· Vatican City ·

To remain Joy, despite the horror

03 April 2021

Deceived by a family friend, she was convinced to leave Benin City, Nigeria, with the mirage of a job in Italy and the hope of helping her family back home. Dragged onto trucks and motorbikes, among unburied corpses in the desert. Locked up for months in camps in Libya, raped, and starved, she embarked on a rubber dinghy, crammed among dozens of bodies, with the fear of shipwreck. On arrival,  she was handed over to a greedy and cruel Madame in Castelvolturno, and forced into prostitution on the Domiziana, where she was reduced to a sex machine, and deprived even of her name. What’s more, after being raped, she was forced to abort in the fourth month of pregnancy, a baby she had already begun to love.

For months, in an Italy that seemed like “a second Libya”, no violence, abuse or humiliation was spared the young Nigerian woman whom her mother had christened Joy; because from birth she seemed destined to give joy. This until her escape and salvation, when she was welcomed within the solid walls of Casa Rut, the centre founded in Caserta by the Ursuline Sisters. It was there that Joy's “resurrection” began - as Mariapia Bonanate observes. She listened to this woman’s story and turned it into a first-person account in the book Io sono Joy [I Am Joy], published by San Paolo. A testimony that is a “patrimony of humanity”, wrote Pope Francis in the preface.

It is a story that can be read with pain, at times with horror, but which should nevertheless be read because it is the story shared by thousands of sex slaves, bought and sold on the streets of Italy (between 30 and 40 thousand women, Anna Pozzi notes in the afterword), often looked at with contempt, as if they were responsible for their misfortune, and not those who use and exploit them.

Today, Joy works in the NewHope Store, the Casa Rut cooperative shop, making flowers from scraps of fabric. “There is no waste that cannot bloom”, says Sister Rita Giaretta, the founder of Casa Rut.  Sister Rita was the first person in Italy to offer Joy the consolation of an embrace, on the day when, having washed herself clean of the filth of prostitution, she looked up at the sun and repeated the phrase that had sustained her on her journey: “God never sleeps”.

by Bianca Stancanelli