Italy is a destination, transit, and source country for women, children, and men subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour. Victims originate from Nigeria, Romania, Morocco, China, and other countries. Female victims are often subjected to sex trafficking in Italy after accepting promises of employment as dancers, singers, models, restaurant servers, or caregivers. Romanian and Albanian criminal groups force Eastern European women and girls into commercial sex.
Princess, a mother of four children and a grandmother of two, was a cook in a traditional restaurant in Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria. In 1999 she was approached by a woman who visited the restaurant and promised her a job as a cook in Italy. She was invited to a luxury hotel in Benin City – the capital of Edo State in southern Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the life-changing opportunity on offer was anything but. The Italian woman was a Madam from Turin and, having brought Princess into the country, sold her into prostitution and told her she would have to repay $45,000.
I'm here to be a testimony. I want to appreciate the Santa Marta group that give me this opportunity to be here today, and I want to appreciate everyone that wants to hear my voice. As well as my husband because if not him I could not have this honor.
I'm Princess I'm fromAkwa Ibom State in Nigeria. I'm 42 years old and a mother of 4 children and a grandmother of 2.
I came to Italy 1999 through traffickers. I was a cook in Nigeria in my states with the traditional restaurants. And that same year I had a vision from one of the prophets of God. That God want to send me to Europe to go and liberate some kind of women that are suffering. The prophet told me that they didn't know how I would get there but a year I would be in Europe. It doesn't matter how you get there because God says that our children, his children, are suffering. That I am going there to liberate them.
Exactly about 3 months time, one of the madam from Turin came to my states to buy some keys for a hotel he built in Benin city. She met me in my restaurant and invited me to Benin city during Christmas season. And I went to greet her because my ex fiancé was from Benin city. Getting to her house she showed me all the luxurious things she had from being a madam from Italy and all the money that she had to build the hotel. She then proposed to me that if I can come with her, that she will sponsor to me, to Italy. And if I come here, I can work as a chef and this will make me to get a lot of money and a good salary.
I was convinced by her wit and even what she showed to me. She told me that I had to pay her back the expenses that she made for me, that I will return $45,000 for her. At that time they collected the money in dollars but later on when I came to Italy, they converted it to euros when the Italian lira was changed to euros.
She did all the documentations and took us to lodge in a hotel in Lagos for 7 months. After that, she succeeded getting a visa for me. They got me two passports. One of the passports was a Nigerian passport, and the second one was, um, English passport as a daughter of a British family. The traffickers taught me everything that I need to talk in the airport. That when I arrived London I should declare asylum as a Sierra Leonean. I remember they took me to the refugee camp, I should tell my stories about the war in Sierra Leone. Then in the camp they would send someone or their lawyer to come and pick me out.
As it was, I left Nigeria one night and I took the passport- the first mistake I did it in the airport, in the Nigerian airport (I believe that most of the people here are enforcement officers that they should hear my voice today), the first mistake I did I brought out the British passport instead of the Nigerian passport and there were operators in the airport. And they didn’t do anything because one man who was one of the agents signaled the operator in the airport that that lady there is […?] passenger even though she made the mistake, allow her to go. So the operator told me to step aside. After a few minutes he told me to pass and because I showed the British passport first instead of the Nigerian passport and when I knew that I’d made the mistake I put back the British passport and brought out the Nigerian passport. If the enforcement agency did their job, they would not have allowed that to happen in the airport. They would have hold me and asked me, ‘How many passports do you have Madam?’ But they left me.
And later they took me to London at […] where we were three girls. I succeeded with one, the other one was deported back. When they told us that the refugee camp was filled up, they took us to one hotel. Getting the other victims try to call the, um, the connection men, I overheard them calling them and they said, ‘One woman is coming the next day to pick them.’ I joined a group the next day, I didn’t wait to go to the refugee camp. When I got to the madam in London, they were jubilating that I was a very smart girl, they poured champagne and because they would not spend money to pay a lawyer to pick me out from the refugee camp.
