Joana – a trainee from HOPE FOR THE FUTURE shares her heartbreaking Story

How do women affected by human trafficking get to Austria? Why do they even get involved in all of this in the first place? Why don’t they just run away? We receive many questions about our trainees and have noticed that there is still a lot of prejudice and a lot of misconceptions about forced prostitution in our society. Therefore, we would like to share Joana’s story here. In the hope of studying in Europe, she was caught by human traffickers and forced into prostitution in Austria.

The dream of studying in Europe

Joana grew up with six siblings in Nigeria. Then one day, a woman from her neighborhood approached her. During that conversation, the woman offered Joana a passage to Europe, where she could then go on to studying. For the young woman, studying abroad would be a huge opportunity that her parents could not afford. After several discussions, her family finally agreed to let her go to Europe.

In West African countries contracts are often sealed with a juju oath. Joana went to a priest and had to eat a raw, bloody chicken heart drenched in alcohol. She was told that this ritual was used as a protection spell against white people.

How the dream turned into a nightmare

The afore mentioned woman organised the necessary papers for Joana with which she could finally set out on her journey to Europe. However, upon arrival her dream quickly turned into a nightmare. The seemingly generous woman was a ‘madam’ (the female equivalent of a pimp) and forced Joana into prostitution in order to repay the cost of the trip. Her alleged debt now amounted to € 30,000.

Because of the juju oath, the madam had a strong hold over Joana and put her under immense pressure to repay her costs. She made Joana believe that she or her family would die if she disobeyed her and went to the police. Apart from the madam, Joana didn’t know anyone in Austria, didn’t speak the language and was thereby forced to do something she hated. All income was taken from her to pay off the ‘debts’. She felt powerless and lonely.

The rescue and new beginning

During a police inspection of the establishment in which Joana was forced to work in, the police discovered that her papers were forged. Joana was supposed to be deported back to Nigeria. But she was lucky, because instead of being deported, she was brought to Traiskirchen (home to one of the largest refugee camps in Austria) and was able to apply for asylum. Despite her concern about the juju vow, she began to open up. One of the social workers got in touch with an African priest who prayed for her and her freedom from the curse.

Joana then lived in a safe house, which is where she was referred to HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. With the support of social workers, she managed to build a new life for herself. Joana was only 17 years old when she first came to HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. She worked for us as a trainee and actively helped sew bags and backpacks for our online shop. She also learned German diligently and took part in various workshops. Although she enjoyed sewing, she wanted to go her own way. Today Joana works in a kitchen and can pursue her passion for cooking.

Many Nigerian women who were affected by sex trafficking have shared similar stories. The juju oath, the seemingly nice women who promise the girls a life in Europe and the madams – all of this is part of the human trafficking scam. To our privileged society it may sound like the content of a horrible thriller, but this is the reality for many Nigerian women who end up in Europe.

Only few can escape this difficult fate and some even continue working as a madam themselves as they don’t know any other life. In order to break this vicious circle, we would like to practice educational work and thereby provide these women with a perspective for their future. We offer workshops in which our trainees can learn sewing and other handicrafts. In addition to that, HOPE FOR THE FUTURE also offers free German lessons and various seminars to strengthen the survivors’ self-confidence and to process their experiences.