During an encounter with young people of the world, in March 2018, Pope Francis said, in response to an African girl victim of prostitution, that “human trafficking is a crime against humanity and serving as women is a crime […] If a young man has that habit of leaving her. Because he becomes a criminal. It’s not making love, it’s torturing a woman.”1
Recent studies suggest that only 5% of women engaged in this activity consider it “a job like any other” and claim to have freely chosen it. The rest, that is, 95%, argues that he does it out of necessity, because he has no other way out to make a living and ensures that he doesn’t like or want it for his daughters.2
Francis himself, in his dialogue with young people, defined it as “the slavery of the present”, and emphasized that “in Italy, 90% of customers are baptized, Catholic. And there are many,” he said with grief.
In Cuba, although as a phenomenon we do not know the magnitude it reaches, prostitution exists, it has always existed. While in the wake of the revolutionary triumph of 1959 the situation of women who practiced this “office” changed greatly, mainly due to the education and development options that appeared for them, the material deficiencies that crossed the island in the early 1990s, the rapid circulation of the dollar and the openness to international tourism , led to the spread of the sex trade as a mode of survival that until today is maintained, being accompanied by other trends or manifestations.
Present in Cuba since 2007, the Slave Adoratric Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and Charity seeks to approach women affected by various forms of slavery, especially prostitution. With great international experience, the sisters of this religious institute, following the first vocation of their founder, St Mary Micaela of the Blessed Sacrament, welcome young people exposed to this reality and through various actions of accompaniment and formation, help them to remake their lives, which is equal to saying: grow and liberate.
The Adoratrics, as they are often identified, work inspired by the Magisterium of an outing Church that proclaims Christ as their true leader. The dynamic of an act that made no distinctions and whose gaze rested, preferably, on the marginalized and the forgotten, is the same one that crosses the making of sisters in Cuba. They go out looking for these women, they don’t expect them. They reach the spaces where they prostitute themselves and there they invite them to participate in their development experiences. That is the proposal and his way of communicating to Jesus Christ.
Of course, such a work cannot be closed in a temple, because it suffocates, it gets sick. The dynamic of always being on the way out, invites her to constantly reinvent he hem to respond to the typicities of every environment, time or social circumstance. Cuba, for example, was a major challenge, for which the congregation had to adjust ways of intervening. “Prostitution in this country is not as visible as in other places where we work, but although more overlapping, it is. Just look beyond our noses and we come up with an alarming situation, in which the woman is the biggest victim,” says one of the Adoratrices who works on the island today.
More than numbers, they are names…
According to what Sister Lucia Mocho, Bolivian, tells us, the purpose of this religious community is for women victims of prostitution to discover their values, know their potential and achieve their personal integration and social reintegration. “For this we have conceived the Sicar Program, as a space where they receive guidance, psychosocial care and general support, while offering them the opportunity to join other training courses and workshops within the Catholic Church.”
There could be more than three hundred women benefiting from the Sicar Program in Havana, but the figure loses importance when we hear the testimony of some of them, who today recognize themselves free, safe and able to undertake life without having to expose themselves to a sexual relationship in which they are only considered objects.
Sister Lucia, most women who join the Program, say they arrive with low self-esteem, countless fears and anguish for years to come. “Many – not to be absolute – feel dirty, not worthy of respect, affection and, much less, admiration. Listening to them, it’s easy to imagine how many traumas, frustrations, hatreds, violence, perversions… accumulate in their bodies and in their minds. They have experienced sexual experiences where what averages is the payment for a service, and that service involves very degrading acts.”
Almost ninety-nine percent of the young women who have integrated this Program in Havana, the sister assures us, entered prostitution for economic or family needs: “They are girls who come from other provinces, without housing in the capital and, therefore, without work, because they have no domicile address that will protect them. Some say that where they come from, they don’t find what to do or what to eat. Havana looms as a paradise, but by not finding what they expect, they begin to seek life in a different way and enter prostitution.”
“We focus on awakening in them all the potential they have so that they can live an autonomous life,” she explains. “We offer psychosocial, educational and human training alternatives. We provide training workshops, craft classes, physical activities, experiences of training… We include singing therapies and also drama classes. We have seen that the workshops are very positive to them, because many of them express through the arts what they have lived, and that allows them to unload their anxieties, express the pain and share it. It’s very beautiful when you see that the agobio maintained falls, but the more rewarding it is to see them stand up and say, ‘I can see myself differently.’ And they look differently, because they realize that they can sing, make crafts, study a language… perform in the theater, start a small business.”