They took me after four days, with the other three girls in the house, we passed through France with car because they put the vehicle in the boot, and when we got to France they released the vehicle and the vehicle took us straight to Turin. Getting to Turin they took me to one of the biggest traffickers in Turin. There the man had a wife with a baby, a newborn baby. I saw about five or six women from Benin city. I saw that the woman was in a kind of a stress, I decided to help this woman by working in the house. So when she came back from the hospital she asked, ‘Who did the job?’ They told her that I am the one because I am from the South, from, they call us Calabarian. So those girls were mocking at me, telling me ‘Even though you work for them, you need to pay the same debts that we need to pay. They need to sell us out.’ I asked them, ‘What do you mean by selling you out?’ They said, ‘We are here for one month’ and no madam came to buy them. I said ‘ are we … that they were going to sell us?’ So it was there I knew that things is going to change. I decided in my mind to, to be strong because I didn’t know where I should belong to. So when the woman of the house came she told me, ‘Ah you did all this work for me? That means that the first group of madams that will come I will make sure they buy you so that you can go out and pay your money immediately, you should not waste time here as one of the good girls.’ I said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ The woman said, ‘Ah, you don’t know why you’re here? If I had money, I would have bought you myself I would have not allowed my husband to sell you out.’ I said, ‘They’re selling me?’ The woman said ‘Yes’, and then I kept quiet when I knew that it was a different thing I had in mind. I … to plan myself to go out from the house because I saw that those girls, they locked them inside so no one could go outside in London. So because of that character I did, the woman used to take me out for four or five days. We went to the supermarket, we did shopping, and we came back. Later on when the man took us to Italy, when the two madams came, maybe after 5 days I was there, two madams came to buy some girls. One of them, the woman from the house choose me for her, she said, ‘Take her away, she will be a good girl’ and the other of her friends said ‘No no no, she’s from Calabar, I have never seen one of them in the streets working as a prostitute, she might give us problem.’ So I overheard them bargaining. I asked the lady ‘So you want to take me away?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said ‘Don’t worry, I will pay you’re your money, take me away from this place.’ So the lady said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said ‘Yes’. So the woman of the house pushed her to take me away.
When we get to her house, it was a different story. In that same place they were bargaining, she put $13,000 to buy me and she told me ‘I’m going to pay fifty.’ So they were bargaining and she landed on $45,000. I followed her. Reaching the home she now explained the kind of job I would do. She changed my hairstyle, she took me out to buy some sexy underwear. That first night she went out to work because she herself was an ex-victim of trafficking also. She just finished paying her madam and she now worked again on the streets to buy other girls to become one of them. I learnt some things there. So she threw some money on the floor when she came back in the morning and told me, ‘Princess look, you are more beautiful than me. I know you can make it more than me in this country. Count this money, let me teach you this money.’ She taught me the money, I said, ‘Wow, you work so hard. So the restaurants here, they pay a lot like this?’ She said, ‘No, it’s not restaurants. You don’t have documents, you can never work in the restaurants. No Nigerian girl has ever worked in any place because of, er, document challenges. You can’t work, you don’t have documents, if you go out police will catch you.’ I said, ‘Then what kind of work did you do to get this amount?’ She said, ‘Don’t worry, this night we are going together.’
