Voodoo-Using U.K. Nurse Sentenced For Trafficking Nigerian Women

A London-based nurse has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for subjecting five young Nigerian woman to mystical, violent rituals and trafficking them to Germany, where they were forced to work as prostitutes.

According to prosecutors, the case marks the first time that the U.K.'s Modern Slavery Act has been used to prosecute a U.K. national for crimes committed elsewhere.

Josephine Iyamu, who is 51, has maintained that she is innocent.

During the 10-week trial, prosecutors presented evidence that she is the "ringleader of a network trafficking vulnerable women."

According to the U.K.'s National Crime Agency, Iyamu's victims knew her as "Madam Sandra." She recruited women by promising them a better life in Europe. She'd arrange their travel from Nigeria to Germany, in exchange for up to 38,000 euros — about $44,000.

"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.

Iyamu subjected the women to a "Juju" ceremony with a voodoo priest in order to control them, authorities said:

"They were forced to drink blood containing worms, eat chicken hearts, have their skin cut with razor blades and made to take an oath not to try to escape or tell the police and repay the debt. They were threatened with serious harm to them or their families if they broke the oath."

Experts have said juju ceremonies exert a control over victims that can be more powerful than chains. For example, trafficking expert Siddharth Kara from Harvard University told the BBC in 2014 that "it's control of the spirit which is far more powerful and insidious."

Still, five of Iyamu's victims testified during the trial and laid bare the horrifying conditions they endured. The prosecution said the women provided "crucial evidence" and praised them for their bravery.

"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," NCA 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."

Iyamu was found guilty on June 28 of five counts of "arranging to facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation" and one count of "perverting the course of justice." The latter charge is in regard to intimidating phone calls that Iyamu made to family members and witnesses. She was sentenced on Wednesday.

Prosecutors noted that Iyamu 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."

Prosecutors also connected Iyamu and the victims in Germany using her phone records.

The U.K.'s Modern Slavery Act, which came into force in 2015, was designed to make sure that law enforcement had the ability to fight modern slavery by guaranteeing that "perpetrators can receive suitably severe punishments for these appalling crimes."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.