Frustrated by a lack of convictions, Nigeria’s anti-trafficking boss risked a radical, new tactic – she set aside forensics, visited a spiritual leader and took on the pervasive black magic she felt was trapping thousands of women in sex slavery.
Six months on and Julie Okah-Donli said she is finally making ground tackling the trade in people that enriches traffickers but traps thousands of Nigerians in sex work, danger and debt.
She said her visit to the local leader, who then summoned his black magic priests, has given women living under the fear of a curse the confidence to turn on captors and give evidence.
“I wanted him to gather the juju priests … because he is someone who is well revered and whenever he speaks they listen,” said the head of Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency (NATPIP).
“As soon as the news went viral on social media, we started getting lots of reports (of trafficking victims).”
Between 2014 and 2016, there was an almost 10-fold increase in the number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy by boat, with at least four in five forced into prostitution, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
More than 11,000 Nigerian women and girls arrived in Europe in 2016 – thousands more tried but did not make it that far – lured by the promise of lucrative sex work.