CrimeHuman Rights

For those who fight sex-trafficking, dark rituals compound the problem Nigerians forced into prostitution abroad need practical and spiritual help

PEOPLE who campaign against the ghastly phenomenon of human trafficking and sex slavery soon become aware that they are contending not only with flesh-and-blood wrongdoers but also with invisible forces which, if nothing else, are very much alive inside people’s heads.


Before she is spirited off to Europe, the bond between a victim and her trafficker is often sealed with a voodoo ritual in which she surrenders pieces of clothing, fingernails and body hair; these fragments may be combined with drops of blood into a mixture which the victim is made to drink. This terrifies the young woman into thinking that curses will befall her family unless the debt to the trafficker, which can be around $50,000, is paid off.

In March, an attempt was made to tackle this problem by fighting fire with fire. Ewuare II, the oba (king) of the Benin region of Nigeria (not to be confused with the country of Benin) conducted a kind of counter-ceremony. It was announced that the monarch had cursed all those involved in trafficking and released all those who had been bound by voodoo rituals.

Almost everybody who works to combat trafficking has welcomed the news, but many feel it is only the first step on a long battle to stop a social scourge.
If the victims want to stay in Italy and lead a normal life, they face enormous obstacles, says Aldo Virgilio, a psychiatrist who counsels traumatised migrants. “They are not allowed to talk to anyone without the criminals’ permission, so they rarely have a chance to learn Italian, which socially alienates them even more in their already dire situation,” he says. “Most cases I deal with are either referred to me via NGOs or the police. They would rarely come up to me directly, they’re frozen because of fear of breaching voodoo rules.” He said he had treated a 14-year-old girl who was in hospital after enduring violence. In such cases, bringing victims to a minimum of psychological stability can take a year.

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