Major European countries, including Switzerland and Italy, are participating in sex trade, where Nigerian women, who are convinced they are cursed, are trafficked as prostitutes.
Stephen Fuchs, an expert in Nigerian immigration explained how a strange sex trafficking trend has developed. He stated many of these vulnerable women come from some of Nigeria’s most disadvantaged regions, including the Edo state. They are approached by a “benefactor,” a person who is actually a pimp in disguise, who offers them false promises of a better life in Europe. However, the women must first pledge an oath to cover the cost of the trip to Europe.
The women would be told they had incurred as much as 70,000 swiss francs ($70,410). This amount is much greater than the real cost of the travel, which frequently involve journeying across the Mediterranean in life-threatening conditions.
Once abroad, the traffickers would pretend to conduct a voodoo ritual, “juju,” which is a spiritual belief system in West Africa. During the ceremony, the “wizard” or “priest” would take blood, nail clippings and pubic hair from the victim and mix it with herbs. He would then cut off some of his own skin and place the mixture in the wound. At the end of the service, the victim is bound to the trafficker and to any debts she will incur. She is led to believe she is now under the influence of an evil spirit and if she breaks her oath, terrible things, like sickness, insanity and death, may happen to her and her family.
“You can’t simply tell them not to believe in the juju, because they have always lived with these beliefs. You have to give them an alternative,” said social worker Biel Amponsah, such as a more powerful god. “A lot of prostitutes sleep with a bible under their pillow – even if they don’t know how to read – to protect themselves from evil spirits.”
The fear of the juju curse is such that many women develop psychological problems. Psychologists in hospitals across Sicily said they have witnessed a growing mental health crisis among women who have been persuaded to leave their traffickers by law enforcement authorities or human rights advocates.
“These women, who are brought to us by our emergency staff, have been abused, they have been raped, imprisoned and blackmailed. Some of them are as young as 12,” said Dr Aldo Virgilio at Vittorio Emanuele hospital.
“Already this year we have seen 80 cases of women being brought to us, but many refuse food and treatment, they are afraid something is coming to hurt them. We cannot convince them that this is not the case,” he added. “We can treat their symptoms with drugs but this doesn’t resolve the deep-set psychological fractures that have occurred. So aside from the drugs there is little we can do for them.”
As such, these women prostitute themselves in miserable conditions and are often maltreated and abused by their pimps. Slavery can last around six years and all the money goes to the “benefactor.”
Once all the money has been reimbursed, the women are told they are freed from the black magic. However, without any skills or prospects, these poor women continue to prostitute themselves.
To add insult to the injury, a new way of exploiting these women have arisen. African women, disguised as “prophetess,” have set up what they deem are places of worship and invite young women who want to be freed of their traffickers.
One such Ghanaian woman in Palermo, Sicily, has created the Pentecostal Church of Odasani, where she invites women to stand in the middle of a circle while she “blesses” them with oil and water before “purifying” them.
“The spirit is forcing them to remain in a life of prostitution,” she said of her devotees. “When they come to Europe and realize they can’t live this life, they come to me and I help free them of this juju forever.”
This phenomenon is most rampant in countries that have port cities, like Italy, Spain, France or Portugal.
In 2016, 11,009 Nigerian women arrived in Italy, 80 percent of whom were victims of human trafficking. The United Nation’s International Organization for Migration reported there has been a 600 percent rise in the number of potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy since 2014.
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