In the evening she make up me and gave me some high shoes to wear. I said ‘Please, I can’t wear these, I have never tried these.’ She persuaded me, said ‘Learn, you will know it.’ We went there she gave me some kind of condoms and other things, she taught me how to stand in the street. I told her ‘I can’t do this job, is there not any job that you can give me? You know Calabarians, most of us we used to work as hired help, I can do that to pay this money.’ She said ‘No, you can’t do that. No one can take you.’ Later on, she handed over me to a friend. When she left I went to the back of … I started crying I said ‘God, you said that you wanted to send me to Europe to go and liberate your children, is this the kind of job that I should do as your own daughter? Why do you put me in this shame?’ Then there was a voice that told me, he said ‘It is not your time. So now it is not your time. Just wait and see what I will do.’ So I thought that is the spirit of God that wants to show me exactly what happens to those women that I will help tomorrow. So I was a witness. I was a witness, I am testify the atrocities, the problems being a Nigerian woman encountered it. It was then I said yes to God for one week. I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t walk. I went home the woman started beating me and she took me back to those people she bought me from. They maltreated me, they threatened to kill me because I don’t have anyone. They tore my head with heels of the shoe and the ambulance took me to hospital to stitch my head. It was then I know that the people are serious. I knew they are so serious that they could kill me. I now decided, ‘What am I going to do?’ She took my nails, my hairs, part of my body, that she wanted to sell it to […] in Nigeria to do rituals, Juju for me so that I can die or my children will die. It was then I decided to do it with some kind of, some kind of intention, that if God helped me out, I would deal with these people. That was my mind. So in that case, I started a job. I was praying to God, ‘Show me someone that can help me.’ The first person that wanted to help me said ‘I am going to pay your madam 60,000 lire by then, then you come with me.’ The voice said, ‘That is not the person that will help you.’
Then one morning, I finished working my husband who is …. He went to a club to work as a DJ. Coming back, he stopped over he said ‘Baby girl, can’t you join me to go to the seaside? Let’s go and have some fun.’ I asked one of my neighbour friends who said ‘No, don’t go… it is too far, what are you going to do.’ I said ‘Ok, I won’t go.’ I gave him high price, he beat down the price. I gave him another price he said, ‘Ok into the car.’ ‘Ah’ the spirit told me, ‘go.’ And I handed over the money that I had worked to the other girls to give it to my madam, tell her that I carry … to the house. I went with him. When I entered his house, the voice came again it said ‘This is the man that will help you to do the work.’ I said ‘Ah, this voice, but my madam told me it’s the old man in Italy to pay off debt. This man is a young man, how can he pay such debts for me?’ I entered the second room, the voice came again, said ‘This is the man that will help you to do the work.’ I said ok, what should I do? So after my men drew up in the morning, I woke up and left him on his bed. The voice said, ‘Go on, clean the house, start like that.’ I went to do my kitchen work, I saw that some plates were there I washed the plates, mopped the floor, do everything for him before he wake up he saw he has a new person he has. He was, I think, touched him. He said, ‘I took this girl as a prostitute, but I believe that this is someone from a home.’ The voice told me, ‘Make a friend with him.’ I decided to tell him my story because he had a little English. I was waiting for six months before I could get contact to him to explain my story. I now told him, all of us in the streets you saw, we are slaves. The madams poor out our bags of money when we come back, it doesn’t give you any time to call your family neither to narrate your problems to them. It diverts you from contact to people. When… they will tell you not to talk to them. That was how God helped me. So he talked to his friend Piera Vercelli who became my manager and now is one of the chairmen of social services in the city of Asti, we’ve worked together for about four or five years. And he talked to the priest of Caritas of Asti and the man had a good heart. Three of them followed me to the streets to know, to confirm whether my story is true. And most of the girls confirmed the story. Then they told me what do you want to do Princess? I said I don’t want to run away from these people. I want to help other girls in the streets. If you people can help me, I want to help others. So when I ran away, I declared my Madam, the police catch her and put her for four years in prison because she didn’t want to repent. I told her to leave the 6,000 that is remaining, then we would do document for you, join me and repent to forget.
So that was my story, and I left the streets and other girls joined me to leave the street, about four of them. The Caritas gave us the first office and we started our job, so that is how we started and the first step programme was the street unit – how we can go round the city to look for the girls in the street, talk to them, open a kind of protection shelters for them, and let them get in touch with the laws of Italy and to get Italian permits.
Narrative provided bySanta Marta Group