In some activities related to the Program, the Adoratrices have involved family members and friends of the beneficiaries. In this way, the family also begins to live an awakening. “It’s not that only they look differently, the sister says, but that they see them differently.”
Making life present among women who prostitute themselves or are victims of other expressions of violence, is the mission of these religious, women too, who find in the worship of The Sacramentd Jesus the greatest of inspirations. However, his work makes no distinctions. For them, the important thing is people’s rights. They don’t care if they are believers, atheists, if they have another religion, if they want to become… They evangelize through their work, the relationship they establish with girls. Of course, if anyone wants to start a path of faith, they accompany it.
Today there are many numbers that translate into specific faces and names of women who have grown in self-knowledge, have improved their emotional stability and managed to develop basic skills for employment, find work and, in some cases, start their own business.
He’s twenty-five years old. He lives in Havana, is a natural of a rural town of Granma. At the age of sixteen he left his home, always wanted to be independent, but confesses that the birthplace did not offer him many options to get ahead. That’s why he came to the capital. At home he left his mother and sister; his father went on an internationalist mission to Venezuela and for three years they knew nothing about him. After time he returned married to a Venezuelan.
“As a result of all that, I decided to leave my house. Although my parents split up, my mom then wanted to go back to him and I didn’t agree, I’d rather see her alone than continue with a person who for years erased us from her life. That was what my open sexual orientation added to, I’m gay, and that brought me a lot of problems with the people of the village.
“I’m passive, but because I’m gay there’s always been people looking to assault me. And always, without even realizing me, when I was younger, I was in police trouble. I was insulted, and because I was so young, I reacted explosively and ended up in a street fight. In my criminal record are facts for which I was not even held trial and yet appear there as a mark for life. I was a focus in that field, I had to go.
“I came alone, I rented, I went through work, hunger, need… First I lived in Mayabeque, then I met a girl and she pulled me to Havana. It drove me crazy, manipulated me the way I wanted… He was the one who invited me to do things that had never passed through my head. Terrible things that embarrass me. If I think about what I did, how I prostituted myself to gain a few pesos, I get enormous sadness. I never felt comfortable, let alone happy.
“Only now, having spent this experience with the Adoratrices, do I realize that I had no need to do any of that. I have ease for crafts, I love craftsmanship, drawing, working with wood, making bonsai… I’m good at it. In fact, now I’m finishing setting up my own tattoo studio.”
Sarah worked as a tattooist when she met the sisters. He entered the project with his partner, who occasionally insisted and even convinced her to prostitute hesit and make money.
“There was a sister, Begoña, who is no longer in Cuba, to whom I owe my freedom. She gave me a lot of advice, she accompanied me, she deceived me, but always with the desire to help me get out of the life she led. He said, ‘Look, you have to be independent, make your life; you’re able to get ahead on your own.’ I was right. In the program I learned crafts very quickly, I loved the courses, I participated in each group therapy. As I listened to the terrible stories the other girls told, I realized that I had everything to rethink my life, and that whole thing was myself. Of course, that sick, dependency relationship I had with my partner ended it.
“At the end of the Program, the sisters gave me money to open my own business. I know they did it because they trust me. But I had appendicitis surgery and I was serious; I spent three months outside Havana. I lost the place where I was living, that is, the rent where I was; I ran out of nothing. Thank God, the place where I am about a year ago appeared, and I currently set up my own tattoo studio; I have to finish it soon.
“The Sister Program changed my life. There were testimonies of other girls who helped me a lot, stories that shocked me. I remember in some encounters, listening to them, she would say, ‘Well, if all that happened to her and she was able to get out of that world, why am I not going to be able to?’ Most of them prostitute and have a partner next door that she recognizes as her husband. That’s exactly who sends her to the street and then takes the money away from her. And if she doesn’t make it with money, he beats her to the dead, even in front of the children. Here I saw many of those beaten women, that hurt in my soul. Others had family problems, their parents threw them out of their homes if they didn’t bring money.
“The easiest way, apparently, is to go out on the street and for a little money, sell your body, do anything the customer asks for. For me, I confess, it was never easy. And I’ll never do anything like that. Currently I can work with what I have… I’ve been in the tattoo business for eight years. I have helped and taught others, who thank me and get to where I am and support me.
“Plans? Buying my house, from there to there I don’t know what to say… I’m never going back to the life I had. If I ever met someone and tried to get them back to prostitution, I’d show them the program. I would invite her to talk to all those girls for just five minutes to tell her about her life. just five minutes so you know how cruel that life you want to lead is.”
