Human smuggling in Europe

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Audio Transcript:

****LANGUAGE ALERT: This story includes graphic descriptions of ritualized intimidation of young women.****

MARCO WERMAN: Spanish police broke up a major prostitution ring today. Its members are accused of smuggling young African women into Europe. Investigators say the accused brought in hundreds if not thousands of women. The arrests are part of a larger struggle against human trafficking into Europe. The World's Gerry Hadden has more.

GERRY HADDEN: The 23 men arrested today are all from Nigeria. Traffickers typically use black magic to frighten their victims into submission, says Orakwue Arinze. Arinze runs Nigeria National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking of Women. He says young girls like those freed today in Spain are told they must work to pay back the costs of smuggling them. To make sure they keep their end of the deal, they're scared witless before they leave home.

ORAKWUE ARINZE: A girl is taken into a shrine or cemetery or anywhere in the middle of the night. Her fingernails are cut off. Her pubic hair is shaved then a piece of cloth is taken and deposited in that shrine.

HADDEN: Authorities say the scare tactic is so effective that almost no victims run away, much less speak out. But this young African woman, who uses the false name Sarah, did. She told the human rights group The Council of Europe that when she resisted �

SARAH: I cried and cried, �No!� I get a lot of beating. They beat the hell out of me.

HADDEN: Sarah is one of tens of thousands of African women believed to be smuggled into Europe each year. Sarah escaped her captors, despite the threats, in part because of a new European convention against the trafficking of human beings. Maud de Boer-Biquicchio is a spokesperson for the Council of Europe, which created the treaty. She says it provides victims who come forward with a safety net. The treaty's signatories must provide victims with shelter, food, clothing, and medical attention. And, she says, they must be given time.

MAUD DE BOER-BIQUICCHIO: They are traumatized. They need time to decide if they want to cooperate with the police and how they can cooperate, what it means in terms of their own personal life. So, time is needed for that, so I think a 30-day period is the minimum required.

HADDEN: Some countries have resisted signing the treaty because they fear that illegal immigrants might use it as a ruse to stay in Europe. But Klara Skrivankova, with Anti Slavery International, says there's no evidence that's happened. In fact, she says, the countries with the most generous support for victims are proving the best at breaking up the rings. She says thanks to women like Sarah, the police are able to infiltrate the smuggling mafias.

KLARA SKRIVANKOVA: They do depend on the testimonies and witness statements of the victims, which again, the ability and the willingness of the victims to cooperate depends very much how real and how robust the protection systems available to them are. Because in those countries like in Italy, where the system is very good and its actually inflecting the need and understand the reality and the risks that are in front of a person who is going to be a witness, the rate of people who actually cooperate is quite high.

HADDEN: Italy not only covers the basic needs of victims who cooperate with police, it also gives them a chance to apply for permanent residency. Authorities in Spain say they busted this latest ring after an African girl escaped from captivity in the southern city of Seville. The women were being forced to sleep with up to 30 men a day. For The World, I'm Gerry Hadden.