Beauty – a human trafficking victim

 

Beauty was a sixteen-year-old girl from Edo State, Benin City, Nigeria. She grew up in a city that was a busy, noisy, and violent, with over one million and one hundred thousand other people.  There are high levels of crime as a result of the high degree of unemployment in the state; it can be a bleak and unpromising place to grow up.

 

Beauty had lived with both of her parents. Her father, a bus driver owned his own mini bus and he drove it around the city collecting passengers from outside the main bus station.

 

When she was two years old, tragically Beauty’s mother died in childbirth. Her father took the sole responsibility of bringing her up. He made sure that she went to school in order to get a good education. Beauty was devoted to her father.

 

The tragedy for Beauty continued when her father was killed in a road accident whilst driving his mini bus.ad surrounded the two vehicles involved. At the age of eleven she had become an orphan.

 

She went and lived with her fathers’ brother in another part of the city. Her Uncle was married with two children from his marriage and a third child that belonged to his wife from her previous marriage. Beauty had met her uncle prior to moving in with them when he used to come and stay with her father. He would also bring his children with him. Her uncle worked as an odd job man for various people.

 

Beauty’s life changed dramatically. She was stopped from going to school. Her new guardians took her out of education and made her work as a house girl. She had to clean and cook for the family. The wife had a fruit stall in the main market. Beauty having completed her chores early in the morning she had to sell fruit from a roadside stall outside the market.  After her day of selling fruit on her return she would have to prepare the evening meal for the family. Her stepmother was very strict. If it was considered that Beauty had not been working hard enough or had failed to sell enough fruit she was beaten and shouted at.

 

She was told that she was lazy and should be thankful that they had taken her in to live with them. She hated her life.

 

When she turned 14 years old her body began to develop into a young woman. Her uncle began to sexually abuse her. Every time that the wife was out of the house he would rape her. He threatened her that if she told anyone he would beat her and his wife would not believe her as she is an evil lazy child. Who would believe a child’s word against a husband who loved his wife and family?  Beauty fought off his sexual advances but he was stronger and after he had raped her he would beat her afterwards for refusing.

 

In the summer of 2007, George, a friend of her uncle began coming to the house. Her uncle told her that George lived in London with his wife and baby. She was told that George was looking for someone to go to London with him to help his wife to look after their baby. Her uncle told her that he would like her to go to London with George. Beauty felt very happy, as she was desperate to get away from her uncle and his wife. The prospect of going to Europe was beyond her wildest dreams. She had seen pictures of Europe in the newspaper stands and heard people talking of a better life and making lots of money there.

 

It was agreed that she would go, but before she left Nigeria, in order to bring her good luck and to protect her she should go before the traditional priest to invoke the protection of her guardian ‘Ogbamje’, her protecting spirit. One morning her Uncle, his wife, George and Beauty travelled by mini bus out of the city to a small village. Beauty did not fully understand what was going to happen. She was scared but she thought it would bring her luck. She was aware of Juju and the good and the bad the spirits can do. But when they arrived their attitudes towards her changed. They took her to the building where the native doctor was waiting for them. Her Uncle, his wife and George along with the native doctor all threatened her. They told her she was going to swear an oath of obedience and she will do whatever they told her do and that if she failed to do so, then the Gods would have the power to kill her. Beauty believed what she was told

 

Everyone remained in one room and the native doctor took her into another. The room was dark. He told her to take off her clothes. With razor blades he cut marks on her body. He cut her on her chest bone between her breasts, both sides of her chest above her breasts, on both of her shoulder blades and the top centre of her back, all around her waist, on her toes and both feet, on the inside of her arms at the elbow joint, along the middle of her head from the forehead to the nape of her neck. The cuts were very painful. The cuts were bleeding and he used black chalk to rub into the cuts.

 

The native doctor then killed a chicken and cut the chicken in half. He removed the heart of the chicken and told Beauty to swallow a piece of the heart with some alcohol. After she had eaten and drank as instructed the doctor then cut her fingernails, toe nails her armpit hair, pubic hair and he took the underwear she had been wearing. He took these items. He placed all of these into a clay pot. He sealed the top and placed the vessel beside a number of other jars at the foot of a shrine that contained dried monkey skulls, shells and bird feathers. The priest told her if is she did not do what they told her to do the Gods would know. She had sworn an oath of obedience and made a contract with the spirits. She would not be able to hide from the spirits, as they would use the items in the vessel to find her and punish her. The powers of the Gods would kill her. He told her to get dressed and to return to the others.

