A Liberian-born British citizen has been sentenced to 14 years in prison after she used "voodoo ceremonies" to lure vulnerable Nigerian women into her sex trafficking operation.
Josephine Iyamu, 51, also known as "Madame Sandra," is said to have recruited women from rural Nigeria by promising them a better life in Europe. She then brought them to Germany where she trafficked them as prostitutes.
“With zero regard for their safety and wellbeing, she sent them via dangerous routes to Germany and forced them to work in brothels to fund her own lifestyle,” the National Crime Agency Operations Manager Kay Mellor said in a statement. “To her, these women were not human beings seeking a better life. They were merely a commodity which she could exploit to generate income for herself.”
According to the BBC, at least five of the trafficked women took part in a “juju” ceremony performed by a voodoo priest. In the ceremony, they had to eat chicken hearts and to drink blood containing worms. The psychological and emotional impact of these rituals were important, experts say, because juju ceremonies exert a control over victims that can be more powerful than actual shackle, NPR reports.
As part of their pledge to Iyamu, the women promised to pay her gang up to $44,000 for their passage to Germany.
However, the women suffered through a harrowing journey to Europe via North Africa and the Meditteranean before they finally made it to Germany.
“Once in Germany they would be met by one of her associates who placed them in brothels and made them work as prostitutes in order to repay the debt,” the NCA said in a statement.
But after a tip-off from a brothel owner, an investigation led to the arrest of Iyamu last August.
Prosecutors noted that Iyamu, who has been dubbed the "voodoo nurse" by the media, was making a modest income as a nurse in London. However, as The Guardian reported, “she was able to spend thousands on international air travel and to afford a large home in Benin City in Nigeria.”
Iyamu continued her intimidation campaign against the victims while in jail. She bribed law enforcement officers and arranged for relatives of the victims to be arrested in Nigeria, all actions that led her to be convicted for perverting the course of justice.