Saving prostitutes or chasing out sex workers: Don Benzi, Abruzzo and deforestation

I vividly remember my visit to the Bonifica del Tronto road. It happened during a brief gig I had evaluating projects funded by the European Commission’s Daphne Programme (to combat violence against women); I was visiting a helping project on the coast nearby, accompanying people called cultural mediators in their outreach trips to see people selling sex along this road. We parked, got out of the van and approached a tall black woman who said, before the mediator could even speak: I don’t want to go to any house. Don’t talk to me about going to any house.

In this area of Italy a well-known roman catholic priest, Don Benzi, used to come to talk to prostitutes and take them to one of his safe houses. An obituary from 2007 says:

Above all, he was known for his confrontation with pimps and the prostitutes who can be seen touting for custom at Italy’s roadsides. Benzi was no liberal — he regarded homosexuality as deviancy — but he was a passionate crusader against prostitution, which he regarded as a form of violence against women perpetrated by their clients. If there was no demand, he would say, there would be no supply.

The second sentence is strange – surely it should read he was no liberal AND was a passionate crusader against prostitution? Anyway, note that he was an early propagator of the simplistic idea of supply and demand in prostitution markets: take away one and the other disappears. In 2001 Don Benzi claimed to have saved 3000 girls over a ten-year period. I don’t want to make fun of someone who dedicated his life to helping others, specially unhappy teenagers. I only point out that not everyone wants to be saved his way, and a lot of people in Rescue jobs cannot understand that.

In the story below, ecological activists are outraged because local authorities plan to chop down hundreds of trees along this same road, in another simplistic formula: take away the trees and the sex workers disappear. Maybe, but where’s the next bunch of trees?

Italy to combat prostitution by cutting trees

John Hooper,, 12 October 2010

. . . For decades, local law enforcement and politicians have struggled to police the Bonifica del Tronto road, a haven for the sex trade that runs inland for more than 10 miles from the Adriatic coast alongside the river Tronto. Over the years, cameras have been installed, raids mounted, 24-hour patrols implemented and the mayors of towns near the road have signed bylaws imposing fines on prostitutes’ clients. All to no avail.

At the end of last month, the regional government’s public works chief . . . said he had agreed with provincial and municipal representatives to cut down all the vegetation “around and along the banks [of the river Tronto]”, in which the prostitutes ply their trade. . .

A census this month by an NGO found almost 600 prostitutes at work on the Bonifica del Tronto. Most were Nigerians, but they included Romanians, Brazilians, Albanians and Chinese. . .

– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

7 thoughts on “Saving prostitutes or chasing out sex workers: Don Benzi, Abruzzo and deforestation

  1. Pingback: Don Benzi | Prostitutes | Rescue | Deforestation | Italy | Border … central university

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  3. Pingback: Don Benzi | Prostitutes | Rescue | Deforestation | Italy | Border … city university

  4. Quiet Riot Girl

    It makes me think of that Joni mitchell song: ‘they took all the trees, and put them in a tree museum. They charged the people a dollar and a half just to see them…’

  5. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Don Benzi | Prostitutes | Rescue | Deforestation | Italy | Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex [] on

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