A French court has sentenced 23 Nigerians and one Frenchman, all members of a Lyon-based sex trafficking ring to prison terms of up to seven years for forcing Nigerian women into prostitution.
It was the latest case to highlight the growing use of African migrants in the European sex trade.
Among those sentenced was Europe’s most wanted woman, fugitive Jessica Edosomwan, accused of acting as a France-based “madam” to women recruited mainly in Nigeria’s Edo State.
Edosomwan was tried in absentia.
Also sentenced was self-styled Pastor Stanley Omoregie, 35, who said he just wanted to help the people in his community.
He denied in court the accusation of being involved in running a prostitution racket and trafficking of young girls from Nigeria to Europe.
Half of the 24 defendants present are women, mostly under 35 years old, and suspected of being the “mamas” of the network, in other words pimps.
Nigeria was the main country of origin for the tens of thousands of migrants who crossed the Mediterranean to Europe by boat in 2016 and 2017.
Many were women and girls lured to Europe with false promises of jobs as hairdressers or seamstresses, only to find themselves selling sex to repay their smugglers.
Seventeen women filed complaints against the defendants but none of the victims attended the trial, with the exception of one former sex worker who found herself in the dock for luring another woman into the trade.
The accused had faced up to 10 years’ imprisonment on charges including human trafficking, pimping, money laundering and helping people live illegally in France.
Prosecutors estimated that the victims, aged 17 to 38, made up to 150,000 euros ($166,000) a month for the syndicate by selling sex in vans parked by the side of the road for as little as 10 euros.
A French mechanic who looked after the vans was among the 24 defendants.
Last year, 15 members of a Paris-based, female-led pimping ring known as the “Authentic Sisters” — many themselves former trafficking victims — were jailed for up to 11 years for forcing girls into slavery in France.
Similar gangs have also been dismantled in Italy and Britain.
The UN estimates that 80 percent of young Nigerian women arriving in Italy — usually their first port of call in Europe — are already in the clutches of prostitution networks, or quickly fall under their control.
Most of the women come from Nigeria’s Benin City, a human trafficking hotbed.
Many told investigators they had taken part in “juju” or black magic rituals before leaving Nigeria, during which they had to promise to repay the money for their passage to Europe.