 

Two days after the ceremony she flew from Nigeria to London with George. It was September 2007.  When they arrived at George’s house, she immediately discovered that she had been brought to Europe for a different reason to what had been promised.

 

George was not married and he did not have a child to be looked after.

 

At the house were four other girls. Three were from Nigeria and one was a white non-English-speaking female.  They were held captive and forced to have sex with men who called at the house. She heard George speaking on the phone to men, telling them to call him when they got to Barking station, East London. He would then go and pick them up.

 

George gave her underwear, a wig and shoes with high heels and was sent to meet her first customer the day after her arrival. She did not want to have sex with strangers.

 

George told her that if she did not do as she was told then he would use ‘Juju’ to kill her. George threatened to beat and kill her if she did not obey him.

 

The house was very busy with customers coming day and night. The customers paid George money so they could have sex with the girls. George was always present unless he was taking one of the girls out to somebody’s house. George received telephone calls requesting girls to be brought to them. The customers were men and women. There was a security man in the house who stayed with them when George was out. George and the security guard forced the girls to have sex with them on a regular basis. Beauty was held prisoner and forced to work as a prostitute for the next twelve months.

 

It was during this time that Beauty discovered that she was pregnant. She told George that she may be having a baby and he told her that he would take her to hospital to have it taken out.  Beauty was upset with this.  As time went by George failed to take Beauty to the hospital and she grew bigger and bigger. George used Beauty to attract more clients who wanted to have sex with a pregnant girl. One customer tried to extract milk from her breasts.

 

Beauty knew that George would not allow her to keep her baby. He needed her to be able to work. He would not tolerate her and being in the house not working and having a baby as well. He constantly made references that she will have to lose the unborn child.  She decided that she needed to escape in order to save her baby’s life.

 

If she ran away she knew she was going to be pursued by the spirits for running away, but at least her baby would be safe. She knew that the best time to go would be when George was out of the house while taking one of the other girls to a client, leaving only the security guard.

 

It was not long before Beauty heard George arranging an appointment away from the house. The following day George accompanied with the European girl left the house. Beauty made sure the security guard was occupied talking with one of the other girls in the kitchen; she sneaked into the hallway and as quietly a possible opened the front door that lead out into the suburban street.  For many hours Beauty walked the streets, not knowing where she was or going.

 

Beauty ended up sitting on a bench when a elderly Nigerian lady asked her why she was sitting out in the cold. Beauty told her story. The lady taking pity on her took her to her home. She remained with the lady for several days. The woman having sought advice from her church, told beauty that she needed to go to the Refugee Council in London.  Beauty pleaded to be taken out of London, as she feared George would be able to find her. The lady had family in Glasgow and therefore it was arranged for Beauty to go and stay with them.  Once in Glasgow Beauty approached the Refugee Council.

 

In Glasgow when it became clear that she had first been abducted to London, detectives from the specialist Human Trafficking squad from New Scotland Yard were called in to interview and hopefully piece together Beauty’s story.  They gently interviewed her taping her account and witnessing her deep distress.

 

The Officers were understandably keen to find ‘George’ and perhaps liberate other women in this terrible situation but try as they might Beauty refused to return to London.  Her fear was just too great. She said that if she were to go to London the spirits would know and find her. She added that she would die; the Gods would punish her for speaking out about George.

 

It was apparent that Beauty believed in the Nigerian traditional religion and the tentacles of the Juju had a strong hold over her. Her social worker told how Beauty has been suffering from headaches, bad dreams and panic attacks ever since she escaped from George. That she believed that the Gods were causing these symptoms.

 

It was due to this fear of the spirits and the power of the juju that Beauty was not willing to support the police investigation. She was just too scared of the juju.

 

Soon after she came to Glasgow Beauty gave birth to a baby daughter. Beauty has made an asylum application and is currently with Glasgow social services having been placed with a Support Carer Family. Sadly it was clear that taking care of her baby was beyond Beauty’s abilities and the baby was placed in care, we hope that Beauty can start to build a more optimistic life.

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