Every year, thousands are forced to perform sex in Europe with men by trafficking. Jewel was a young Nigerian girl who expected to work as a carer. Two chance encounters helped her escape.

“I saw light. It’s very often dark where I come from because there’s no electricity… But everything here was just blinking – it was very beautiful.”

Jewel is not her real name. She describes her arrival in Denmark.

“I was thankful for the chance to visit this country. “I was eager to start work.”

Jewel thought she was flying from Nigeria to join an old man’s team.

Trafficked people travel via Libya to get their goods. They usually use buses or boats. She says that the trafficking was organized so it didn’t seem suspicious.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 80% of Nigerian women who travel overland and then attempt crossing the Mediterranean are being trafficked into Europe for sex. Jewel was aware of the fates of other women after such a dangerous journey. So when she arrived at Lagos Airport, Jewel felt reassured.

She was delighted to be greeted in Copenhagen by a Nigerian lady who took her to Vesterbro (Copenhagen’s red light area).

Jewel recalls, “I looked around for some type of hospital.”

After walking for awhile, Jewel was instructed to pay attention to her surroundings.

Then, the woman dropped an explosive bombshell.

She said that this was where she’d be working. “She said, ‘This is where you are going to be working.’ I turned around to check if she meant a building that I had not noticed. No, she was referring to where we were walking. This was the place I’d be looking for clients. Then the whole of Denmark just crashed down on me…”

Jewel was fortunate to have a chance meeting. Michelle Mildwater of HopeNow (an NGO helping trafficked people in Denmark) saw Jewel, and she gave Michelle a card with her contact information.

Jewel’s Nigerian boss told Jewel, “madam” to not trust the English lady riding a bicycle. She quickly made Jewel her first client.

“The man gave her 4,000 kroner (£450 / $620) to take me home, and then my madam just walked away,” says Jewel.

He drove me around for almost an eternity. He spoke a language I did not understand and I was unable to comprehend his meaning. We had to use Google Translate for communication. It was frightening.”

Jewel was unable to sell sex in the following months.

It was not something I could do well at. “I was the shy person in the corner.” Because the people who know me best are the ones that have been there for me, I was always found.

According to the EU’s most recent statistics, there were more than 14,000 victims of trafficking in 2017. However, these figures are only the beginning. The majority of victims were not from the EU. Nigeria was the most prominent among the five top-ranking nationalities.

Sexual exploitation continues to be the main purpose of trafficking, according to the European Commission, and in a single year the criminal revenues derived from it are estimated at a staggering 14bn euros (£12bn / $16bn).

Women who make this much money tell their traffickers that they owe them huge amounts of travel and accommodation expenses.

Sine Plambech (a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies’ Department of Migration) says, “They are debt-bonded.”

Nigerians are the most debt-ridden migrant worker group. This could range from 10,000 to 60,000 euros. This kind of debt can make it difficult to get a large amount of cash quickly. If you do not have the papers to allow you to work legally, you can make money in the sex business.

Jewel told her traffickers she’d have to give them 42,000 euros each month in installments. The day she was due to fly out of Nigeria, her traffickers summoned them to confront Jewel in an unnerving meeting held at a cemetery.

“I had no choice but to swear I would not reveal the identity of those who trafficked me and I would be paying all costs. It was going to be a terrible time for me and my family if I didn’t.

The traffickers threatened Jewel’s family in Nigeria after Jewel had been in Denmark.

People just came in and wanted to speak to my grandmother about their ideas of not reporting the people to police or paying them the money. She was crying every single time I phoned her and reminded me of the deal I made with them – I would have to pay otherwise.

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Jewel worked under extreme pressure. She could not be selective about who she was serving, whether they were in Vesterbro or their homes.

“You can’t say no. “You have to be positive, as there may be 10-15 other women who are interested in the same man wanting to earn some money at night,” she said.

However, it could prove extremely risky to go with customers to their homes.

Her traumatized memory recalls: “I was able to die that night, I was forced into the bathtub.”

“The man who came home to me asked me to take a dip in the bath tub. “OK, he’s asking me to get in the bathtub. After that, he returned home with two buckets filled with ice. He began pouring the ice over me in my bath. And I was in there naked and it’s in the middle of winter…”

The European Commission announced a new strategy for combating human trafficking in April. It acknowledged that the previous 10 years of attempts to address the issue had been largely unsuccessful.

It stated that “the impunity of perpetrators within the EU continues, and the number of prosecutions or convictions of traffickers remains low”, making it “a low-risk, high-profit crime.”

