Nigerian trafficking survivors in Italy help each other

Source: Wed, 9 Nov 2016 08:45 AM
Author: Cormac O'Brien
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Photojournalist Quintina Valero’s images focus on West African women who have been trafficked into sex slavery in Italy after crossing North Africa and the Mediterranean.

Most of the women are from Benin City in Nigeria’s southern Edo State. Traffickers often enslave their victims with crippling debts, threats of violence and “juju” rituals that bind them to their pimps through fear.

The main agents of this crime are women, “madams” who are themselves often former sex slaves. They recruit girls from friends or family members. They deal with the traffickers who provide travel document and transport and arrange contact with other madams in Italy.

This is part of our special series 'Links in the trafficking chain, a collection of investigative stories to shine a light on some of the more surprising perpetrators of trafficking – from the extraordinary to the banal.

  • Princess arrived in Italy in 1999, forced into prostitution to pay off a 45,000 euro ($50,000) debt to the smugglers who arranged her journey there. A priest and an Italian man who would later become her husband helped her clear her debts, after eight months in Turin. She went on to set up a charity to help rescued survivors like herself. Once a month, she buys food for refugees and trafficking survivors who live in the city.

  • After securing asylum and getting a residence permit, Princess decided to stay in Italy and, with her husband, help other victims of trafficking break out of the sex trade. In this photo, a Nigerian woman who works as a prostitute on the outskirts of Asti city receives condoms from Princess. Princess informs sex workers of their rights and tells them about protection programmes available to them.

  • Many sex slaves do not denounce their traffickers as they fear something terrible will happen to them or their families. Princess and Alberto work with police and border authorities to identify victims of trafficking as soon as they arrive in Italy. They place the girls in apartments that they share between four or five girls or with Nigerian families. Survivors who denounce their traffickers are given residence permits and their families back in Nigeria are also protected.

  • In 1999, Princess founded PIAM Onlus with her husband to help trafficked women and those trapped in prostitution. These days, asylum seekers and victims of sex trafficking are entered into the SPAAR programme (System for the Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees) set up by the Italian government in 2002. This allows them to get accommodation, food, work, education and help integrating into Italian society.

  • Princess gathers with other Nigerian women after a Pentecostal church service in Asti. Though most Nigerians are Christians, animist religious practices remain a powerful tool for traffickers who threaten victims with “juju” rituals to ensure their silence.

  • Fatou arrived in Italy in 2014 from Gambia. Her “madam” gave her $10,000 for her journey to Libya via Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and the Sahara Desert.

  • Fatou and Patience live in a shelter for trafficked women in Asti. 90 percent of women trafficked to Italy come from Edo State in southern Nigeria, but there is a rise in young girls from Gambia like Fatou.

  • Patience, a 28-year-old Nigerian survivor of trafficking, entered Italy’s protection programme and now sews Nigerian dresses for other women in the community.

  • Loveth was forced into prostitution for three years in Libya, before her trafficker arranged her trip to Italy in 2014.

  • Precious entered a protection programme after fleeing Nigerian criminals who used a machete to interrogate her about her boyfriend's disappearance. Her boyfriend was apparently involved in the sex trafficking business.

  • Precious, Loveth and other women receive vocational training at an Italian restaurant.

  • Ese, a Nigerian victim of trafficking, works at a chocolate factory in Asti. She has been granted a two-year residence permit

  • Princess has helped create a largely female Italian-Nigerian community determined to rescue women and girls from the hands of traffickers. Success, a former victim of sex trafficking, celebrates her birthday with friends at her home in Asti.

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