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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 102 (Suppl.), December 2006









1. The final document of the I International Meeting of pastoral care for the liberation of women of the street has been published. Would you like to say something about the event?

A. The meeting was held at the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, in Rome. In addition to the superiors of the Pontifical Council, it was attended by five Dicastery officials; two Bishops; various priests, religious and lay people; delegates from the Bishops’ Conferences of nineteen European nations, namely Albania, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Denmark (Nordic countries), England, Estonia, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland; and delegates, including experts, from countries in other continents, namely the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Nigeria and Thailand. Also present were delegates of the USG (Union of Superiors General) and the IUSG (International Union of Superiors General); CELAM; the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC); the Association of Pope John XXIII Communities; the Legion of Mary and representatives from other associations that carry out apostolic work in this area; and a delegate from Caritas Internationalis. 

2. What were the conclusions of the meeting?

Let me call to mind some key points:

  1. Prostitution is a form of modern day slavery 
  2. There is a link between migration, human rights and trafficking of human beings.
  3. The causes of prostitution
  4. Who is the victim? 
  5. Who is the “client”? 
  6. Relationship between men and women

In this regard, the final document observes that the relationship between men and women “is unequal because violence or the threat of violence give men privilege and power and can make women silent and passive. Women and children are often pushed out onto the street because of the violence they experience from male members in the home who have “internalized”the violence embedded in ideologies and social structures. Sadly women also participate in oppression and violence towards other women, and they are often found within criminal networks connected with the growth of prostitution.”

Role of the Church 

In this regard, I will only recall that

1.    The Church has a pastoral responsibility to promote the human dignity of persons exploited through prostitution and to advocate for their liberation and economic, educational and formative support. The Church must take up the defence of the legitimate rights of women.

2.    Moreover, training programmes for pastoral agents are necessary to develop skills and    strategies in order to struggle against prostitution and trafficking in human beings. These are important ways of engaging priests, religious men and women and lay people in the prevention and reintegration of victims. Collaboration and communication among churches of origin and destination are seen to be essential.

3. What did the participants in the meeting suggest?

1.    It is necessary for the Church to carry out a whole program to liberate the women of the street.   

Then, to fight prostitution, a multi-dimensional approach is needed. It must involve both men and women in mutual transformation, and human rights must be at the core of any strategy. All Christians are called to be in solidarity with all women who are “prisoners” of the street. In any case men have an important role to play in helping to achieve gender equality, in a context of reciprocity and just differences. The exploiters (generally men), who are “clients”, traffickers, sex tourists, etc., need to be educated both regarding the hierarchy of human values and rights. They also need to hear a clear condemnation of their sin and the injustice they commit by the Church, if not by the State.

The text also calls to mind the role of the Episcopal Conferences and of Religious congregations. 

2.    It is also necessary to achieve collaboration.

(a) Full cooperation among public and private agencies is required if sexual exploitation is to be obliterated.

(b) It is also necessary to collaborate with the mass media to ensure correct communication about this problem.

(c) Furthermore, the Church must demand the enforcement of laws protecting women against the scourge of prostitution and trafficking of human beings. It is also important to advocate for effective measures against the demeaning portrayal of women in advertising.

(d) The Christian community also needs to be encouraged to work with national and local authorities to help the women of the street find alternative sources of livelihood. 

3.    On education and research, the document affirms that:

(a) Considering carefully the target group, it is important to discuss the problem of prostitution without neglecting the Christian vision of life, with youth groups in schools, parishes, and families in order to develop correct opinions about human relations, gender, respect, dignity, human rights and sexuality. Of course formatorsand educators should take into account the cultural context in which they are working. However they should not allow a sense of embarrassment to prevent them from engaging in appropriate dialogue on these topics, in order to create awareness and concern about the use and abuse of sex and love. 

(b) Education and awareness raising are vital in order to tackle gender injustice and create gender equality in a context of reciprocity and just differences. Both men and women need

  • to be made aware of how women are exploited and
  • to know their rights and responsibilities.

(c) The Church needs to teach and spread its moral and social doctrine, which gives clear guidelines for behaviour and calls for a commitment to work for justice. Working at various levels for the liberation of women of the streets – at local, national and international ones, is an act of true Christian discipleship, an expression of true, christian love (cfr 1 Cor 13,3). 

4.    The last point that I would like to bring up concerns services to be rendered.The Church can offer a wide variety of services to victims of  prostitution: shelters, referrals, health care, telephone hotlines, legal assistance, counselling, vocational training, education, substance rehabilitation, advocacy and information campaigns, protection against threats, links with family, assistance for voluntary return and reintegration into their country of origin, assistance in obtaining a visa to remain when return is impossible. In any case the meeting with Jesus Christ, the good Samaritan and saviour, is a very important factor of liberation and redemption also for the victims of prostitution (cfr At 2, 21; 4,12; Mc 16, 16; Rm 10,9; Fil 2, 11; 1 Ts 1, 9-10).