Voodoo rituals are being used to force women into prostitution, according to Austrian police, who have arrested two Nigerian nationals on suspicion of human trafficking.
The two suspects – one male one female, are considered leading members of a criminal organization – were arrested by Austrian authorities in Vienna, and accused of engaging in the international sex trade.
Police spokesman Johann Baumschlager said Tuesday that at least 10 young Nigerian women were forced into the sex trade in part by “a voodoo priest, who made them submissive through certain rites.” The women worked as hairdressers in their home country, according to Der Standard.
The victims had been intimidated and threatened with death if they did not comply with the organization’s orders, OE24 reported.
Baumschlager revealed that the women were told they each owed €50,000 ($53,000) to cover the costs of their move to Europe and that they needed to work off the debt through prostitution. The women had hardly any money left to provide for themselves, according to police.
The pair who were arrested are not being named due to Austrian privacy laws, but the man is reportedly cooperating with police while the woman denies the allegations.
Last year, six refugee women from Nigeria were rescued by Austria’s anti-human trafficking force after being sold into forced prostitution. The women reportedly believed they were under a voodoo curse and were particularly submissive for fear their families would suffer the consequences.
Voodoo, a religion of West African origin, is based on animism but also borrows some elements from Catholicism. Worshippers believe in the power of spirits and often perform rituals to them.