UN agencies say Nigerian women are one of the largest groups of victims of the international sex trade, as well as perpetrators of this crime.
In 2014, Latifa Ayodele (pseudonym) was invited by a female relative to travel to Malaysia to continue her studies. But the opportunity, which he hoped would change his life, nearly destroyed him.
To protect its identity, VOA did not use this woman’s real name. When Ayodele arrived in Libya after an arduous journey, he was taken by a woman and forced to become a prostitute.
“They call it a hilux (a type of vehicle like a truck.red). Inside this hilux they set us up. Twenty-four people sat in the back and eight people inside, we bent deeply. The woman brought another hilux so we didn’t have time to ask her any questions,” he said.
Ayodele never made it to Malaysia. She remained in Libya and worked as a sex worker for four years until she finally managed to escape.
Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) says nearly half of the suspects arrested for trafficking in 2019 were women, usually older women known as “pimps” who lure and traffic in other women. .
The head of intelligence affairs at NAPTIP, Josiah Emerole, said, “Everyone is actually involved, both men and women, but if we look at the international dimension which is mostly related to sexual exploitation we will find that most of the main perpetrators are women – who known as ‘pimps.’ But they also use men to take care of these people.”
There are no exact figures for sex trafficking victims
Esther Okafor – also not her real name – was trafficked to Libya. After being a sex slave for nearly two years, she managed to escape to a Catholic church where she was rescued by the International Migration Organization IOM and repatriated to Nigeria. But at that time she was already five months pregnant.
“In Libya, abortion is a crime and carries a prison sentence. In addition, I am not yet financially stable to have an abortion. Every now and then I look at him (at his daughter.red) and cry,” he said.
NAPTIP says it is difficult to determine the exact number of sex trafficking cases in Nigeria because so many go unreported. But the existence of an NGO set up by the former director of NAPTIP allows victims to report issues of human trafficking and other forms of gender based violence.
Julie Okah-Donlie at the Roost Foundation said, “We refer cases like this to NAPTIP for criminal litigation cases where it is possible to find the perpetrators (sex traffickers.red). But sometimes victims don’t even know who the perpetrator is, they can’t provide any information, so we can only provide psychosocial support and empower them.”
Experts say victims like Ayodele and Esther will suffer the psychological scars of the ordeal for the rest of their lives. [em/jm]