Spanish police free 16 women forced into sex slavery with voodoo threats

Police have freed 16 women from Nigeria who were forced into prostitution on the streets of Zaragoza after being lured to Europe with the promise of a better life.

Spanish police free 16 women forced into sex slavery with voodoo threats
A photo showing voodoo obects at a market in Benin. Photo: jbdodane / Flickr

Targeted by a trafficking gang, they were persuaded to travel to Europe with the promise of respectable jobs but once they arrived in Spain, they were put to work as prostitutes “to pay off their debt” according to a statement by Spain’s National Police.

“They were forced to practice prostitution until they paid off the debt and were bound by a voodoo-juju oath by which they pledged to pay the debt incurred and not to denounce their exploiters,” said the statement.

The women were brought to Europe via a gruelling trip across Africa to the Libyan coast where they were loaded onto boats to make the perilous sea journey to Italy. From there they were taken across Europe by land to Zaragoza.

According to police the group of girls had been subjected to “witchraft” rituals threatening terrible consequences to them and their families if they disobeyed the organisation, police said.

Witchcraft and prostitution: The plight of Nigerian girls seeking new life in Spain

Once in Zaragoza the women were forced onto the streets and had to hand over their earnings to a ‘madame’ who kept them in squalid conditions.

Police arrested  11 people in Spain, Italy, Germany and Denmark who were involved in the people trafficking gang as part of a Europe wide investigation.


Spain’s top court reinstates first sex workers’ union

Spanish sex workers have the right to form their own union, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, overturning an earlier court decision ordering the dissolution of Spain's first such labour organisation.

Spain's top court reinstates first sex workers' union
Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

Known as OTRAS (or “the Sex Workers’ Organisation”), the union was discretely set up in August 2018 but was closed three months later by order of the National Court following an appeal by the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

But following an appeal, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of OTRAS, saying that its statutes, which had triggered the initial legal challenge, were “in line with the law” and that sex workers “have the fundamental right to freedom of association and the right to form a union”.

In its November 2018 ruling, the National Court had argued that allowing the union to exist amounted to “recognising the act of procurement as lawful”.


Contacted by AFP, the union did not wish to comment.

When it was founded, OTRAS received the green light from the labour ministry and its statutes were publicly registered in the official gazette the day before the government went into a summer recess.

But three weeks later, the government — which portrays itself as “feminist and in favour of the abolition of prostitution” according to Sanchez’s Twitter feed at the time — started legal moves against it.

In Spain, prostitution is neither legal nor illegal but it is tolerated.

Although it is not recognised as employment, there is a large number of licensed brothels throughout the country.