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Failure to Assist

· Don Giovanni and under-age prostitutes on the streets of Rome ·

Powerful, evocative, imperious. The icon of the Good Samaritan appears in front of Don Giovanni Carpentieri each time he enters, along with a group of volunteers, into the path of the forgotten, in his modest car. That is Viale Togliatti on the outskirts of Rome. By day, a pulsing artery of a highway, by night a squalid seedy road, where many young people wait on the pavement under the lampposts. Lives lost while waiting for clients. A mirror of an existential hell with a frayed and broad fringe. 

A phenomenon no longer uniform as it could have been up until a few years ago, even if the main thread has always been going adrift. Six inch heels, hair extensions, bright red lipstick, young women, children even, who might have been mislead, but their identification card offers them no escape. Scarred lives, that have already had to suffer the weight of intolerable trauma, may perhaps be recoverable through the sweet gaze of the Good Samaritan. This is what Don Giovanni sees every time he steps into his car, animated by his faith and his wish not to remain inactive when faced with such disarray.

Rome with all its multifaceted vitality includes, unfortunately, not a few dark areas, populated by very young victims, women who at most are in their thirties. “After all, what’s wrong with it, is the justification of many girls." Don Juan does not like to go into detail about what the group of Samaritans finds every Wednesday night, week after week, month after month, with a heart that sometimes seems to burst with grief at not being able to do more, in a desperate search to establish human contact, strong enough to break the chains of psychological slavery.

Sometimes the girls are not forced into prostitution through slavery, racketeering, or the cycle of criminality, which forces immigrant women to sell themselves. Of course, they also exist, and there are many, especially Nigerian and Romanian girls, but next to them, slowly, another parallel, silent, and deceitful phenomenon is growing in Rome. Prostitution has become even more ambiguous. It has even crept into schools, amongst minors, in junior high school. “The whole system should question itself about what is happening under the eyes of all". This courageous priest uses a severe tone.

For fifteen years he has chosen to operate in the distant outskirts, going to find those on the periphery of society, just as Pope Francis indicated in his pastoral programme. "There is a great need to create a church present in the field, a hospital for the soul capable of accommodating, helping and listening to those who are on their knees, bleeding. There is great need for generous hearted Christians who are able to leave the boundaries of their lives to touch different worlds. The pastoral care that I carry on, regarding youth problems, has great need of reinforcement through volunteers”. The appeal of Don Giovanni extends to those religious institutions that possess buildings in the capital which were once full of novices but that are now partially empty, so they can make them available to house foreign girls in search of a different life.

"Unfortunately, in Rome, prostitution is a terrible issue, since the concept as we have known it has changed. There are 12 year old girls who have sex for phone credit, others do it to be able to afford a designer item, and others do it because others do, in short, in order to emulate the behaviour of others. It is as if for many young people the limit of what is right from what is wrong has been lost. Without any reflection on the value of their own bodies and their own identity".

On the street, in the evening, the volunteers also meet very self-assured Romanian prostitutes who, without mincing words, confess to being there because it is easier to earn that way, regardless of the consequences. A sign of the times. Police officers, judges and therapists, sociologists and educators know this social movement very well. The names fill lists long enough to trigger an alarm.

"To deal with such an emergency there should be adequate pastoral care. It takes energy and resources. At the moment I do not think that the answer we provide is able to oppose the vastness of the phenomenon”. The volunteers who accompany Carpentieri, before being used in the field, are adequately prepared. The impact of the reality of the situation can be psychologically difficult. Mercy is the lens through which they encounter victims. They need new eyes, but also a heart capable of expanding to embrace the wounds, to convey the message that life is terrible in the absence of mercy.

"The Pope insists a great deal on the outskirts. Our presence should be reformulated”. Don Carpentieri puts at the centre of this reflection the overall system of the capital city. That includes the inherent weakness of the family, the lack of effort of schools to provide positive role models to children, the decline of authority as a supporting concept, behavioural ethics oriented towards opportunism, materialism and relativism. The phenomenon of child prostitution that has emerged because of the investigation by the judiciary into the case in the Parioli, is just the tip of the iceberg. "The problem is that we do not reflect on why the system tends to be lenient with customers. Who are often fathers with families". In fact often we are speaking about parents of girls of the same age as the juvenile prostitutes. “A 15 year old teenager does not have a formed conscience, she is a twig that could also break. As they wear high heels and smoke cigarettes, no one wants to hear about paedophilia, because by law this offence only protects the under 14’s".

Don Giovanni shakes his head. And he is right to, because it is enough to talk to child psychiatrists and teachers to understand that between the ages of 13 and 16 years not changes in terms of psychological damage. The trauma will remain for the entire life. "The fact that the extent, severity, the horror of this phenomenon has not been detected, nor the consequent problems, makes it seem that we are living on the planet Mars. Yet it would be enough to go around and observe with watchful eyes. The problems of young people, their loss of values, the drift of so many, too many young people is palpable".

Staying to watch, not becoming indignant, not expecting U-turn amounts to failing to assist an injured person. The Good Samaritan would never have behaved like this.

Franca Giansoldati




St. Peter’s Square

Aug. 20, 2019