Sixteen members of a mostly female network of Nigerian human traffickers operating forced prostitution rings in France went on trial last week in Paris, facing their accusers as the trafficked women testified to being lied to, beaten and raped.
According to France 24, plaintiffs at the High Court of Paris began giving testimony on May 14 against a group known as the “Authentic Sisters,” saying they were trafficked from Nigeria, abused and forced into prostitution.
While only eight women are testifying in the case, a total of 49 victims have come forward. The defendants are being tried for procuring and trafficking in human beings, crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
It is rare to get these many women to testify,” said a social worker for Bus De Femme, who did not want to be named for security reasons.
Bus De Femme, an NGO that provides a range of health and social services to sex workers in Paris, provided pro-bono lawyers for the victims in the case.
In some cases, the group’s volunteers and staff worked for years with the women to build up enough trust to convince them to testify.
“These girls are often incredibly traumatised and terrified to speak out,” the social worker said.
Nigerian members of Bus De Femme’s staff, some of whom are former sex workers themselves, played an integral part.
Of the 16 accused, 11 are women and five are men. Four are currently serving time in prison for previous offenses.
The prosecution alleges the accused operated their prostitution network across multiple countries, including France, Italy and Spain.
During the first week, the judge heard testimonies from four women and the preliminary defence from two alleged traffickers, Mark “Hilary” Irorere and his wife Happy Irorere, who are thought to have been the ringleaders responsible for coordinating the women’s affairs once they arrived in Europe.