There are an estimated 145,000 people liing in conditions of modern slavery in Italy (GSI 2018). 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.
Nora’s family was poor and constantly worrying how to make ends meet. One day she met a woman who told her she could arrange a job for her abroad in Europe. Nora thought this was an opportunity to support her family and agreed. Before leaving Nigeria, she and others were required to go through a voodoo ceremony and swear an oath to pay back the woman for travel costs. The route went through Niger and Libya, as soon as they left Nigeria, the woman’s attitude changed. Nora and the other women she travelled with were trafficked into prostitution and forced to work in brothels along their journey in Niger, Libya, and Italy.
I lived with my mother and father and they were very poor. I had an opportunity to travel when a certain woman approached me. She said she had a connection who’d help me travel abroad for work and that it wasn’t prostitution. I said ok because it was an opportunity to help my poor mother and two sisters. That's the reason I agreed.
So, I met the woman and she introduced me to other people planning to travel. There were about 20 girls going on the journey. But before that the woman took us to a voodoo priest in Benin City. They cut some hair from our armpits and private parts. They also took our panties. They took everything they wanted to take from us. They gave us a potion to drink and made us swear an oath before leaving. She said we were going to be working for her, not as prostitutes. She did all those rituals so she could trust us and we wouldn’t be disobedient.
We took a night bus to the border and from there another bus to Agadez (Niger). Agadez is a small remote village. It's the same route traffickers use to smuggle girls for prostitution. It's such a terrible place. It's like a desert. There’s no food and you could be killed there without anyone knowing. We had a lot of horrible experience in Agadez. Once we were out of Nigeria the woman began to reveal her true nature. Initially she acted all nice. She didn’t make us feel she’d do anything to harm us.
As we arrived there, she started to pass us around to different men. She said now we’re here we must always obey her orders. Refusing her would attract problems for us. At first, I didn’t accept it, I disagreed with her and told her it wasn’t what she’d promised. She assured me we were coming to do legitimate jobs and not prostitution. Since I didn’t agree she’d beat me up every day and wouldn’t give me food. I was constantly being beaten. She threatened if we didn’t comply, since we already swore an oath, she could easily kill us. She said our relatives didn’t know where we were. She could kill us and dispose of our corpses anywhere without being questioned. I didn’t have much choice. So, it’s best just to comply with her orders to avoid losing your life.
After seven days we continued the journey. We boarded a truck and headed for Dirkou (Niger). I was feeling very depressed. I felt regret and was thinking if the woman had told me the truth I wouldn’t have come. I would’ve remained in Nigeria to bear whatever suffering there rather than come to experience all this horror.
My mother had no idea of my whereabouts. If anything happened to me no one would even know where to look for my body because I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving home. Even my sisters didn’t know. I was filled with regret about how I managed to get myself into this mess. I was beaten and raped. I still have scars to show what I went through. (The Madam) would take us to night clubs, collect her payments then stay outside while we were raped and tortured inside. After one month we were moved again.
We moved to Sabha (Libya) where we spend seven days. She warned us if anyone asked what we were going there to do we should never say we were all travelling with her. She insisted we said we were on our own. In Tripoli she put us in another brothel and made sure she put us in separate places. She didn’t want any communication between us. So we started to think about how to escape. She sold three of us to a woman in Tripoli. The woman I was sold to was a wicked human being. A very bad person.
Men would come round. If you didn’t have sex with them it would be a problem for you. There was no time for rest. Work started the moment you got there. You had to make love to all the men who visited that day. But it 20, 15, or 5 men, she didn’t care. You must make love to them all or be beaten. We didn’t go outdoors. We were indoors for 24hrs. We didn’t even get to see the sun. We were always there because they locked us in. I spent between eight and nine months there before the coast was clear to be taken to Italy.
It was the same person that took me to Italy. She was in the same boat as us but didn’t sit with us and she made sure we were separated from one another. We ended up spending four days on the journey because our compass was broken and the person steering the boat didn’t know where he was going. We were spotted and rescued by an Italian rescue ship and taken to Lampedusa. Italy has a lot of rules and prostitution is illegal. She warned us against identifying her as the one who brought us to Italy or even mention to anyone we were here for prostitution because Italian officials normally ask you to identify the person who brought you for prostitution. She reminded us of the oath and told us that going against such an oath meant death.
They distributed us all to different reception centres. I was taken to a reception centre in Florence. I was dumped there. The woman (Madam) arranged for us to escape the reception centre. She had connections and people everywhere. She arranged for us to meet one of her people to show us how to evade everyone. We did not seek asylum over there because we got smuggled out again and we eventually landed at her home in Florence. We lived in the house and slept there at night but we still had to go out hustling in the streets. We were out in the streets day and night. Many girls have lost their lives whilst working as prostitutes in Italy.
Some say they’ve been killed. The whole thing is done in the bushes. Sometimes clients force you to sleep with them without paying. It’s impossible to return home with the story you didn’t make money for the day. That’s none of her concern. You must pay her for the day. That’s how it was done. I was there for close to two years.
When I first arrived there, I didn’t have a phone. She didn’t give us a phone. She prohibited us from owning a phone. But when I started to go outside to stand by the roadside, it was there I met some other girls. I begged one of the girls to lend me her phone and explained to her I’d like to call home. Since she’d had a similar experience, she gave me her phone to call. I called my mother and found out they’d looked all over for me. When they heard my voice, they were happy. They told me that they had been searching for me. We spoke at length, my mother and I. I told her where I was and what I was now into. I opened up to her and she began to cry on the phone and even scolded me for taking such a decision for leaving home without letting them know. As a mother she was worried about my wellbeing. She asked what I was doing over there and I had to tell her.
I told her the person who promised to bring me here to work used me for something else. She asked if there was a way out of the whole thing and I explained everything to her. I met with some girls who had been around for a while and knew how things work. They kept telling me to run away. There was nothing the Madam could do despite all her threats that she had connections all over and that I must pay the money.
I summoned the courage and one day while I went out to work, I didn’t return to that house. That's how I ran away. I got to Naples without knowing anybody there but I was lucky to meet someone who took me into her house and gave me a place to stay since I could do women’s hair quite well. I started to do the hair of other Nigerian women over there. That’s how I earned some money before finally moving to Germany. (The Madam) always calls my mother back home and threatens her with Voodoo. She says I still owe her money and that I must pay. When she catches me I’ll have to pay her. I am scared to return to Nigeria because of what is happening. I don’t want to return to Germany that’s why I came to Germany to seek protection.
Narrative source Telling the Real Story facilitated by UNHCR
Original Narrative can be found at https://www.tellingtherealstory.org/pcm/stories/video/noras-story-streets-europe/