Sex Slavery: How Nigerian trafficking survivors in Italy are helping each other (Photos) Thomson Reuters Foundation has published "Princess, a life helping victims of sex trafficking" a project where brave Nigerian human trafficking survivors, mostly from Edo State, shared their lives, stories and how they are helping each other. Her task is to identify human trafficking victims among the detainees, offer them counselling and legal help, and get them moved to a shelter. The lawyer established the most important thing: that the woman who had trafficked Susan would not see her. When Susan’s turn to see the judge came, she was shaking, but she quickly got over her nerves. The Nigerian mafia has built Italy into a European hub, smuggling cocaine from South America, heroin from Asia, and trafficking women by the tens of thousands. Increasingly, the Nigerian migrants being forced into prostitution are minors, some as young as 13, according to the International Organization for Migration's 2017 report on human trafficking. Once every two weeks, Quinto, Be Free’s in-house criminal lawyer, joins the team in Ponte Galeria to help women who want to press charges against their traffickers. That woman was Susan. She finally picked up and told Ivie she could not talk because she had been caught by the police. Four years after she escaped her traffickers and filed the criminal complaint that would uncover an international trafficking network, Susan’s life is still in limbo. But Marianne, frightened and alone, ran away and went back to the madam, the only adult she knew in Italy. The madam would regularly check in with the Nigerian and Arab men who served as jailers. In 2018, she had spent two months in Nigeria’s Edo state to research the country’s anti-trafficking efforts. “That’s when I decided to leave,” Susan said. The defendants had chosen a fast-track trial – a tool in Italian law that speeds up the criminal process and, in case of conviction, allows a reduction of the sentence. Osas Egbon opened up a shelter for these victims of trafficking on the Italian island in January - the first of its kind created by and for Nigerian women. Once they got the wiretaps in place, together with police officers and translators, Pietroiusti spent hundreds of hours building the case. She managed to pay off her traffickers - and now lives happily with her family in Palermo but she has a steely determination to stop others having to go through the same experience. According to a US state department report, published in June this year, only 135 people in Italy were investigated for trafficking in 2019, compared to 314 in 2018, and 482 in 2017. Be Free’s lawyer Carla Quinto pointed out that it can also afford them better protection: if traffickers threaten a survivor after she presses charges, police forces are usually quicker to intervene. (Foreign Correspondent: Louie Eroglu) “Using these very old belief systems passed down through generations is a psychological form of control that is much stronger than any violence,” Princess Inyang Okokon, who runs Piam Onlus, an anti-trafficking NGO, told the Guardian in 2017. One girl's quest for clean water. Susan tried to keep a low profile at the train station, terrified that someone might recognise her, but she had no cash, and had to stop strangers to beg for money to buy a ticket. She said it felt like a weight had been lifted from her. This would protect her from deportation, but because she would not admit that she was recruited in Nigeria, Susan had to remain in the detention centre until the interview with the asylum commission, which was scheduled a month later. But people working with survivors believe that there is a widespread lack of interest in prosecuting traffickers, due in part to the fact that a large number of survivors are Black women. Cases such as these take a toll. One of the challenges was finding people who could translate from Igbo into Italian. The Trip to Italy Following her friend’s advice, she pays the required #250k and prepares for a … There were no days off. When De Masi learned that Susan’s evidence had finally led to arrests, she was taken aback. Thanks to the detailed information Susan had provided, in June 2016 Pietroiusti obtained authorisation for a wiretap. At first, her life was controlled by a new woman who kept close watch over her. In the weeks that followed, she began to gather Susan’s testimony. .css-14iz86j-BoldText{font-weight:bold;}In our series of letters from African journalists, Ismail Einashe discovers how Nigerian women are standing up to traffickers in Italy. Of the 70 survivors’ cases that Be Free handles every year, no more than three go to trial, and almost never for human trafficking or slavery. De Masi and Quinto knew Susan’s chance of winning justice was small. To make themselves heard above the panicked and bewildered voices, De Masi and other aid workers climbed on to a table and shouted. “Nobody,” Susan replied firmly. De Masi and Quinto bought a bottle of wine to celebrate on the train back to Rome. “We should roll out a red carpet for trafficking survivors,” De Masi told me. Centrist elected leader of Merkel's CDU party, Why California is struggling to contain Covid, The other virus that has scientists worried, .css-1snjdh1-IconContainer{display:none;height:0.875em;width:0.875em;vertical-align:-0.0625em;margin-right:0.25em;}Four-year-old's viral dinosaur song made into book. After De Masi picked Susan up from the immigration lawyer’s office, she helped to get her into a shelter. A Nigerian woman at a social support centre for trafficked girls, Italy, 2016. Pietroiusti also has a rule: she only asks questions when it is strictly necessary. But everything remains so difficult.”. In May, a criminal complaint was filed against Ivie on Susan’s behalf. “Let’s go,” she said. That year, in an attempt to curb trafficking to Europe, Oba Ewuare II, the spiritual ruler of the kingdom of Benin, held a sacred ceremony to revoke all curses that sealed the debt bondage and set victims free. Joy Ezekiel was trafficked to Italy and forced to work as a prostitute. “She is bad,” Susan told De Masi, remembering how Hillary would control her and the other girls. The women each have their own rooms but share a kitchen and bathroom. She was nervous but determined. Women of Benin City runs a drop-in centre, offering advice and, importantly, emotional support, which sets the group apart. She repeated the same line when the madam called. To protect them from crossing paths with their traffickers, Pietroiusti invited them to wait in her office. