Pretoria - Drugs were commonly used by pimps to recruit new victims of prostitution and retain them in a subjugated state while optimising their exploitation.
This is according to university lecturer Marcel van der Watt, who is an expert on the subject of human trafficking.
This former policeman testified in the trial of two Nigerian nationals and a South African woman who are facing charges in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, relating to human trafficking.
Brothers Obioma Benjamin Abba, 32, and 38-year-old Chinedu Justine Obasi, as well as Nolwazi Patience Mkhonto, are facing an array of charges after the Hawks raided Jaspit Flats in Francis Baard Street last year. The main charges against the brothers relate to human trafficking, money laundering and running a brothel, as well as drug-related charges. The woman is facing a charge relating to assisting the men in their endeavours and subletting the flat where the activities occurred to them.
The brothers denied they ran a brothel and controlled a number of prostitutes who walked the streets of Arcadia at night.
Van der Watt was asked by the prosecution to assist Judge Ronel Tolmay in understanding the control methods used by perpetrators in cases of human trafficking for sexual exploitation.
He said control and power over victims of trafficking came in a variety of manifestations and was a key characteristic of human trafficking. It came at a great cost to the victims as they were harmed both psychologically and physically.
The offering of drugs by traffickers was commonly used to either create an addiction among the victims or to fuel existing dependencies. Traffickers also threatened to withhold drugs from victims in an effort to coerce them into prostitution.
Van der Watt said a golden threaded theme that ran through the majority of human trafficking cases involving Nigerian perpetrators was the tangled web in which prostitutes found themselves.
He said a constant interplay and chemistry of drugs, addiction, fear, manipulation and violence inflicted by pimps left the victims at the mercy of their “bosses”.
Often bizarre love affairs between the pimps and the prostitutes also came into play.
Drug withdrawals by the prostitutes prompted them to keep their pimps pleased so they could receive their “fix” in return.
Van der Watt explained that South Africa’s interwoven sex and drug trade was a viable option for many, with low risks and high earning potential. “This is often ring-fenced by corrupt and compromised public officials in all sectors of government,” he said.
It was difficult for most of the prostitutes to break away from their pimps as they build a relationship with them and there is a bond.
He referred to a case study where a 23-year-old woman said she had been with her pimp since she was 13. He ran her bathwater, ensured she had clothes and food. “He was like a father to her, although he sold her.”
It was also said most prostitutes did not want to leave their pimps as they knew no other world.
Referring to another case, Van der Watt said the woman voiced her fear to change, as she had no other profession to turn to.