Sex trafficking gangs in Italy left thousands of Nigerian sex trafficking survivors destitute of basic needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The exploited women, and their children, were abandoned and left in isolation without food or money during the country’s three-month lockdown, which started in March, according to a recent report by the Guardian. Without employment legal protections or benefits, the women lacked access to assistance and resorted to volunteer initiatives to survive.
“In the eyes of sex traffickers these women are subhuman, exploited to enrich their pimps, who treat them like ATMs,” Alberto Mossino, co-founder of the anti-trafficking organization Piam Onlus, told the Guardian. “And when the ATM runs out of cash, they discard it and look for another one.”
Several groups have stepped in to offer survivors support. The organization Dedalus, which provides social services to trafficking survivors and other communities, launched a crowdfunding campaign in Naples to supply Nigerian sex trafficking survivors with food and other forms of aid.
Some of the women were left on the streets after their landlords kicked them out because they could not afford rent, Dedalus reported.
Italy has become a sex trafficking hotspot in recent years, and 80% of the tens of thousands of Nigerian women who arrived in Italy from Libya were survivors of sex trafficking gangs, according to UN’s International Office for Migration (IOM). These women are often forced into sex work to pay off large debts of over $40,000. Traffickers, many of them older former sex workers themselves, are known to control the women remotely from other countries and use black magic rituals known as “juju” to manipulate and through fear and psychological torment, according to the Guardian.
Anti-trafficking organizations are seeing an uptick in women asking help to leave their traffickers during the pandemic, they told the Guardian. Travel restrictions and limited social and public services are making it more difficult for human trafficking survivors to escape and return home, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The office urges governments to ensure survivors are guaranteed access to essential services to receive support to avoid further sexual exploitation of women and children.