In 2016 I arrived in Copenhagen and was forced out onto the streets to have sex with men for money. The very first night at 2 am shaking with nerves, I met an outreach worker from HopeNow. The woman pushing her bike seemed kind and tried to give me her mobile phone number. My madame was standing next to me by the curb touting for customers and in our Benin language warned me not to speak with her “This woman is wicked” she hissed at me like a snake, “tell her you don’t know me and lie about your name, she gets big money from government to arrest and deport girls like you back to Nigeria.”
During the following months in the early hours of the morning me and the other trafficked girls sought shelter in a small drop in place in the red-light area, run by Hope Now. During this time there were many raids on the street and girls arrested. I always kept to myself and after months of this terrible life, my spirit was in darkness and I wanted to kill myself. Then one of the street girls told me about a dating site, she said it was a good way to get a boyfriend.
What happened next was like a sloppy, romance soap. I met an extraordinary and wonderful man. I told him my story on the first night we met and after three days I ran away from my Madame and I stayed in hiding in his home. But I did not forget the HopeNow social worker and after 5 months a person who knew my boyfriend told us we could trust HopeNow and it was important we got legal advice and counseling. I rang to the same woman I met on the first night in Copenhagen and immediately she asked us to come for counseling.
During a period of more than one year we got counseling and we talked about everything and I shared my traumas. I was very suspicious and so scared, but the lady was so patient with us. Gradually, my fear, anger, shame and grief grew less. The therapist helped me to create what she called safe spaces and gradually the parts of my mind and body that had survived and were strong but had been wounded became bigger and stronger. My kind boyfriend also kept encouraging me saying “This is the way forward; you can go through this.”
Six months pregnant and still too scared to come forward, like a chicken hiding from a fox. I woke up and there was blood in the bed. We rang to HopeNow and the woman rushed over on a bike, called for emergency medical help and traveled with me in the ambulance, sirens blazing. The medical staff stopped the bleeding, and all went well.
Finally, when I was nine months pregnant, I trusted HopeNow enough to give permission for them to submit my trafficking story to the Danish center against human trafficking so I could receive a so-called reflection period. I agreed to go to the police, which is required under the Danish procedure to be officially identified. I waddled into the police interview room, my belly was bulging ready to burst and the policeman looked at me with a funny expression, big eyes, mouth open. He asked me when I was due, and I said tomorrow. The social worker glanced over at me with a touch of mischief in her eyes. She told me afterwards with a big grin, that he hurried through the interview and sent documents to the immigration department who hold all the power.
Three days later I gave birth to a beautiful baby and my lovely man and I got married in a church.
Next we paid a lawyer to submit the legal papers for a family reunion. My husband borrowed 100.000 kroner to put into a special account which is what the Danish government demands a Danish person must do if they want to marry a person, who is not an EU citizen. So even in Denmark money can buy, what you should get for free, as a human right.
I was getting really empowered, I felt for the first time in my life free, my creativity was bubberingly like a good, spicy, Nigerian soup and I decided together with HopeNow and a dance director Kasper from MUTE THEATER to create a theater piece which I called THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH. I painted the poster for the performance, sang, danced and narrated my life and the lives of three other women for an audience of 50 people. I described my childhood, teenager years, how I was recruited by my madame, what happened on the streets of Copenhagen and the restrictive, measures enforced by the Danish authorities which often result in the criminalization of victims.
When the COVID-19 crisis is over I want to again perform my solo narrative theater piece which describes not only my story of recovery, but also the courage and the suffering of so many other women who are crying for their freedom. BLACK LIVES DO MATTER.
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.
Photos: Guadalupen Basagoitia
HopeNow organized and directed the theatre performance: Director and choreographer Michelle Mildwater and Kasper Ravenhoj from Mute Theater