Earlier this week, Der Spiegel released a haunting report in a series of videos on the chilling way human sex traffickers prey on West African women, who are taken to Western Europe only to be cruelly forced into prostitution with threats of voodoo curses.
The Spiegel article, which contains seven short video clips, begins with the story of Joy (named changed), whose was just 17-years-old when she was told that she had an opportunity to study abroad in Germany. However, once Joy arrived, she soon discovered that the woman who arranged her “study program” had other plans.
“[She] sliced Joy’s skin with a razor blade more than a dozen times, first above her chest, then in her genital area. Afterward she rubbed black powder into the wounds.”
Under the threat of a voodoo curse, the madam then forced Joy to make at least $1,240 each week by engaging in prostitution in the streets of German cities like Mannheim and Mainz. Joy received little of the earnings, and what she did receive was often spent on makeup so that she could attract more clients.
Joy was stuck in this cruel cycle for two years, during which she estimates that she earned between $56,000 and $68,000 for her pimps. The young sex trafficking victim said that she was worried to run away because she feared the “evil” repercussions, such as illness or suffering, if she broke the ritual. Moreover, there were also physical threats against her family members, who still lived in Nigeria.
Joy finally escaped when a woman came up to her and “asked if she believed in God.” The then-19-year-old collapsed into tears and was placed in the care of Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, an organization that helps women refugees.
Police in Germany say the practice of tricking desperate women with promises of study or work opportunities in Europe as a cover for sex trafficking is all too common. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 11,000 Nigerian women crossed the Mediterranean to enter Europe in 2016 alone.
In West Africa, the practice of “Juju,” colloquially known as voodoo, is quite common. Though most of the population is either devoutly Christian or Muslim, members of both religions do not see it as contradictory to engage in voodoo practices.
The bastion of Juju is in the Nigerian state of Edo, where the “Oba,” or King of Benin, is worshipped as a “god-like figure.” To combat the growing trafficking trade, David Edebiri, an adviser to the Oba, spoke on his behalf.
“The Oba of Benin took all necessary steps, both traditional and otherwise, [such as] legislation, to formally place a curse on those involved in this illegal practice.”
However, those fighting human trafficking are facing an uphill battle. As Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria also has a population where 62 percent live in extreme poverty.
But investigators in Germany are hopeful that after the message from the Oba, victims will at least be willing to cooperate with the police. Joy echoes their optimism.
“The day I heard it I was so excited, so excited, because there are so many people here who are already trapped and they can actually be free without being scared.”
Though Joy still confesses that she has scars from her traumatic experience, she is looking to the future. She has hopes to “become something.”
“Then, I will celebrate,” she concludes.