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.
Rita was homeless when she was approached by a woman who asked her if she would like to travel and promised to take her to Europe where she could work in her supermarket. Before she left, the woman told Rita the travel costs and made her undergo a voodoo ceremony and swear an oath that she would pay back the money for the journey. As the woman accompanied Rita on the journey from Nigeria through Libya, her attitude began to change. Rita was beaten, abused, and raped by men along the way but the woman did not intervene or protect her. The journey was traumatising, and she saw many people die on the way. Once she arrived in Florence, instead of the supermarket work she was promised, Rita was forced to work as a prostitute in a brothel to pay back the money she owed. After three months of being locked up in the brothel, she escaped and is now in Germany, but she is still being threatened by the Madam in Italy.
I was begging and sleeping in the street behind the house. I was asking passersby to give me money for food. That’s how I sustained myself for two years until Madam Faith came along. She said she wanted to help me. Then she brought me into prostitution.
I slept outdoors and when Madam Faith saw where I was sleeping, she asked me why I was living outdoors. I told her I'd many problems with my aunt. She said that wasn’t very good. Then she ask me if I'd like to travel. I said yes, why not, I would love to travel! She said okay, she’d take me to Europe. I was amazed. She said when I get to Europe there are lots of jobs. I'd work in her supermarket. I said that’s fine. She told me before leaving I should know the travel costs and also take an oath.
She made me take the oath. She cut off some of my hair, my pubic hair. She took my underpants and nail clippings and made me swear a voodoo oath. She said I must pay her 35,000 and made me swear to God that I'd do so. She didn’t tell me how long I'd work for her or pay back the cost of travel from Nigeria. I thought I'd pay her back in Nigerian currency. I didn’t think she meant Euros. I didn’t even know what Euros were. She deceived me on many things.
On the road many people got raped. I saw many things I wasn’t supposed to see. You wouldn’t expect that to happen in the desert. I’m still in shock. Nobody cares whether you are dead or alive. Perhaps I should end my life in the desert or in Libya? That’s what was going through my mind.
The woman followed me from the start of the journey. When people were being oppressed on the road she didn’t care to pay attention. On the journey I saw so much cruelty and pain. I was beaten on the road. When they want to sleep with you and you resist, they beat you. That's why I have so many leg injuries. I have injuries all over my body. I’d no choice and no one to complain to. I’d already started the journey. It was life or death. I’d no choice but to keep going.
We kept going. The only time we stopped was to change a tyre. Madam Faith didn’t care to know anything. Whatever I told her was none of her concern. I asked her about the process, the journey of getting to Europe. How long was it going to take? She said it was none of her concern and that I had no choice. Did I think I was the only one travelling? She said there were many others on this road and a lot was happening to them too. I accepted my fate. I no longer cared if death came. I’d face it when it gets to that. That was my situation. Some people died in the truck, and they weren’t buried. Not buried in the ground, just covered with sand. They were thrown away like animals. And that still gives me a pain in my chest.
In the desert we saw many dead people. I've seen them. We're not supposed to see the dead like that, unburied. I spent one month in Libya.
I left Nigeria in April and arrived here (Europe) at the end of July. (The Madam) sent a man to get me out of the reception centre.
The man took me to Florence. When I got there, I was amazed to see lots of girls in her house. I was surprised. Did I have to join them? I was told I had to. I had no choice but to join them. I told her she’d told me I’d be working in a supermarket. She didn’t mention anything about being a prostitute when I took the oath. She said if I didn’t comply she was going to ask some boys to come beat the hell out of me.
At that point I was so terrified, if I'd had a knife, I'd have taken my life. The place was like a hotel. She arranged for men to sleep with me. The woman kept bringing men. I had a lot of pain. The money goes to her. I didn’t touch the earnings. She collects everything. I didn’t even know how much she was paid. She kept all the earnings.
I wasn’t allowed to go outside to buy anything. The other girls there, who’d probably spent a longer time there, didn’t speak to me. They kept to themselves. The only thing they told me, those girls I met there, was, why didn’t I want to do it? I had to do it, I was forced to. So, I also had to become a prostitute.
At one point I became very sick. The woman didn’t care and wouldn’t let me leave the house. I came towards the end of July and escaped by October. She ordered me over the phone to return to the house and asked who’d let me out. I assured her I'd be back soon. She kept cursing and swearing at me over the phone. The woman still calls me from a hidden number. I've no idea how she got my number.
Narrative source Telling the Real Story facilitated by UNHCR
Original Narrative can be found at https://www.tellingtherealstory.org/pcm/stories/video/ritas-story/