British courts have found difficulty in bringing African sex-traffickers to justice because a belief in black magic and juju “spells” makes victims afraid to testify. Now, the UK government is seeking out the witch doctors responsible and forcing them to reverse the perceived curse.
The African women, many of who end up in the United Kingdom, believe that the work of witch doctors gives traffickers power over them. Kevin Hyland, England’s first anti-slavery commissioner, is working with Nigerian law enforcement to begin forcing witch doctors to free victims from fear of infertility and even death.
Fighting fire with fire
Much of sub-Saharan Africa has a belief in juju magic and the power of witch doctors, and psychologists say that simply arguing the lack of evidence for the superstition is not enough to convince a believer to change their mind. Instead, the best chance of success in a court case is to fight fire with fire and have the “spell” reversed by the person who first administered it.
[STORY: Modern medicine conquers witchcraft]
The Independent reports that last year more than 100 Nigerian women were identified as having been trafficked into sexual slavery, and that British police had to spend two years trying to dispel the fears of women so they could give evidence in the first case of its kind in Europe, in 2011.
In 2012, British Police persuaded three Nigerian girls who had been trafficked using juju to give evidence against an individual named Osezua Osolase, who ran the operation from his home in Britain. The three initially told police false stories before eventually being persuaded to overcome the witchcraft. “It took time, and trust and confidence,” said law enforcement agent Eddie Fox. “We never really know exactly what threats had been made during the rituals, but they were extremely concerned.”
He added that: “Some of the Nigerian girls come from those areas where juju is held in such esteem and there’s so much fear and belief in it.”
What do the rituals involve?
Mr Hyland said that: “The first thing is the person’s recovery to make them feel better and live their life again. That’s extremely important. Then we will see whether they are confident to give evidence so we can pursue and prosecute the person responsible for this.”
Rituals include the taking of blood, hair and clothing, and swearing oaths to gods who are said to have the power of life and death. Taking hair from the head and pubic hair makes the women believe that the person who paid for the ceremony has power over both their mind and their sexuality.
The process of forcing witch doctors to reverse their work has already been used at least four times in Nigeria, according to that country’s main anti-trafficking organisation.
One case saw victims taken back to Nigeria from Spain for to have juju reversed before giving evidence against the criminal trafficking gangs. Hyland will travel to Africa next month to meet campaigners who have secured criminal convictions after reversing juju spells and persuading witnesses to give evidence.