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But when they arrived, they were saddled with crushing debts. They were spat at, insulted, robbed and even raped. Standing by a fog-shrouded road, three shivering young Nigerians in lacy stockings and miniskirts wave and holler at passing cars. A van carrying sexual health educators pulls up to distribute leaflets and condoms. The youngest of the girls — in her early 20s, long-haired, round-faced, and sporting a tiny black skirt that barely covers her knickers — slips into the back of the van for warmth.
Many flock to Turin in wealthy northern Italy, which has had strong business and trade links with Nigeria since the s. Today, there is a large Nigerian community. Women are typically recruited in their late teens or early 20s by a friend or relative in a poor Nigerian town like Benin City. Most of them know they will work as prostitutes. Further down the dimly lit road, a year-old sitting on an upturned paint bucket, her upper body hunched over a charcoal stove, describes how she is often attacked by petty criminals.
You give him money. The health educators — Laure Saporta, a cheerful dark-blonde former Red Cross worker and Alessia Baldo, a trained psychologist — try to see the bright side of things. Advice is clearly needed. For example, all the prostitutes interviewed said they wipe the lubricant off condoms because they believe it is harmful and makes you fat.
Madams are increasingly recruiting in small villages rather than towns, targeting girls who are more submissive, uneducated and often unaware of even basic health issues.
Some women do succeed in paying off the debt, become madams themselves and wow people back home with their wealth. Others are picked up by police and deported, returning home with the stigma of having failed to make their families rich.