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Jennifer’s Story: “Helping women like me is not easy”

I was born in a village outside Benin city in Nigeria into a poor family with eight children. My father died when I was seven and I was trafficked aged eight into domestic slavery. I ran away back to my mum when I was 17 after many years of abuse to my body and mind. I started to work in the fields with my mother and I had a baby girl.

Aged 19 a woman came to our village with her friends in a big shiny car. She charmed me and said I could start a new life working in Europe and provide for my daughter and mother. I was so happy. She carried me from Nigeria to Europe, I was so silly to believe her lies.

In Paris I was forced into prostitution and after two years I had paid back 20.000 euro of the 45.000 euro debt she said I must pay her or she would hurt my family. I was scared for my mother and siblings’ lives in Nigeria, so I obeyed her.

In 2019 my madam’s boys sent me to Denmark where I met on the streets a “sister” from Africa who worked for HopeNow. I got counseling from her and a therapist. For the first time I shared my story, abused by the family I lived with as a child, but too scared to tell my mum that they were so wicked. I often talk with HopeNow about how it is to be a woman having sex with many men, when my heart is not open to them. Many times since I came to Europe I start to float outside my body. The therapist always makes sure I come back into feeling safe, warm and strong again in myself.

Talking helps, but at the end of the day, doing things together, cooking and walking in nature is so good and brings me closer to my God. It makes me strong to be with people who want nothing from me, and just listen and are kind. They say, “You are the master of your own life,” so we talk very seriously about tough things, but we also have fun and dance and eat and go to the beach and even ride on a bike.

They show me also how to comfort myself, putting my hands on my chest and breathing, listening to quiet music before I sleep. Praying also helps me a lot because I am Christian. I am learning guilt and shame I cannot use no more. I was very young and my trafficker was greedy and wicked.  

I joined a class with other women learning to do make up, not for sex work, but just for me to look pretty. I have for a long-time pain in my body, headaches, but the last 6 months I am starting to come back into my body and my mind is a little more relaxed. HopeNow sent money to my mother who lives with my daughter, so she could move her address, but last month my madame sent people to my other sisters and started to threaten them. In the compound someone made a video of these wicked people.

Helping women like me is not easy, one problem comes and then a new one. But I have started to believe there is a future, some hope for me and that I am a sharp bright woman.  I have survived and will get stronger. I do not want to be identified officially as trafficked and then taken with what they call a voluntary return to Nigeria. HopeNow wants me to start to get help from an NGO in Benin to protect my family. HopeNow have told me about a special group of police called NAPTIP. But white people must understand.

Corruption is so big in Nigeria that even after the King of Benin has said NO to trafficking I know there are so many cults and gangs working with the traffickers, and they have so much power. If Robbers or traffickers give DASH—MONEY to the police, the victim who complains will face the music. A good KARITAS or NGO must go slow with us girls, we sacrifice so much to get to Europe. Nigeria is a bad place for poor people. I want to get married to an old man I met and have a baby, but the social worker says I must be careful not to fall into a new trap. I would like to just work in any work and not run around like a thieve in the night. I am 23 years old and all my life people have used me. I am so tired. But now I get some advice from HopeNow and can come somewhere safe, so I have a little hope.

The story was submitted by Michelle Mildwater from HopeNow, a Danish NGO. The survivor has agreed to the publishing of this story. Their name has been changed.

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