Sixteen members of a mostly female network of Nigerian human traffickers operating forced prostitution rings in France went on trial last week in Paris, facing their accusers as the trafficked women testified to being lied to, beaten and raped.

According to France 24, plaintiffs at the High Court of Paris began giving testimony on May 14 against a group known as the “Authentic Sisters,” saying they were trafficked from Nigeria, abused and forced into prostitution.

While only eight women are testifying in the case, a total of 49 victims have come forward. The defendants are being tried for procuring and trafficking in human beings, crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

According to Bus De Femme, an NGO that provides a range of health and social services to these women in Paris,

These girls are often incredibly traumatized and terrified to speak out”

Of the 16 accused, 11 are women and five are men. Four are currently serving time in prison for previous offenses.

The prosecution alleges that the accused operated their prostitution network across multiple countries, including France, Italy and Spain.

The plaintiffs, some under 18, claim that before leaving Nigeria, they were promised economic opportunities unrelated to sex work in France.

One plaintiff testified that she was told she would be working in a new restaurant operated by one of the accused; another was told she would work as a nanny.

Before leaving Nigeria the women were taken to voodoo priests, some of whom used body scarification in a ritual to “seal” the women’s contracts with their traffickers. Other women were told they were haunted by “bad spirits” and must pay their traffickers upwards of €70,000 for protection. Plaintiffs testified that both the voodoo priests and their traffickers warned them not to tell anyone about the payments. They would face extreme punishment for talking to police, they said, and family members might be killed.

The plaintiffs testified that they were given fake passports and visas, which they would pay for from the money they earned in the future. They were brought to the home of their future madame and were kept there under strict restrictions, except when they were out seeking new clients.

The women were forced to pay for expenses ranging from food to housing to various fees, totalling exorbitant amounts far in excess of what they were told upon beginning their journeys. Plaintiffs said they had no idea they would be forced to prostitute themselves until condoms were placed in their hands for their first shift. They were then told the rates to charge for their services. The debt owed by each of the 49 women ranged from €50-70,000 by the time they were settled in France.

Among those facing trial for trafficking, were former sex workers sent to Europe by their families. According to one of the defense lawyers,

My client was a prostitute for five years because her family said, “We can’t eat, so you must go [to Europe]. They knew from others who had sent their daughters to work as sex workers in France. After five years she became pregnant and stopped sex work, so the family sent two of her sisters to France to replace the lost income, he explained. Soon after, other families from Benin City asked for her to organize travel for their own daughters to join her.  That’s how she became somewhat part of the business … she isn’t innocent and she will definitely be [found] guilty, but I will try to explain she is not the boss of this organization,” he said.

Hazan, the defense lawyer also claims the victims were complicit and fully aware that they were coming to Europe to be sex workers.

“They say they didn’t know, but they know you can’t work in France without papers. They know that all people like that end up in the street.”

As for me, I can categorically tell Hazan that many of these young girls didn’t know what they were going for. It is everyday thing that some self-acclaimed agents charge fees to take young men and women abroad to work and earn a better living. That is what happens in a failed system like Nigeria. It is better and more expensive when you’re being taken to Europe by air. A whole lot pay and go through the deserts hoping to reach Europe on foot. Isn’t that extreme stupidity?   It is crass ignorance, another situation we can only solve through education. Knowledge is key.

Source: Punch Metro.