American journalist Ben Taub’s most recent article is the kind of journalism Nigeria so desperately needs. Consumed as we are by following the shenanigans of unrepentant politicians and the nouveau riche, desperate for attention that wealth can only put you adjacent to, we miss the horrors that are happening right before us, like the hundreds of thousands of young women from Benin City who have at some point had to do sex work under duress to support themselves and their families. This is prostitution at its rawest form, and Taub’s article (which you can read here), cuts through a lot of the bureaucratic red tape and the lies and the misinformation and shines a light directly on the worst hit by this trafficking epidemic, vulnerable teenage girls.
One thing he does that we rarely with stories about trafficking is detail just how violent it is for girls who become victims of madams and traffickers and agents. He talks about the routine rapes and beatings that happen along the Niger – Tripoli traffic route, usually perpetrated by the Arab traffickers, often motivated by racism. The torture these young girls, as young as 13 are put through to break them before they are put on unsafe rubber dinghies and forced into the mediterranean with no navigational equipment, merely the stars as a literal guide. A horrific video surfaced last week, of a young migrant girl being mauled to death with a baseball bat. It is horrifying to even imagine what happens to these girls, statutory minors when they actually survive the trip to Italy.
Perhaps because of our preoccupation with wealth and the need to ‘blow’, we see the money these women remit to their families as a sure sign that while they have sex for money, they are mentally and physically fine, and not the subjects of rape, harassment, violence and torture. That simply is not true.
Sex work is often accompanied by violence or the threat of it, a loss of agency, and exploitation. Let’s not forget that when we praise ‘successful’ returnee sex workers, or shame those who are caught by foreign governments and deported. They are all victims.
And perhaps one day, their stories will be told by journalists who are Nigerian like them, but filled with the kind of empathy that ensures their stories are told without bias or prejudice.