Magnum Foundation


The Clients of Human Trafficking: Elena Perlino’s Notes from the Field


Nigeria, with a population of 162 million people, is the second largest consumer of champagne in the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Nigeria also has one of the highest rates of human trafficking.

Over the past few years I have been researching and documenting sexually exploited Nigerian women, focusing on their experience in Italy. With millions of clients, 500 homicides in just a few years, and thousand of madams all over the country, the phenomenon has grown into big business, becoming a significant source of income for internationally organized criminal groups.

When Magnum Foundation gave me the opportunity to further investigate the topic, I decided to explore an under-reported side of the phenomenon: the client.

You cannot talk about human trafficking without mentioning the clients, who often take on a double role. On one hand, their request for Nigerian women fuels the problem, on the other hand, the client often becomes a valuable resource for the exploited women.

Many Italian men start relationships and even get married to Nigerian women they meet on the street. There are many reasons behind this and sometimes they have little to do with love.

In the first part of the project, I explored desolation as a main leitmotif: human trafficking doesn’t allow for mercy – just pure abuse in the name of money.

Working on the second part of the project, I found something else: mixed, dysfunctional, chaotic, and loving couples, dealing with cultural, emotional, and religious differences every day.


While men help the women along the difficult path of exiting their dependencies, women bring emotional investment to the relationship.

Isoke Aikpitanyi and her Italian husband, Claudio, met years ago in Turin. Having been a trafficking victim herself, she has become an example to the 30,000 Nigerian women trafficked each year.

Isoke and Claudio have managed to establish a network of shelters for women throughout Italy. They have even organized conferences about the phenomenon throughout the country, despite recurring threats of violence.

Elena Perlino,  2015 Emergency Fund Grantee

Simone Salvo