The women vying for customers on these streets are just some of the wave of Sub-Saharan migrants trafficked to Europe in hope of a better life.
In 2016, around 11,000 Nigerian women arrived in Italy by sea according to the International Organization for Migration. Most are at risk of becoming victims of prostitution, the IOM says, a gruesome end to a journey during which many endured rapes, abuse, and a dangerous Mediterranean crossing in flimsy rubber boats.
The European dream
One of them is 17-year-old Becky, who set off for Europe from Nigeria’s Edo State when she was 15. An orphan raised by a foster family, Becky worked as a maid for a wealthy woman in Nigeria, but dreamed of becoming a doctor. Her boss’s daughter lived in Europe and Becky was charmed with stories of a better life there.
“She told me, when you come to Europe you’ll have opportunity, you will go to school, everything is going to be OK for you,” Becky says, sitting on the edge of a bed in a shelter in northern Italy for trafficked female migrants.
“She said you can do whatever you want, the world there is very free. I was like, wow, that would be great. And she said, OK, maybe my sister can bring you. I was so happy, I wanted to go to Europe,” she adds.
Becky says her journey took her across Niger and into Libya, where she was held in a detention center for five months. She suffered repeated rapes at the hands of her jailers, who she says were Libyan militias.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” Becky says. Her voice shakes as she describes how her attackers would slap her to wake her up, and sometime rape her in front of other migrants in the communal hall they all shared.
“You scream, you shout, but nobody comes to the rescue. They rape you, they do whatever they want to do to you, you have no say, you have no choice,” she says.
After her trafficker paid a ransom to her captors Becky was freed, but her ordeal was far from over. She was pregnant, but says she lost her baby after being given a liquid to drink by her smuggler.
“I don’t even know how it happened,” she said. “All I know is I was given a bottle of water and then I started bleeding. I was in a lot of pain. It was so painful.”
Forced to sell her body