team-member