Last Friday night at about 9pm I got a call from John, an ex-co-worker at Italy Daily. He says, "I just got a call from the Independent ( a London newspaper) and they want me to track down a Nigerian prostitute in Torino."

Apparently some 40 Nigerian girls who had immigrated to England had since gone AWOL and are suspected of having been smuggled into Italy to work as prostitutes.

The Guardian had broken the story and the Independent feeling scooped had decided to get the local angle. So John says, "do you have a digital camera, I'm coming up on the next train from Milan... do you know where to find some putane?" Putane is the Italian word for whores.

I say, yep I've got a sweet Sony digital video camera given to me 48 hours earlier by Telecom Italia Lab the company I work for.

So I pick John up at Porta Nuova (the main Torino train station and we head out in a taxi on a whore hunt. Eventually we find some hos and John conducts a few interviews while I snap pics from the taxi... thank got the viddy camera had a night vision toggle!

We never found any of the Nigerians but instead some from Cameroon and Senegal. It was to say one of the more interesting evenings of my time here in Torino. We finally made it back home at 3am where I transferred the photos from the camera to a disc. The next day John wrote the story after calling up a local source... and at 2pm we emailed it to the folx in London.

Here's the story:

Run by pimps from Africa to Italy – via UK

By John Moretti in Turin

11 March 2001

Rolling into Italy under the cover of night, prostitute smugglers and their West African cargo end up on a foggy stretch of dirty boulevards on the city's outer limits.

And, it was revealed last week, the human traffickers are using the UK as a staging post to get them there. Most shocking is the revelation, in a BBC documentary, that more than 40 African teenage girls, some as young as 14, have disappeared from children's homes in Sussex and ended up working as prostitutes in Italy.

The girls arrive seeking asylum in Britain, often with forged passports and already targeted by criminal sex gangs and intimidated by threats of voodoo and violence to themselves and their families back in their home countries.

These new "trade routes" have been forged from the north and growing in importance ever since Italian airport authorities tightened controls on flights from West Africa. Smugglers bring teenage women in via Spain, France, and most recently the UK. An estimated 2,500 African girls, most of them from Nigeria, work on the streets of Turin alone.

Tessiy Ahmed, a 21-year-old former business management student from Senegal, arrived here four months ago. She said she got a call from a friend telling her that a woman in Spain had a job for her in Italy. She bought a ticket from Senegal, met the woman in Spain and with a dozen other girls boarded a bus for Italy.

"When I got here, there was no job. And I had no other alternative to pay my rent," says Ms Ahmed, dressed in a hip-high skirt and long leather boots. The Spanish woman disappeared after stealing her Senegalese passport, most of her belongings and the $500 the young business student paid for the necessary "working permits" and transport to Turin.

On Friday night, Tessiy Ahmed stood alone while a group of 17-year-old girls from Cameroon on the opposite corner, flagged down a carload of rowdy young Italians. The downtrodden Stupinigi neighborhood, where most of the women do their business, sits in the shadows of a looming former Fiat factory. There are very few lights, and the dark-skinned sex slaves appear and disappear in a thick fog that floats on to the nearby highway.

According to Mirta DaPra, who works with prostitutes for the Catholic charity Gruppo Abele, Ms Ahmed paid much less than average to get here. Normally, the girls' bosses are former Nigerian prostitutes themselves, she said, who demand between 75 and 100 million lire (£25,000-£33,000) for the plane ticket, passport and some cash to get the girls launched.

If they default on their debt, they are threatened with "voodoo rituals," such as having their families killed – which has happened before, Ms DaPra said – or threatened with being sent crazy themselves. On at least one street corner on Friday night, black women dressed similarly to Ms Ahmed are pulling out their hair, screaming and spinning in circles.

Indeed, Ms Ahmed might consider herself one of the lucky ones. Last year, police in Vicenza exposed the story of a 14-year-old Romanian girl, who had been kidnapped near Lake Arad, then bought and sold five times before she flung herself to freedom from a car at a passing police vehicle.

Trieste prosecutors told how women like her were sold at auction – between 15 and 20 million lire per girl, depending on their bodies – in the parking lots of Autogrill service stations. The pimps who bought them demanded they make at least a million lire per night or the girls would be beaten.

Ms Ahmed has not been beaten, but she's been stabbed by a client: she bends to show the wound on her right knee with a hand much blacker than her whitened face. She says she has no pimp. She owes no debts. But she cannot go home. "How will I go back?" she asks. "I don't know how to."

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If you want to see my photo check out Sunday's Independent... it ran as the lead story on pg.2 of the Sunday independent... of course they misspelled my name on the photo credit... instead of Matthew Londan they credited Matthew Landau. go figure.

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