A 22-year-old Nigerian woman who was forced into prostitution in Poland was lured to this country with a false promise that she would play handball in Lublin, the newspaper Dziennik has reported.
The men who forced Janet Johnson into the sex trade had arranged for a sports club to prepare phony invitations for Johnson and two other young Nigerian women to travel to Lublin for a handball tryout, the newspaper said. The invitation was crucial to obtaining visas for the women.
But the three women, and two Nigerian men who were supposed to be their guardians, never showed up at the club ? exactly the way their human traffickers planned. Instead, they were forced into the sex trade.
Andrzej Wilczek, president of the SPR Safo Icom sports club in Lublin, said he received a call in July 2006 from someone who he believed to be a Polish man describing himself as the manager of the three Nigerian women. ?He proposed bringing the three women to Lublin? for a tryout, Wilczek said.
?We were looking for players,? he said, so the club asked the Lubelskie Voivodeship to invite the women to Lublin to play for a sports club-sponsored team.
The invitations were sent to the Polish Consulate in Nigeria?s capital of Lagos, where they were used as the basis on which to issue visas to the five Nigerians.
Wilczek said the ?manager? told him the women would arrive in August.
When they did not, he called the man?s mobile.
?He told us they had some problems,? Wilczek said. That was the last time he talked with the man. ?After that, the man did not contact us,? Wilczek said. ?He?s turned his mobile off.?
Prosecutor of Lublin?s Territorial Court, Robert Bednarczyk said Johnson, the other two Nigerian women and the two men received Polish visas valid from September 10 to September 20, 2006. They arrived during that period.
The authorities had no record of Johnson after that until she tried to cross the border into Germany at Zgorzelec in October. Polish border guards caught her, and the government ordered her to return to Nigeria. But she fled.
She turned up in April at a deportation center in Debak in bad shape. She was extremely weak, unable to walk without help and had very low blood pressure.
Polish immigration officials believe that after she failed to get to Germany, she ended up in a Polish brothel for an extended period. Her hands showed evidence of knife wounds and cigarette burns. And she tested HIV-positive.
Much has been written about the trafficking of unsuspecting women through Central Europe for prostitution. Poverty is the main reason women take a chance on coming here. Most are eager to listen to strangers promising good jobs.
Some traffickers lure women with the sports-tryout ruse rather than the promise of a job because many women have never heard of the tryout trick ? and thus are more susceptible to taking the bait.
Although the ruses used to lure unsuspecting women are different, there are some terrible common denominators in trafficking. One is that traffickers are violent. They rape many of the women, beat them and use force to prevent them from escaping.
They also use fear to control them. For example, they take their passports. Scared that they will be jailed if they get caught without a passport, most do what the traffickers say. In some cases, the women learn that a criminal organization is controlling every link in the sex-exploitation chain — from recruitment to transportation to the forced-prostitution itself. The makes them more fearful of trying to get away.
At one point, Johnson, who does not want to talk about her ordeal, faced being sent back to Nigeria because she was in Poland illegally. But news stories about her plight prompted the minister of Interior and Administration, Janusz Kaczmarek, to decide against deportation.
Johnson is now in a witness-protection program while police try to find her traffickers. She needs the protection because she would be a key witness if the traffickers were to be caught. An international women?s organization, the La Strada Foundation Against Trafficking in Women, will provide Johnson with medical, psychological and legal help.
La Strada Poland has been a pioneer in the prevention and combating of trafficking in women. It not only has provided support to victims, but to their families as well.
Often, police are unaware that an illegal alien is a victim of trafficking.
Because Poland?s deportation process takes just 48 hours, a victim can find herself on the way back to her homeland without being able to tell authorities her story. That means her traffickers are free to continue their cruel ways.
The non-profit Halyna Niec Association of Krakow (Centrum Pomocy Prawnej im. H. Niec) is one of the organizations trying to educate Poles about trafficking, according to Niec lawyer Adam Bulandra.
One its efforts is an awareness campaign called ?You?re Not Merchandise? (Nie Jestes Towarem). Banners with the slogan can be seen at bus stops and inside public-transport vehicles.
Poland holds a unique, but dubious position, in the world of international trafficking. It an origination point ? that is, Polish women are lured abroad, where they are victimized. It is a trafficking transit point between Eastern and Western Europe. And it is a trafficking destination point ? as Johnson?s case indicates.
Most women trafficked through Poland come from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Bulgaria and Romania.