I'm sure there are prostitutes where I come from, a small town in the Monterey Peninsula, California, USofA. I had just never had occasion to see one.
I can still remember the first time my older sister, Mrs. Unyee, took me sightseeing near her home in San Francisco. I was 14 and as we passed through Polk Street, I couldn't believe my eyes. Here were the women I had only heard of or seen portrayed on TV until then. I'm sure I must have made my sister drive through the area at least 5 times.
Here, we see prostitutes, one after the other, all along the rural roads to Ostia, Rome's seaside suburb. One patch of road seems to be the designated territory of African girls, most likely from Nigeria. As of 2004, statistically 60% of women forced into prostitution here in Italy are from Nigeria. Another stretch of road reveals paler skin; women from eastern Europe. From wherever they may have come, the scenario is much the same. One or two girls sitting on the side of the road, usually where there is a small curb of dirt or grass, some sitting on a single chair, some on a large rock or tree trunk and still others simply standing. Not at all the same working girls I first saw years ago in San Francisco. The girls here are rarely seen wearing fishnet stockings, bustiers or glitter make-up. Actually, they look like any number of women I might see buying groceries at the market or taking their children to school. They wait... they wait there for a customer and when he arrives, they lead him into the woods. Some have tents set up beyond easy view from the roads. Once, I saw a girl dragging a twin sized mattress in through the tall grass.
Every weekend, as my family and I make our way to Ostia, I see these women. I see cars pulling over, driving away, I see men pedaling their bikes out through the brush, girls reapplying their make-up and sometimes even changing their clothes. Curious by nature, I would like to talk to some of them, learn their stories, but Mr. Marito has strictly forbidden it. As I understand it, most, if not all, of these women are there not by choice, but because they have been forced into selling their bodies by criminal gangs. With the promise of legitimate work or study, they come. Then they find themselves robbed of their passports and possessions and forced to work as prostitutes in order to pay back the cost of having been brought over. As Mr. Marito says, "Unless you're there to do what people go there to do... it's dangerous."
It's disturbing and difficult to understand. I just can't get my head around it. I wonder if the circumstances are really so hopeless that they cannot escape or if they have simply resigned themselves to this fate. I haven't a clue. I can only imagine that whatever the threats may be - be it returning home, harm to themselves or family members - it's real and frightening enough that a large enough number of them can be readily found offering themselves to anyone willing to pay.