BENIN CITY, NIGERIA — During VOA’s series on sex trafficking in Nigeria, Patience Ken told how she was forced into five years of prostitution in Europe. Now, Ken said she returned home, but never was really freed.
“Somebody tells me, ‘Do I want to go to Europe?’ He said I am going there to be doing farm[ing] where they produce those tomatoes. At the end of the day, I do not know I would be doing prostitution,” she explains.
Like other women we have talked to in this series, Patience donated hair, nails and clothing to a juju priest or shaman and vowed to pay the handlers for her travel to Europe or die. But the “magical” oath never really mattered to her.
At the home of her “madam,” Patience was beaten if she did not make enough money. On the streets, local thugs kept her from running or calling the police.
“I wanted to run away, but I can not because they have a lot of friends hanging around looking at me. So I have to finish paying the money,” she explains.
Patience lived in a room packed with 20 girls, all of whom worked day and night. For all five years, she said she was deliriously tired and deeply lonely. And although she made tons of money, she never saw a penny.
“You can not call your family. You can not send money to your family. You cannot eat very well. That is it,” she says.
When Patience finally paid off her debt - $40,000 - she thought she was going to continue. She was pregnant and didn’t want to go home broke. But as soon as she stopped paying the madam, she was arrested, jailed and deported. She said she does not know if it was the madam who turned her in.
I ask if her family was happy to see her home safe.
“No. They feel bad. A lot of them say a lot of things: 'Now you are here. To feed is very hard,'” she recalls.
Years later in Benin City, Patience says the horrors of Italy never really left her. Her only real goal is to keep her daughter in school she confides, so she is never desperate enough to travel abroad for what she thought was going to be low-paying menial work, but turned into sexual slavery.
Just talking about the experience, she adds, still hurts.
“I do not feel strong. I feel bad any time I remember those things I started crying. Anytime I feel those things I do not eat. I lose my appetite. As I am saying it, when I get home I can not eat very well because I feel bad," she says.
As bad as she feels, Patience says she has no interest in turning in the people that trafficked her. They will be punished, she adds, but by God, not by her.