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2016 of the 11,000 Nigerian women registered as landing in Sicily, 80% were trafficked with most ending up in forced prostitution. The Nigerian community in Italy is not large, and most recent migrants are afraid of causing trouble for themselves and their families. In the mountains of Sicily a Nigerian woman is leading a battle to help rescue women like herself from a life of forced sex work. The two main groups of Nigerian mafia that operate in Italy are the Supreme Eye and the Black Ax and are linked primarily to prostitution and to drug trafficking. In August 2016, once she had realised Marianne was under 18, Pietroiusti instructed police officers to stop her in the streets and take her to a shelter for minors while surveillance on the other women continued. The murders shocked people in Sicily and put a spotlight on the harrowing experiences Nigerian women face in forced prostitution. The exploited women, and their children, were abandoned and left in isolation without food or money during the country’s three-month lockdown, which started in March, according to a recent report by the Guardian. The volunteers there understand the sexual relationships the women form with the traffickers, which also become a means of preventing their escape. The UN's International Organisation for Migration estimates 80 per cent of the Nigerian women and girls arriving by sea are likely to be victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in Italy. De Masi told Susan she believed Hillary was a victim like her. Osas Egbon opened up a shelter for these victims of trafficking on the Italian island in January - the first of its kind created by and for Nigerian women. When she heard the sentence, De Masi cried. Furious about the lies she had been told, Susan decided to document her new life in Italy. She then threw away her sim card, praying that they would believe her, and leave her and her family alone. VideoOne girl's quest for clean water, The surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. VideoThe surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr, Striking news pictures from around the world. After two months, Ivie came in a car to collect her. “She has nowhere to go.” An hour later, De Masi was at the lawyer’s office. The trafficker called them “the little ones”, Pietroiusti said. They explained that they would need to speak to each of the women individually. She would like to go back to school, but more than anything she wants to be able to work and help her family back home. Susan had made it to Rome, and found the lawyer’s office before nightfall. And churches also play a role in raising money. She reminded me what Quinto, who has salt-and-pepper short hair and always wears jeans and tennis shoes, often says: “Clients like me because I don’t look like a lawyer.”. Human trafficking of Nigerian women to Italy began in the 1980s because of the demand for low skilled labour in agriculture and services. At first, it was often the police who would bring women off the streets to the shelter. Human traffickers tend to send their profits back to their home countries (wiretaps had revealed that Susan’s madam had boasted about owning several houses in Nigeria), and leave no assets in Italy. Seeing De Masi and Quinto waiting for her at the station was a relief. Because of their complexity, in Italy human trafficking investigations are managed by local anti-mafia directorates – special prosecutors’ units created in the early 90s to coordinate investigations into organised crime in Italy. Two years ago she and her colleagues were greatly helped in their efforts by the Oba of Benin City, an influential Nigerian traditional leader, when he placed a curse on the traffickers - turning the tables on them. “We have to work.”, Susan thought it must be a joke. “They didn’t tell me I would come here to be a prostitute,” Susan told me. The trial was set for five months later, on 13 December 2019. The Italian authorities have discovered an organization of Nigerian origins involved in the trafficking of minors for prostitution that made use of contacts in Libya and Italy to arrange the trips. She wanted justice. Are your tinned tomatoes picked by slave labour? But his main rival Bobi Wine claims vote-rigging and vows to produce evidence. Italy has been the stage for a cruel cycle of exploitation in which survivors of trafficking, after years of forced prostitution, have become traffickers themselves, the so-called “madams”. If she had a fever, or had her period, she had to work. De Masi feared that if Susan was transferred to the reception centre, she would be picked up by her trafficker. The number of investigations into trafficking to Italy dropped steeply from 2014 onwards, just as there was a spike in arrivals of Nigerian women and girls without visas. One of the survivors got a bad headache. Five months had passed, and Susan looked very different from the distant and defensive girl De Masi had met in Ponte Galeria. The men who are the key players in Libya, Europe and Nigeria remain beyond reach. Susan was never alone, but she felt isolated. • According to IOM, an astounding 94% of all Nigerian women trafficked to Europe for prostitution hail from Edo State, with Italy being the number one destination country. Some names in this piece have been changed. .css-1xgx53b-Link{font-family:ReithSans,Helvetica,Arial,freesans,sans-serif;font-weight:700;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;color:#FFFFFF;}.css-1xgx53b-Link:hover,.css-1xgx53b-Link:focus{-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}Read about our approach to external linking. “Criminal organisations are always ahead of us,” Quinto said. “There was no way I was going to miss this day,” De Masi told me. One morning in early February, she packed her phone and notebook in a small purse and left the house, saying she had to meet a client in a nearby town. When Susan’s turn came, De Masi approached her and asked: “Who brought you here?”. • Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, and sign up to the long read weekly email here. When police officers stopped Marianne again and tried to put her in a shelter for the second time, she escaped again. 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