Josephine Iyamu, a 51-year-old British nurse, became the first person convicted under the United Kingdom’s new modern slavery laws after she was found guilty of trafficking five Nigerian women to Germany to work as prostitutes. Today, she has been sentenced to 14 years in prison per the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA). 

Iyamu, who was based in London, recruited women from rural villages in Nigeria, promising them a better life in Europe. She charged them high fees, sometimes up to 38,000 euros (about $44,000), but once they arrived in Europe, she forced them to work as prostitutes in Germany to pay off the debts. 

As if this wasn’t enough, Iyamu forced the women to undergo a voodoo ceremony before they left their home country. According to The Guardian, these rituals included “forcing women to eat chicken hearts, drink blood containing worms, and have powder rubbed into cuts.” 

They were threatened with serious harm to them or their families if they spoke out about this torture or attempted to escape. Prosecutors said this voodoo ritual “gave Iyamu crushing psychological control over the women, who were too afraid to challenger her or fail to pay her back.”

The five victims were able to testify at the trial via video link from Germany. They detailed the conditions they faced on their journey from Nigeria to Europe, which, according to an earlier report from the NCA, included sexual assault, rape, kidnap, and death. 

Iyamu, who became a British citizen in 2009, worked as a nurse and made about £14,500 (about $19,000) in 2016-17. Still, she was regularly traveling abroad and owned a large home in Benin City in Nigeria. 

“Josephine Iyamu is a calculating individual who used her apparent status as a rich, powerful, and influential lady to intimidate and manipulate vulnerable Nigerian women,” said Kay Mellor, the NCA’s operations manager. 

“Our work doesn’t stop here,” Mellor continued. “Iyamu’s expenditure on travel and properties far outweighed her legitimate earnings as a nurse and our investigation into her finances is ongoing.”