Italy and the Trafficking Issue

Consider your origin – you were not born to live like brutes.”[1]


I have had a longstanding love affair with Italy, its beauty and people for many years and have been travelling there since I was four years old.  Upon one such visit, almost twenty years ago, I was with my family in Rome and we ended up getting lost and found ourselves on the Via Appia. To the consternation of my parents and my brothers’ teenage glee, we found a number of ‘women of the night’ along the Appia, and numerous men acquiring their services. Another time, about a decade ago, my husband and I travelled between Pisa and Luca and were shocked to see a multitude of women, mainly African, sitting by the road side, plying their trade and their male ‘guardian’ checking on their ‘wellbeing’. I felt and thought very little about either incident at the time but since researching and raising awareness of trafficked women, I now realise that trafficking in Europe has been occurring for a very long time and is not a new or recent phenomenon.

This point has been further considered in Siddharth Kara’s book, ‘Sex Trafficking’[2]. This book is an insightful as well as an incredibly moving book, where the author has put himself in raw and dangerous positions in order to highlight the plight of trafficked women and children in various places, such as India, and Eastern Europe. But I was shocked to read about the proclivity of trafficking in Western Europe and Italy. Kara explains that the reason that Italy has such a high number of trafficked women is because it is one of the closest West European countries to the poorer countries of Central and Western Europe. Further because it has an extensive coastline that facilitates clandestine entry by sea, it is one of the top destinations of sex-trafficking victims in Western Europe. From Italy, victims are then re-trafficked to almost every country in Western Europe. The slave trade in Eastern and Western Europe is operated by organised crime, more than anywhere else in the world. Italy, in particular, is the hub in the female sex trade for numerous international mafia groups.

Despite the large number of sex slaves since the 1980s, there was no law that specifically addressed victims of human trafficking until 11 August 2003, when Italian law 228 was introduced.  However, Italy’s laws are very contradictory. Whilst Italian law 228 contains measures against trafficking in human beings and prescribes certain sentencing, there are no financial penalties and the levels of prosecution and conviction in Italy remains low. It is therefore no wonder that Italian society blames the foreign women, and not the men who ‘purchase’ their services, for the moral degradation of society. Where such viewpoint exists, it will always be hard to change the mentality of the people, and therefore, the protection and help available to trafficked women.

‘Sex trafficking, inside the Business of Modern Slavery’ is an excellent book and Kara sets forth several ways in which the plight of trafficked women and children can be dealt with – one such way is very simple – raise awareness. I therefore, ask that people read this book and become more aware, as this is the first step in helping to eradicate the problem.

I was recently told that Italy has a third of all the treasures in the world, and certainly its beauty is breathtaking. However, as Dante states, the greatest treasure in life is human freedom and that should never be compromised, and the Western world, especially Italy, needs to value this right and set forth a framework to stop the movement of enslaved persons and protect those “who live like brutes”.

[1] Durante degli Alighieri (Dante)

[2] Sex trafficking inside the business of modern slavery, 2009