Thursday, October 4, 2007

Italy: Former Sex Slave Fights Trafficking

AOSTA, ITALY -- When Isoke Aikpitanyi boarded a plane in Benin City, Nigeria, she dreamed of a new life in Europe. She found a nightmare instead.

In debt and in the grips of human traffickers, Aikpitanyi began working as a prostitute on the streets of Turin.

She was jeered at, humiliated, raped, beaten and nearly stabbed to death.

"You can't imagine before you come that you're going to end up a slave," Aikpitanyi said in an interview in the elegant main square of Aosta, where she now lives. "You don't realize that the world has returned to an era of slavery."

Her story mirrors that of tens of thousands of women from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe who have been lured to the West by the prospect of well-paid work as salesclerks or in factories.

Once there, however, many find that the organizations they used to handle the travel arrangements had criminal intentions in mind.

Documents are withheld. Women find themselves isolated and are frightened into thinking that they will be deported if they turn to the authorities for help.

Many are forced into prostitution, especially - as Aikpitanyi discovered to her horror - if there is a substantial travel debt to repay (€30,000, or $42,000, in her case) and a large family back home to support.

But three years after Aikpitanyi's nightmare started in 2000, she plucked up her courage and escaped.

She renegotiated her debt and moved in with a man - a former client - who had begun to counsel men about sex addiction.

Word traveled fast on the street. Former colleagues began showing up on her doorstep, asking for help. She took them in.

Laura Maragnani, a journalist with the news weekly Panorama, met her and they collaborated on a book, "The Girls of Benin City," (in Italian) which was published in March and is now in its second printing...


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