When I was a kid, her mother was always out. She and her little brother were being looked after by some acquaintance. Mom was a prostitute. They lived in Guantanamo. Her childhood is accompanied by dark memories, such as that afternoon when she visited the home of a family acquaintance to collect sandals and he tried to rape her. From there he came out bleeding from the head, half naked, the clothes shattered… I was eight or nine years old.
“I’m a graduate of Accounting, and I worked on it, but since I didn’t see any results, I didn’t keep exercising it. It was about sixteen years old, in Santiago de Cuba, where my dad lived, that I had my first relationship with a foreigner. That man almost tripled my age. I didn’t have such a hard time with him, he took me to nice places, we talked, but in return I had to put up with a lot of heaviness, offense and mistreatment.
“Then I had other similar relationships and because I cared nothing, I pleased their demands without much caressing about mine, for as a person and woman I am, I also needed affection, affection, caress. After a while on that, I got out. I even worked at the Guantanamo dairy company. I needed to see another kind of life, another change, but in the end I fell into the same thing. And there were friendships – not so friends were actually – that immediately bewred me, and because the economic situation was very difficult, prostitution was a quick and easy way to have money.”
She clarifies that she is a woman who has fallen in love and has been faithful to her stable partners. She never agreed to be any pimp’s girl. The money earned as a prostitute has been for her and her daughter, who is now ten years old.
“In Havana I met my daughter’s father. We lived three very happy years, but then everything changed. He began to stay out of the house on the pretext that he had to look for money. When I was pregnant, I discovered the worst of him: his aggression. Six months pregnant, I got hit so hard that I thought I was losing my belly.
“I started rejecting it. I had the option to go with my mom, go back to Guantanamo, but she was older and sick, and I thought we’d be a burden. For eight years I lived under the same roof as my daughter’s father, but I didn’t even find out anything I was doing outside the house. At some point they told me he was jockeying the same with women as he was with men.
“On one occasion, a very young pregnant girl came to the house. He told me the son was his. I was very sorry for that woman. I called him and in front of me they talked, they argued… and me, in the middle, as if I were a vase. I asked him to go with her, for I cared little about him; he served neither as a man nor as a father. I just wanted to have some time to organize my ideas, get out of that house and find a place to mess with my daughter. He came back apologizing, but I didn’t apologize.
“From that day on I focused on finding my money to get ahead. What good was it for me to be quiet at home, if I didn’t have a quiet family. I just didn’t have a family. I wouldn’t even want to remember everything I’ve lived with that person. He’s done with me.
“Being with him, I met a man, Cuban, but he doesn’t live in Cuba, and he helped me a lot. Thanks to him I was able to build the house where I live with my daughter. He was away for a while and in that meantime I met someone else who was very good to me, but he was very jealous. Now she’s in jail, I’ve accompanied him, only as a friend, until a certain moment, it’s a relationship that doesn’t lead me to anything good.
“I worked at the Angels Fair for some time. That’s where he was reselling clothes. Although I’ve never found any pleasure in going to bed for money, I’ve been doing it out of necessity. Clients have always been looking for them by other girls, I don’t even talk, I’m painful, shy. I’m looking to get out of that situation quickly and get out of here. I don’t want that much conversation; totally, that man is not going to marry me or interest him at all, just to unload his dirt on me.
“I met the sisters because they gave me a card in one of the places where they know we’re looking for customers. That day, I remember, I was very worried about money, I didn’t have to feed my daughter. So I took the card, but I didn’t listen to it much. Then I went over it and wanted to know what it was about. I really felt really bad. I didn’t want to go on with that life. Although I have kept my daughter well away from all this, I was worried that she would see something and want, as I did with my mother, to follow the same path.
“I decided to visit the sisters and from that day on my life began to change. It’s not a thing today for tomorrow, it takes time… You let go of fears, you learn to create with your hands, maybe small crafts, but you realize that with your hands you can invent. And that’s great. You stop feeling dirty, you settle into what little you have: clothes, food, the house… You focus on what’s really important.
“Thanks to the sisters I was able to set up a small, minimal hairdressing business. Every once in a while I sell clothes, and that’s how I go banding. But I haven’t prostituted again. And I’ve seen them hard, hard… but in the end, I always have a plate of food to put my daughter on the table.
“I do want to have a person by my side, but let it be to fight together, walk together for life and without any mistreatment. I used to walk down the street and feel like I was tied up. today I feel free, I’m not worried, I’m not afraid to raise my head. It’s like I have everything insurance. I’m calm.”
1 Published https://www.semana.com on 3/19/2018 and accessed 3 February 2020.
2 Soledad Muruaga: “Prostitution and health”, published in https://www.mujeresparalasalud.org, consulted on 3 February 2020.
3 Ibid., note 1..