When she was a sex slave, Princess could see anywhere between five to 15 clients a day.
Like thousands of other girls, she’d been lured to Italy under the false promise of a well-paid job and safer life, only to arrive and discover the reality being quite different. She found herself trapped by their smugglers and pimps, forced to repay a crippling debt.
At $6 for oral sex and as little as $19 for intercourse, her hopes of one day being freed seemed nearly impossible.
Telling her story on SBS Dateline, Princess reveals how she ended up living on the streets in Asti, a small village in northern Italy, after fleeing from her home in Nigeria.
Recalling her first night working on the streets, she told Dateline: “[It was] terrible and dangerous work because most of the time, I met people that were bad people that they will kill us, you know? They kill girls for fun.”
“The first night was a nightmare and I was so afraid of entering people’s cars, I was crying throughout the night.”
The man who saved her
That was 18 years ago. Princess considers herself one of the lucky ones — her life took a turn when she met a client, Alberto, who would become her rescuer and eventually, her husband.
They began secretly dating and raising money to pay off Princess’ debts and free her from slavery. They have been married for 13 years and have a daughter together.
Her mission to save others
Now, Princess is taking on the Nigerian mafia in a bid to help other victims of trafficking, already rescuing more than 250 girls.
One of those girls, Beauty, still struggles to deal with the horrors of what happened to her: “The most terrible part was when I was on my period,” she tells Dateline. “I had to take a very thick piece of rag and put it inside me, so the men could penetrate me without seeing the blood. Just imagine the pain — you’re pushing that tissue inside your womb, it’s so painful. Sometimes you don’t even get $25, you have to pay. They tell you, ‘$19′ and sometimes they take the money they pay you, they’re still going to beat and collect the money with so much pain.”
Many of the women claim they had no idea what they were getting themselves into but Alberto, Princess’ husband, insists this isn’t the case. He says the girls know they are coming to Europe to be a prostitute but mistakenly glamorize it.
“They imagine themselves in grand hotels or casinos or Las Vegas where everyone is rich and men hand out expensive gifts … a bit like a movie star,” she says. “They don’t realize they’ll be on the street, selling themselves for $6 and getting beaten up. The clients, the pimps the traffickers, the slavery, the police raids, the girls who escape, it’s a very, very complex world.”
The scary rise of human trafficking
Sadly, stories like Princess’ have become increasingly common as human trafficking becomes the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise. In the past three years, there has been a 600 percent jump in the number of sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy. The girls, many of them from bitterly poor towns in Nigeria, travel for months by boat, only to be sold for tens of thousands of dollars, their dreams shattered.
When they arrive they are suddenly told they owe astronomical sums of money — between $20,000 to $43,000 — and, to their horror, their ticket to freedom becomes a trap into sex slavery, working the streets to pay off their debts. Some are as young as 14 years old.