Jesus Forsaken: today's God
Struggling with the wounds of trafficked women

Betiana Colina
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Human trafficking in general and trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is one of the most evident manifestations that slavery has not been completely abolished yet. It is significant that in a Christian environment there are many initiatives in the world to overcome this very painful wound. The author of this experience, a woman focolarina, is volunteering part-time at “Villa Teresita,” committed in recuperating relationships that restore dignity and happiness to these women who have been hurt from life.

Villa Teresita began in 1942 in Spain by Isabel Garbayo, a woman open to the action of the Spirit and founder of the Association of the Auxiliares del Buen Pastor. Looking at Jesus as an example, Isabel undertook a “descending” way to meet up with the poor, excluded women, the evident faces of the prostitute woman, hurt in her dignity and violated in all her rights.

The name and spirituality derive from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Concretely, they live experiences of brotherhood in which consecrated women form a community with girls who have left situations of extreme poverty and social exclusion and want to come out of it. These houses want to be a place that gives them back life, love and hope.

Lay friends and other men and women volunteers collaborate part-time, being prepared by their charism. They create networks of friendship, accompanying the girls in their processes of release, and remind them of the life and presence of God’s Love.

«I approached an unknown world»

I started collaborating with Villa Teresita as soon as I arrived in Seville. Some time ago, I had heard about this association and it had struck me a lot on what they did and how they did it. Therefore, I soon went to pay them a visit. I wanted to know more about this work. At the same time, I thought it could be the place where I could offer my contribution. In this way, answering a long-standing question I had within: what can I do in front of the suffering of so much violence?

I must point out that the world of prostitution and human trafficking was completely unknown to me. I had only heard about it from the news and people’s comments. Therefore, when I saw the work done at Villa Teresita the desire to learn increased and this is what I do every time I meet with these women.

Six main principles of our work

Villa Teresita carries out a social plan and does it through the accompaniment of personal processes. Here is a summary of the basic principles that from the first moment of my commitment here I found deeply Gospel-based and respectful of the freedom and dignity of people:

Awareness of the realities involved. Besides our professional formation, the constant presence on the street and living in the house with the women coming from situations of social exclusion and prostitution consent a deep understanding of the reality we intervene.

Centrality of the person, in full respect of their freedom and their decisions, knowing that each person is the protagonist of their own story.

Attention to the particular situation of each person, whatever it may be, offering unconditional support.

Personalized accompaniment, in the awareness of the deep connection there is between affective and effective. At the centre of our work there are, therefore, honest relationships.

Encourage the development of personal competences of each of the women we are in contact with, in the conviction that all can grow and outdo themselves in the journey of life. We are convinced that each person is much more than the behaviour they had in a certain moment of their story and we try to give value to each little achievement.

No hurry. We are aware that the personal processes could be slow and this is especially so when a person has had to bear with heavy loads of suffering. We therefore strive to respect their rhythms.

Areas of intervention

Our intervention is articulated in an action on more fronts:

1. work on the street in areas of prostitution;
2. health and social services;
3. houses for women in situations of exclusion and victims of sexual exploitation;
4. personal and integral support for every woman during the whole process;
5. care for women, coming from situations of prostitution, detained in prison;
6. accompaniment of women from contexts of prostitution and/or victims of trafficking, hospitalized;
7. prevention, awareness and denunciation;
8. synergies with other organizations that work for human rights.

Women reduced to slavery

In relation to the trafficking in women and girls there are numerous studies that indicate the fundamental causes are feminisation of poverty, the vulnerability of victims of this crime, as well as the “thingization” of the women’s body as an object of consumption. I cannot deny the pain it causes me to hear their stories. Stories of pain and deceits. Of how they managed to get to this point. Women, like all others, with the hope of a better life, not only economically and socially, that unexpectedly they find themselves living “as slaves”, without knowing why, with a debt to pay between 30 and 50 thousand Euro. Their families of origin are also threatened so they convince themselves that this is how they must “pay” their stay, because they gave their word – certainly for another job, not that of trafficking! – and they fear that something really terrible could happen to them.

Having entered into a world that transforms them into merchandise, without an identity, to be used by anonymous “clients” who have no interest in them, they are still able to give their best smile when we speak to them as friends and we look at them positively. When, because of their relationship with us, they are able to share their sufferings and life situations, they are happy.

and learning together

Living the experience of the strong suffering of these women, I learnt to discover Jesus in his abandonment in their faces, in their lives and at the same time to discover him also in myself, in my incapacity to do more in order to give them a better life. Trying to remain fixed in him, I hope to be at least a bit of an instrument of God for them and I entrust them to him repeatedly. There is also another pillar on which this delicate commitment leans: being able to share what I live and do at Villa Teresita with my focolare and this gives me the certainty that I’m not alone when I go to meet these people.

An important step I took, before I began spending time with them, was to free myself from stereotypes, from ideas I had regarding their world. I had to put into my head that the best way was to look at them with a glance they needed: a glance that would give dignity; that dignity that each of us has, for the simple fact that they are a human person, made in the image of God and a daughter of God! This exercise helped me a lot to enter gradually into their worlds, their realities, which are so different to mine… I tried to have this disposition right from the start, however, I’m sure that many of those “stereotypes” that I unconsciously had, still risk to be present.

At the same time, I feel that I must put this attitude of openness into practice also with the other people I normally meet, with ways of thinking and doing that are so different to mine. I need a permanent training. Putting my values into play and opening up to others does not mean losing them but every time receiving an extra richness. Growing and learning thanks to people who are different to us could seem logical and obvious, but often it is not in our daily life. If we were fully aware of this, many things in our society could improve.