The fact that she not only survived but is now able to help others in the same situation has been an essential part of her recovery. Between them, Maria and Marcella have helped dozens of women and girls escape their traffickers. Afterwards, Apramp finds the women somewhere safe to live, offers counselling and legal support, and helps them find work. What Spain is facing, she says, is a huge violation of the fundamental rights of women and girls; anyone labouring under the impression that the majority of women working in prostitution in Spain are doing so by choice is deluding themselves.
There are many reasons why Spain has become a hotspot, but for Mora, the biggest single factor is cultural. Mora has recently seen a radical change in the kind of men buying sex. Before, it was largely older men sneaking away from their families. Now, both the women on the streets and the sex buyers themselves are getting younger. Two decades ago, criminal gangs started to take hold. There was suddenly a lot of violence and coercion — men on the streets watching the women and taking their money.
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Now, she says, most women in prostitution in Spain are foreigners: Apramp works with women of 53 different nationalities. They no longer need men on the street, because they are controlling the women through debt, fear and psychological control. Maria says many are also acting as human signposts, indicating that there are houses filled with other women nearby.
But as soon as you put a name to it, everything changes. You see it for what it really is. The main victims we are seeing trafficked and forced into prostitution are Romanian, West African and South American. You can cross from Romania to Spain with an ID card.
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Africa is just 15km from us. We have a historic and a linguistic connection to South America. As in many countries, a prosecution is almost impossible without a victim willing to disclose their situation and testify against their exploiters. Although the police have all undertaken anti-trafficking training, their main job tonight seems to be restricted to checking ID and carting any woman found to be working illegally off to the police station.
At our first location there is a short period of confusion as our two unmarked cars drive up and down the street trying to find a parking space. By the time we enter, the music is already off and the club deserted — other than four women sitting silently on bar stools clutching their ID cards and a manager conspicuously cleaning glasses behind the bar.
None of them is Spanish. The women all appear to be here on student visas, and shake their heads when the police chief asks them if they need help. There is no evidence that these women are victims of trafficking, but it seems ludicrous to expect anyone to disclose anything in this environment.
In one, three very young Chinese women sit silent and apparently terrified in their underwear on a cracked fake leather banquette, while police check the damp and dirty premises. The women keep their eyes fixed on the thickset Chinese man behind the bar as he chats easily to the police and shows them his licence. As we leave, the heavy metal door slams shut with a thud, leaving the women inside. One of the officers runs a hand over his face and exhales. My God.
Yet Nieto believes there is hope and says the new strategy of creating formal alliances between police, prosecutors and frontline services is putting more pressure on criminal gangs. She is upbeat, funny and warm, but steely in her determination. They are complex crimes that are difficult to dismantle.
We must keep going! Her family is from Ecuador but she was living on the outskirts of Madrid, with a Spanish passport, when she was forced into prostitution in her own neighbourhood five years ago, after falling victim to fraudsters who lent her money. She is yet to see any of this money, and her debts to family and neighbours remain unpaid. But for now she is surviving. Proyecto Esperanza is helping her find a job and providing counselling. She has a home and is rebuilding her relationship with her children.
Despite her experiences, she is trying to teach them that the world can be a good place. That in every terrible situation there can be a light at the end of the tunnel — a way out of the darkness. Women and girls often said they suffered incapacitating physical and mental health problems as a result of rape, but most had not received medical or mental health care.
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Lack of services, cost of services, and fear of stigma are significant barriers to women and girls disclosing rape or seeking help. Human Rights Watch interviewed nearly survivors of sexual slavery and rape by members of armed groups. These are some of their stories. The fighters took Nalia to a nearby base, where four of them raped her.
After the rape, she began falling sick regularly. When she eventually sought medical care in May , she tested positive for HIV. She has since started a community association to bring together women survivors of sexual violence in an effort to ensure they have support, access to medical care, and opportunities to rebuild their lives socially and economically.
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When her husband tried to intervene, the fighters shot and killed him. I was a seller.
But when the crisis started I lost everything. Seleka fighters killed her husband and parents, and later captured her near Bambari in June They held her as a sexual slave for nine months with five other women and girls. Multiple fighters raped her repeatedly.
At night it was another [fighter] who would call us. She eventually escaped just before giving birth, but did not seek medical treatment. Arlette, around 60 years old, said she was returning from her fields with two of her sons when fighting erupted near Mbres in early As they reached their house, two Seleka fighters shot and killed her sons, then ages 23 and 26, before one raped her.
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I had a broken tooth. He threw me on the ground by force. The fighters set fire to her house, killing her ill husband who was trapped inside. After the fighters left, she fled with her two younger sons. She said she sought medical care at a local clinic, but felt too ashamed to tell them about the rape.
How am I going to explain my situation? When she returned to her neighborhood to collect clothing and dishes for the family, three anti-balaka stopped her and took her to a compound. She said they raped her with a broken beer bottle. Alice, 21, was traveling in a shared taxi in April when four anti-balaka fighters armed with rifles, machetes, and knives stopped the car near Mbaiki.
Two of the fighters raped Alice repeatedly. She managed to escape, but despite ongoing abdominal pain, she did not access medical care because she said no one told her where to go to get help. She watched as Seleka fighters forced her husband and older brother to dig two graves and then shot them. The Seleka took Martine captive along with more than 20 other women and girls, some as young as During their first week as sexual slaves, Martine said the women were bound at the wrists and ankles.
There were four or five different people [raping us] each day. It was never the same person. Marie said that two of the fighters held her husband down at gunpoint while the others pushed her to the ground.