With my recent move and acquisition of a flat-screen TV, I bought a Roku and now am regularly getting my daily news from Al Jazeera. Not only do they inform me of what is going on in the world, they also have thought-provoking original documentaries.
Last week, it was a re-broadcast of a 2011 special report “The Nigerian Connection 1 & 2” on African women, predominantly Nigerian, caught up in a web of human sex trafficking. I was not surprised that West African women were prostitutes in Italy – that I learnt on my holidays in Rome in 2008 when I harboured concerns for being mistaken for one – but it had not dawned on me until this show that they could be unwilling sex-slaves despite all my years of Law & Order: SVU episodes of international sex crimes and prostitution rings. It was fascinating to learn about the turf wars between the Italian and Nigerian mafias in this world of organised crime. In short, the Nigerian mafia has taken over control of criminal behaviour in this part of southern Italy by controlling these extensive prostitution rings.
Apparently, many of the young women featured were lured away from the poverty in their villages in Nigeria with a promise of proper lucrative jobs in Italy. They are indebted to the Nigerian mafia for the costs of their emigration and travel expenses such that when they get to Italy and find out that they will be prostitutes they have no way out because their debts are several tens of thousands of US dollars and it’s going to take quite a while to repay that. I can only imagine that even if they or their families might have known the dollar amount of the debt prior to leaving Nigeria they were probably ignorant as to what that number actually meant. Don’t we all have family back home who think the streets of abrokyire are paved with gold?
But what truly got my attention was the use of ju-ju in this process of human sex trafficking. Yes, naive me. Why not? It actually quite makes sense if you believe in things like that. The women, prior to leaving Nigeria, are taken to a juju-man approved by the Nigerian mafia. They are made to take an oath in a ritual that commits them to repay their smugglers their debt on pain of insanity or of death. So when they find themselves unwilling prostitutes in Italy, they are too petrified to run away. Using undercover journalism, it is also revealed that evangelical Christian pastors have been involved too. Shameful!
It’s a sad story with many versions ringing true around the world. The Law & Order SVU shows seem to indicate that it’s Eastern European women who are victimized into trade here. I just can’t believe it has taken me until 2013 to learn that the African prostitutes of Europe are also in part trafficked. I had always assumed that every single one of them had chosen to be prostitutes for “easy money”. Shame for real!
Having travelled extensively, I wonder how these women (internationally, not just the Nigerian ones in this feature) are trafficked across international borders. When a “madam” or “brother” comes to the consulate with a bunch of passports to be processed, or when they arrive at the airport in home country or at immigration are there no flags that go off? Or is human trafficking not really important?