Four suspected members of the Black Axe, a cult of Nigerian origin, were arrested in southern Italy, after a young survivor of the sex trade, who is also a Nigerian, stood up against them.
According to The Guardian, the men were arrested in Palermo and Taranto in the early hours of Tuesday.
During an investigation by the Italian police, the lady, whose name was withheld, reportedly said she was forced into prostitution after taking part in a ritual which leaves victims at the mercy of their traffickers and their debts.
The lady said she was made to go through a ritual which involved the use of her blood, hair and clothing before leaving the shores of Nigeria.
The purpose of the ritual was to instill fear in her that terrible things would happen if she failed to pay off her debt. The ritual has been termed a deadly and highly effective control mechanism for traffickers recruiting women for the sex trade in Europe.
The police also stated that the lady was imprisoned, raped, blackmailed and forced into prostitution to pay a debt of about €15,000 to her traffickers. She was persuaded by an Italian cleric to report them to the police.
The four arrested suspects have been charged with slavery, human trafficking, kidnapping and recruitment of prostitutes.
According to a 2021 Save the Children report, most of the victims of human trafficking in Italy were Nigerians.
“These women are terrified of the threats and the violence perpetrated by their captors. They fear not only for their lives but also for those of their families back in Nigeria,” said Father Enzo Volpe, a Palermo-based priest, who has been helping Nigerian women for nine years.
“The problem is that behind the slavery of these women, there is a real mafia with members operating across the continent, who have total control over their victims.”
In 2021, 30 Nigerians suspected to be members of the Black Axe mafia were arrested in various parts of Italy for sex trafficking and other related offences.
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