Life as a prostitute: ‘I would stare at a damp stain on the ceiling’

‘Every day men would come to my room, sometimes five men, sometimes 10’

Omorose, from Benin, Nigeria   was told that she owed money for her travel to Europe and had to pay it back through prostitution. File image

Omorose, from Benin, Nigeria was told that she owed money for her travel to Europe and had to pay it back through prostitution. File image

 

My name is Omorose*. I was born in Benin, Nigeria in 1989. Both my parents died when I was very young and so I was raised by my grandmother.

She could not afford to send me to school for long so I stayed with her each day selling oranges by the roadside. We worked hard, often standing in the heat for hours, but I always enjoyed her smiling company.

As a teenager I got a job in a salon. One of my customers was a glamorous businesswoman I called “Auntie”. She offered to take me to Europe where I could work for a rich family and go to school.

My grandmother did not want me to leave, but we were struggling to make ends meet and I was so excited by this vision of a “new life” that I agreed.

In the airport Auntie gave me a document that had my picture on it, but it had a different name to mine. It was crowded and confusing at the airport and Auntie said to just trust her and follow, so I did.

After three days we got through the last airport - Dublin airport. We went to a house where I was taken to a room and told to get some sleep.

The next morning Auntie told me that there was a problem with the family that I was supposed to work for; they did not need me anymore. Auntie explained that I owed her a lot of money for the travel to Europe and that to pay her back I would have to work in her business: prostitution.

Every day men would come to my room, sometimes five men, sometimes 10. The only escape I found was in my mind.

My eyes would go to the ceiling where I stared at a damp stain. I could leave my own body and go right up to that ceiling.

Days, weeks, months passed. It never stopped. After a while I couldn’t even picture my grandmother’s smile anymore and felt completely lost.

Auntie and her boyfriend decided to move me to another house. On the journey there a chance came to run and I escaped.

It is all a blur. I know that someone phoned the gardaí and I felt terrified. I didn’t even know where I was.

The gardaí took me to meet a woman from Ruhama. She introduced me to my caseworker and from that moment I started to get my life back. She worked with me to organise all my papers and find somewhere safe to stay.

I began to understand that what had happened to me was a crime and it was not my fault. Auntie had taken advantage of my poor background and my desire for new opportunities.

At Ruhama I took part in their education and development programme. I was full of panic and tension after what happened, but here I learned to improve my coping skills and deal better with stress.

I also worked hard on my literacy and started using computers for the first time. I found I was a natural! I was able to make contact with my grandmother and we were overcome when we finally spoke.

It is not safe for me to return to Nigeria because of my traffickers and their network there, but we can Skype now at least. When I escaped from Auntie I felt like an empty shell.

Now I have a lot more confidence in myself. I worked with Ruhama’s career guidance counsellor and found that I have a lot of skills I didn’t realise: now I do.

I have been with Ruhama two years, but I’m getting to a place where I don’t need them anymore. I have plans and have set goals that I can actually work towards. I am training in healthcare and I’m excited for the future.

What happened took away my power, my loved ones, and my love of life, but I finally have them back again.

* A pseudonym was used to protect the woman’s identity; her testimony is given in the annual report of Ruhama, the charity which works with women affected by prostitution