Nigerians find violence in Italy sex trade
TURIN, Nov 29 (Reuters) - The prostitutes lining the roads around Turin, a hub for the Nigerian sex trade, have names that evoke dreams of a bright future -- Joy, Blessing, Hope.
Hope that they could escape poverty at home in Africa's most populous nation drew these women to Italy. But when they arrived, they were saddled with crushing debts. They were spat at, insulted, robbed and even raped.
Standing by a fog-shrouded road, three shivering young Nigerians in lacy stockings and miniskirts wave and holler at passing cars. A van carrying sexual health educators pulls up to distribute leaflets and condoms.
The youngest of the girls -- in her early 20s, long-haired, round-faced, and sporting a tiny black skirt that barely covers her knickers -- slips into the back of the van for warmth.
"She's a new girl. Always crying, always cold," another, slightly older woman says, shrugging her shoulders.
Her indifference vanishes when asked for her own story.
"I'm very scared," she says, lowering her eyes. "Sometimes the client forces, pushes, he wants to make love like I'm his wife, even if it doesn't work."
Outreach groups say Nigerians make up more than half Italy's 19,000 to 25,000 street prostitutes, competing mainly with eastern Europeans and Latin Americans.
Many flock to Turin in wealthy northern Italy, which has had strong business and trade links with Nigeria since the 1980s. Today, there is a large Nigerian community.
Women are typically recruited in their late teens or early 20s by a friend or relative in a poor Nigerian town like Benin City. Most of them know they will work as prostitutes.
They are flown to Turin or smuggled overland via north Africa, then bought by a female pimp, or "madam", who tells them they have to pay off up to 50,000 euros ($65,690) in debt to regain their freedom.
With oral sex costing as little as 5 euros on a bad day, this can take a while.