There are an estimated 1,386,000 people living in modern slavery in Nigeria (GSI 2018). Nigeria is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, and a source country for men subjected to forced labour. Nigerian women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within Nigeria and throughout Europe, including in Italy, Spain, Austria, and Russia. In 2015, a foreign government reported that with the exception of internal trafficking within the EU, Nigerian nationals are the most common trafficking victims in the EU. Before departure for work abroad, many Nigerian women participate in a traditional ceremony with a juju priest; some traffickers exploit this tradition and tell the women they must obey their traffickers or a curse will harm them, which prevents victims from seeking assistance or cooperating with law enforcement. While some sex trafficking victims arrive in Europe believing they will be working in prostitution, traffickers coerce them to stay in prostitution by changing the working conditions and increasing victims’ travel debts.
Grace* was promised work as a cleaner in the UK by a local businesswoman who trafficked her and forced her into prostitution.
I believe there is Juju, it happens. Before I left Nigeria, this woman took me to this village and I had to make a vow that I won’t run away when I come to England.
They took my hair from my head, my armpit hair, my private parts hair and they took my nails – my toenails and fingernails – and they kept it, and they stripped me naked and they gave me this thing to drink, like blood. I don’t know what it is, it’s in a pot. They say you should drink it.
Yes, they cut me, I’ve got it on my chest and on my head. Yes, a witchdoctor, a scary man. With a razor blade. He just said that if I say anything about what happens here, to anybody, then I’m going to die. They’re going to send thunder, for me. And when I see thunder, I’m getting better now, but before when thunder starts I’m scared they’re coming, even now. I’ve seen counsellors and they tell me that they were the ones to deceive me to tell me I’m coming here to do cleaning so they have already lied. So whatever Juju they did to me is not going to happen to me because they lied. They deceived me, telling me I’m coming here to clean and they ended up doing something else to me so I won’t allow that, I have to speak out. All my life is sleeping, sleeping, sleeping with men.
[After going to the police, Grace’s trafficker and the connected trafficking gang fled the UK, but Grace believes they will come back for her]
They will. She will. She knows people in England so anywhere I am, they’re going to look for me.
I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to kill her. That’s what I’ll do, because she destroyed me life. I’m going to kill her because she ruined my life. She made me something I didn’t plan to be. Any girls that you hear they say they want to take you to go cleaning or anything, don’t go. It’s all traffic and you’re going to suffer. They’ve destroyed too many lives. Too many. You have to stop them, put them in jail forever not to come out. I hate them.
Narrative provided by Ross Kemp