Twelve members of an international sex trafficking gang that pulled out its victims’ fingernails and made them eat raw chicken hearts during harrowing voodoo rituals have been arrested in Spain and the UK.
The organised crime network behind the sex trafficking ring is said to have smuggled women from Nigeria to Europe, where they were forced to work as prostitutes.
Police believe the gang recruited its victims from the Nigerian city of Benin, promising them well-paid work and a better life in European cities before compelling them to pay off debts they supposedly built up while travelling by selling their bodies for sex.
Victims were made to believe that they or members of their families would be killed if they failed to comply with their captors’ demands after being put thorough horrific voodoo rituals that also involved having their pubic hair pulled out.
After being smuggled into Europe using fake passports, the women were quickly put to work in brothels, which were mostly situated in Spain and Italy.
Spanish police detained 11 members of the gang at the beginning of this month in Alicante, Cantabria and Vizcaya, and safeguarded four suspected victims.
In a separate linked operation, officers from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) arrested a woman in the city of Manchester on suspicion of being a key member of the sex trafficking network.
Europol supported the operation by providing information exchange and facilitating analytical support.
Liam Vernon from the NCA’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit, said: “Through close cooperation with the Spanish authorities and Greater Manchester Police, we have located and arrested a woman believed to be a key member of a network that trafficked and forced vulnerable women into prostitution against their will.
“Criminals involved in modern slavery seek out and exploit vulnerable individuals. They treat their victims as a commodity that can generate income over and over again.
“Tackling this threat is a priority for the NCA and we are committed to working with partners in the UK and overseas to pursue and disrupt those responsible.”
The girls often have little idea of the life that awaits them when they arrive in Europe, and are psychologically manipulated after being put through voodoo magic rituals before they leave their home country.
The IOM estimates that 80% of Nigerian teenage girls and young women who travel to Italy are forced to work as prostitutes, although the true number could be higher as many victims are not known to authorities.
“These girls, who are increasingly younger ever year, are brought to Italy and to Europe for sexual exploitation,” IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo said.