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At the Margins of Consent: Sex Trafficking from Nigeria to Italy

Olufunke Aluko-Daniels

Abstract: The chapter examines the process of recruitment and implantation in Italian cities of Nigerian girls and women for prostitution, specifically investigating the issue of consent, arguing that the coercive practices used by the pimps and madams would negate any consent given by the prospective migrant sex worker at the time of recruitment, regardless of wider legal questions as to whether an individual can consent to exploitation. The severity of the methods used to coerce compliance amount to serious crimes and human rights abuses in themselves that should be acted upon by law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice systems of both Italy and Nigeria.

Massey, Simon and Rino Coluccello. Eurafrican Migration: Legal, Economic and Social Responses to Irregular Migration. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,

2015. doi: 10.1057/9781137391353.0008.


Sex trafficking from Nigeria to Italy was first identified in the mid-1980s. As is the case with sex trafficking in other parts of the world, the number of women moved into prostitution from Nigeria to Italy remains unclear. A recent figure based on research undertaken by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNCRI) estimates that between 2000 and 2009, about 8,000-10,000 Nigerian women were involved in street prostitution in Italy. In terms of the broader phenomenon of trafficking in human beings (THB), Nigeria is commonly identified as simultaneously a country of origin, transit and destination (UNODC 2012; USDOS 2012), whilst in the specific category of sex trafficking, it is often identified as purely a sending country (UNICRI 2010) leading to sex trafficking in the country being conflated with THB (Cole 2006).

The adoption in 2000 of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, referred to as the Trafficking Protocol, is widely held as a juncture in international efforts to address sex trafficking. Both Nigeria and Italy are signatories and responded to its adoption by enacting antitrafficking legislation and amending existing legislation in this area. Yet, the international effort to combat sex trafficking through international treaties, as well as new domestic legislation, are dismissed by a number of scholars, including Kara (2009) and Todres (2011: 451), as inadequate, misdirected and ineffective.

Much of the evidence presented in this chapter is first-hand. It was gathered through semi-structured interviews with experts in the area of sex trafficking from Nigeria and Italy, from law enforcement and criminal justice practitioners; governmental and non-governmental organisations; scholars and journalists.

A key question is whether the movement of women from Nigeria to Italy to work as prostitutes should be treated as trafficking with the women being moved treated as victims, or as a form of smuggling, where the victim is the Italian state whose immigration laws are being circumvented? The chapter further explores the position of consent through the prism of the continuing debate amongst feminist scholars regarding the right of women to choose, or rather choose to be transported into, prostitution. In so doing, the current legal status of consent in this area will also be investigated.

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