Six women from Nigeria, who were rescued by Austria's anti-human trafficking force last week, had fled their homeland after someone put a voodoo curse on them.
People smugglers brought them to Austria and sold them to traffickers. They were told they had to work off their debts, and were made to have sex in asylum centres and brothels, or to work as escorts.
They were kept under the strict watch of a ‘madam' and found it impossible to escape. The women were particularly submissive because they believed they had been cursed, and that if they disobeyed the madam disaster would fall on their families.
During a Europol-led operation against human trafficking, police rescued 29 victims of forced prostitution in Vienna, Carinthia, Lower Austria, Vorarlberg and Tyrol. It was the first time that they found refugees among the victims.
The Nigerian women were all around the age of 18. Gerald Tatzgern, the head of Austria's anti-human trafficking force, said that they strongly believed in the power of the voodoo curse and that it took some effort to get them to understand that they had been rescued. He added that they were so frightened that they hadn't even dared to go out shopping alone. They have since been taken to a shelter for abused women.
During the two-day sting police searched brothels, massage parlours, illegal red-light areas and even refugee centres. As well as the Nigerians, they found women from China, Romania, and Serbia who had been forced into prostitution.
Eighteen people were arrested, although none of them are human traffickers. They are suspected of involvement in people smuggling, fraud and drug dealing.