The Commission said that efforts to lower demand for exploited victim services had failed too.

According to the UK government, 7,779 modern slavery offenses (including sexual exploitation) were recorded by police in the 12 months prior to March 2020. However, less than 250 individuals were arrested in 2019.

Salvation Army manages the UK’s support for victims of modern slavery. According to the Salvation Army, 610 non-British victims of sexual exploitation have joined their program in the past year.

Vesterbro’s main street, Istedgade with its bars and clubs is brightly lit at night. Often, groups of men wander up and down, sometimes unable to stand due to the alcohol effects. Many of these women are from Eastern Europe and Nigeria, and have flawless hair and makeup. You can easily run in their trainers, as there are very few high heels and no “sexy” clothes.

Michelle Mildwater is still a regular visitor to the area, handing out cards and counseling for women such as Jewel. Michelle has supported Danish prostitutes for over 10 years. Mildwater is acutely aware of how dangerous street life can be and recalls numerous violent incidents at one district’s hotel.

She said that there were a lot of rapes. There were instances when the woman was covered in blood.

Danish non-governmental organizations provide services to women in sex selling at weekends. One, Reden International, has a café where they can rest, recuperate and get a snack between clients. A group of volunteers hosts a unique harm reduction program in one side street.

Because it has fairy lights in its back, the Red Van is called “The Red Van” and offers sex with plenty of condoms. This is where clients can come to sex workers instead of being taken somewhere dangerous. The van is manned by a constant stream of women, with men accompanying them, who use it to access the facilities. Volunteers are able to see the woman in distress but keep a distance so they can hear her. In a single four-hour shift, it can be used as many as 28 times.

Sine Plambech is an academic researcher and one of Red Van’s volunteers.

They have three problems: poverty, debt and children. They must work. “They’ll sell sex, whether they like it or otherwise. So we offer a safe environment for them to do the same thing as they did anyway.” she said.

“Most women would not sell sex to make ends meet if they weren’t required.” They don’t have to be moral about it. But they do need to earn money.

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While it’s not illegal to buy or sell sex here, you must have a valid work permit. Many women who sell sex in Copenhagen are precariously migrant and therefore more at risk. They also have a lower likelihood of reporting any violence or abuse to police.

Denmark has a policy of deporting irregular migrants. If women are found to be victims of trafficking they will usually return home after being temporarily housed in safe houses.

Jewel was also reluctant to go to authorities after spending four months homeless, feeling depressed, hopeless, and even tempted to commit suicide. Her family was in Nigeria and she still owed a large sum of money.

It was then that her entire life changed. This sounds corny, like a fairytale, but Jewel was able to meet a Danish gentleman and fall in love. After a delicious meal and a first date, Jewel told her boyfriend everything.

She says, “That’s an enormous burden that he has to bear,” about her husband.

Jewel gave up working on streets. He helped Jewel make weekly payments for her madam. They needed help. Jewel’s boyfriend asked if she knew of anyone who could provide assistance.

Jewel kept Michelle Mildwater’s card that she gave her the first time she had sex with Vesterbro.

Michelle helped Jewel to face her demons and allowed her to feel free to stop paying her madam. Her family and Jewel have had no violence, possibly because their trafficker wasn’t part of the larger transnational criminal network.

Jewel now awaits her decision about whether she can remain in Denmark. In the meantime, Jewel has learned Danish fluently and has had a child. Michelle and Jewel are now close friends. Jewel was married to HopeNow worker and her Best Man.

Jewel comments, “That’s one my proudest moment in my life-that someone walked with me down the aisle. It was Michelle who did it.”

Jewel hopes to one day go to business school. Her other dream is to help homeless women.

Michelle Mildwater (an actor who used to be an actress) encouraged Jewel, a former actor, to create a play about a woman trafficked and then perform it in Copenhagen. Jewel called it The Only Way Out is Through.

That was therapy. When I was doing the show I was kind of… out of my body. Jewel says it was almost like being part of the audience. She was touched by all that she saw.

This isn’t a fairy tale, it is the reality of people.

Ba was once a streetchild in Ho Chi Minh until he was abducted and taken to the UK by several lorries. Ba was often beaten and he wasn’t paid anything for his work at an isolated cannabis farm. But one day, he broke an upstairs window and leapt to the ground. After that, he continued running for as much time as possible.

The story of how a Vietnamese boy became a slave at a UK marijuana farm

Source: BBC.com

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