Escaping Madame

How One Nigerian Woman Escaped the Underground Sex Trade Trapping So Many Others

Hope’s village was nothing special. Mothers draped in Kente cloths smelling of spiced cassava hollered after their defiant sons, who raced along the rutted clay paths to watch their fathers work the fields—their backs glistening with sweat in the mid-day sun.

Life was simple, but good, growing up in the Nigerian countryside. Despite a modest family income, Hope was always able to attend school, play with friends, and dream of one day becoming a famed Gospel-singer. Or perhaps an iconic fashion designer. She couldn’t decide which.

In the end, it didn’t much matter. So long as life took her away from this place, and she—not the afternoon rains—decided whether the day brought feast or famine, she would be happy.

Little did she know, those fields that seemed to stretch across all of Africa would soon be distant memories, an ocean’s length away.


 Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images News / Getty Images

Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images News / Getty Images

At just 14, Hope’s mother decided it was time she experience life beyond the beyond the village. Coordinating by phone, she arranged for Hope to live with her well-off sister in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest (and richest) city.

Within a matter of days, Hope found herself seated beside the road to a new life on a battered suitcase her had father salvaged. Hours passed before the bus was finally visible in the distance, sputtering smoke as it lurched to a stop. Fanning away the dust swirling through the air, Hope choked back tears as she turned to hug her family goodbye.

Then, with a book in one hand and a faded picture of her Auntie in the other, Hope bounded up the steel steps, eager to find a seat where she could watch her family fade into the distance through the grime of a cracked window.

 Photo by John Moore/Getty Images News / Getty Images

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images News / Getty Images

The journey took longer than expected. Every 50 or so kilometers, young men with guns manning makeshift barricades would stop the bus, demanding payment for passage.

Often, one of the young men would board the bus with a collection plate, which he'd pass from seat to seat until he was pleased with its contents and would disembark to flag the bus through.

Eventually, Hope began to sense they were getting close to their final destination. The rutted, clay streets were slowly began to be replaced by tarmac. The young men by uniformed soldiers.

The buildings grew taller and taller, until they began to block out the afternoon sun. The bus slowed to a crawl as its driver navigated the city teeming streets.

 Photo by peeterv/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by peeterv/iStock / Getty Images

In every direction, people carted goods to and from merchant lean-to's, buying and selling brightly colored fabrics, fresh produce, and replenished sim cards for their mobiles.

A harsh style of music blared from overdriven speakers on just about every street corner, where young women lurked in knee-high boots and short skirts. Hope wasn't sure why.

As the bus rounded the corner, the other passengers began collecting their items and pushing there way down the aisle. Peering through the window, Hope could see young men and old women alike waving as they rolled to a final stop.

As she fought her way down the steps, Hope could faintly hear her name being called over the din. She swept her eyes back and forth several times before finally recognizing the face from the faded photo. Her Auntie was waiting for her.

Photo by PeopleImages/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by PeopleImages/iStock / Getty Images

It had been five years since Hope had sat waiting for a bus to ferry her to a new life; but here she was, back at the very station where she had first met her Auntie, now waiting to return to the village she had left so many years ago.

Life had been good here in Lagos. She had made friends quickly at school, though she'd struggled to keep-up academically.

Despite her Auntie's social status, Hope was expected to work. Like many Nigerian girls her age, she kept her Auntie's home—washing and cooking through the evening before rising early to complete her school work.

After finishing primary school at 15, Hope had become a full-time domestic worker. Taking on greater responsibility in her Auntie's home while completing chores for neighbors and family friends.

Life had become routine, and to her surprise, Hope enjoyed that. She would work hard throughout the week, enjoy time with friends and former classmates on weekends, and spend her Sundays attending church—an all-day event in Nigeria.

Then, one day, her brother 

Situated on the coast, Lagos dates back to well before the origin of its affluence: the 18th and 19th-century slave trades, which saw millions of Nigerians taken against their will, transported thousands of miles, and forced to work in deplorable conditions for the profit of their overlords—a condition Hope would, regrettably, one day have the misfortune of being able to relate to.


[brother returning]


[travel to Italy]


[second pick-up scene]


Jake Vermillion

Panama City Beach, FL

Jake serves as an advisor with Thrivent Financial, a Fortune 300, faith-based nonprofit that helps the body of Christ manage God's resources Biblically.

In his spare time, Jake helps nonprofits optimize their digital presence as a freelance consultant, hosts The Human Level, a podcast committed to reclaiming charity as a vehicle for change, and attends Redeemer 30A with his wife, Hannah.