Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Nigerian SexTrade

A record number of women from Nigeria arrived in Italy over the past year and fears have been raised that many fell victim to Europe's growing sex trade. More than 1,200 Nigerian women came to Italy by boat in 2014 compared to 300 the previous year, according to a new report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime named Nigeria as one of the worst eight countries in the world for human trafficking.

Evidence gathered in Nigeria by Sister Eugenia Bonetti, who has been internationally recognised as a driving force in the fight against human trafficking, suggests one-in-three women in Benin City, Nigeria, have been approached by local traffickers who promise them non-existent jobs if they go to Europe. Many of the women who agree are then raped, beaten, and psychologically abused by members of the Nigerian mafia that control the trade. The use of systematic violence throughout the women's journey is aimed at preparing them for intensive exploitation once in Europe. In Nigeria, recruiters from criminal syndicates often pose as benefactors offering to front the money for the women's trip. The women are then often taken to a witch doctor, who performs a voodoo ceremony in which the women vow to repay the sum - and are told that if they fail to do so, they will die or become insane.
"Their belief in the power of the rite is so entrenched that often after pressing charges against their exploiters, many of them experience an acute feeling of suffocation," De Masi said.

A study conducted by the Italian NGO Be Free, which supports victims of trafficking and gender-based violence, found that in 2011 there were 30,000 Nigerian women who had been forced into prostitution. Many feel unable to leave under pressure from the debt incurred during their trip - which can run as high as 65,000 euros ($74,000), according to Francesca De Masi, who co-authored the Be Free report.

"We documented the existence of brothels in Libya run by the Nigerian mafia where many of the women were initiated into the trade," said De Masi, who has also co-authored a book on the trafficking of Nigerian women to Italy.

Under Italian law, victims of sex trafficking can be granted residency in order to access the state-run welfare system. In 1998, Italy passed into law Article 18, which grants residence permits to victims of human trafficking. But the intense psychological manipulation and physical abuse to which the women are subjected during their journey often dissuades them from trying to obtain a residence permit when they reach Italy. Analysts warn too many of these women fall through the cracks of a system geared towards controlling migration, with a disproportionate number living in Italy in a state of near slavery.

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