A Second Chance
Piedmont is one of the Italian regions with the highest number of Nigerian women forced into prostitution on the streets. Every woman represents a source of income between 35,000 and 50,000 Euros for the criminal organization managing them. It is an enormous business of international proportions, as was proven last year by the operation carried out by the Italian police which culminated in the arrest of 32 people. Those arrested were operating on behalf of the Supreme Eiye Confraternity and Supreme Vikings Confraternity, the main Nigerian mafia clans in Italy.
In Asti, an Italian town in the Piedmont region with just over 75,000 inhabitants, there is a non-profit organization which aims to rescue foreign women forced into prostitution. It is called Piam (Integration Project for the Reception of Migrants), an organization founded in 1999 following the encounter between Princess Inyang Okokon, a former victim of human trafficking, with Alberto Mossino, an Italian man who subsequently became her husband.
Princess entered Italy illegally in 1998 and thanks to the help of a priest of and Alberto she was able to pay off the debt of 45,000 Euros to her madam, report her exploiters and put an end to that chapter. From 1999 to the present day Piam has saved some 200 women who travelled to Italy with the illusion of finding a job but instead ended up selling their bodies on the streets .
For twenty years Princess and her collaborators have been monitoring the streets of Asti in an attempt to provide women who have fallen into the prostitution trap a second chance. The first approach is vital. It takes sensitivity to slowly win over the acceptance of the women who are mistrustful and often frightened.
“We start by handing out condoms and information pamphlets,” says Princess, “then when the women understand that they have nothing to fear we try to explain to them that a different future is always possible and that they can count on us. It is not a simple job, but if there are women out there who want to change their lives we welcome them onto our premises, we help them obtain a residence permit, we provide psychological support and we assist them in becoming integrated into Italian society.”
One of the main obstacles encountered by Princess and her staff are the voodoo rituals which the women are subjected to before leaving Nigeria, or sometimes even in Italy. The women are made to believe that if they do not pay the debt they have entered with their madam they will die or their loved ones will be hurt.
According to Alberto Mossimo, president of Piam, the battle is all psychological:
“Unlike prostitutes from eastern Europe who are constantly under the surveillance of their exploiters when they are on the streets, Nigerian women are not kept under control because their fear and anxiety of the juju rituals is so great that rarely do they decide to run away. “