According to reports by the BBC, the Italian government has just initiated an investigation into the violent deaths of 26 young Nigerian women aged between 14 to 18 while they were being illegally smuggled to Italy for sex work.
Preliminary reports suggest that 23 of the 26 women at the heart of this investigation had been traveling on a rubber boat with 64 other people. It was in the course of this travel that they died.
Preliminary reports also suggests that the girls had been violently sexually assaulted either before or during their deaths, and had been victims of continued sexual violence. The bodies of these girls were thrown overboard and then subsequently rescued from the Mediterranean sea by the Cantabria, a Spanish Warship, which also rescued 375 other stranded migrants who were thankfully alive at the time of their rescues as part of a large EU anti-trafficking task force.
But the fact remains that 26 teenage girls are dead. 26 Nigerian girls who were most likely raped and murdered (for the government to suggest rape and murder, it means they already have sufficient evidence to corroborate this claim and are merely holding out till they can present suspects) in the middle of a trip that would have put their lives in a very different kind of jeopardy if it had succeeded. We have written before about the horrors of the Edo-Italy sex route, and how the traumas that come with forced sex work do not end when the girls in question have regained their freedom and autonomy over their lives.
The team behind the EU Task force has suggested that the route the girls were using when they died was not the traditional route used by sex traffickers to Italy, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that these girls were being trafficked to Europe for whatever reason.
But as this shows, not every girl even lives to experience those horrors. For some girls, the horror begins on the boat, before it has even left the pier. I cannot imagine how terrified those girls were, separated from their families and thrust with strangers in a rubber boat, left alone to float to Italy with little personal belongings and no one they could trust.
The people they traveled with felt entitled to their bodies, so much so that they took sex from them without consent, and then let them drown.
It is heartbreaking.
How can we continue to let our greed and our need to live more expensively than we currently do allow us put at risk, the lives of the girls who are destined to suffer to ‘lift’ their families out of poverty? How can we let them continue to die in boats and dingy bushes, scared, alone and assaulted by strangers.
We have to do better, we have to.