Blessing Okoedion is a human trafficking survivor turned activist. When Okoedion was 26, she headed to Spain for a job she had been offered at a computer store. In her home country of Nigeria, she had earned a degree in computer science and started her own business repairing computers.
But the job offer was a ruse. Her work visa had been faked by human traffickers. There was no computer store job. After a brief stop in Spain, her captors sent her to Naples, Italy. They told her that she owed them 65,000 euros — more than $70,000 in today's dollars. And they forced her into sex work on the streets of an Italian town.
That was five years ago. Today, Okoedion is an activist working to combat human trafficking in Italy and Nigeria. She was one of 10 people honored for these efforts in June by the U.S. State Department at the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report launch ceremony in Washington, D.C. The report is an annual assessment of foreign governments' anti-trafficking efforts.
She received the State Department award "in recognition of her extraordinary courage in using her lived experiences to ... prevent human trafficking [and] her selfless efforts to assist survivors and lend a helping hand to those still subjected to the crime," said Kari Johnstone, acting director of the State Department's Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons, at the event. Okoedion selflessly devotes her time to ensure survivors feel they have a trusted champion who can advocate on their behalf as they go through the process of reintegrating into society, including through her work as a cultural mediator for trafficking victims staying in a local shelter run by a community of Ursuline sisters.
Okoedion has demonstrated exceptional courage in drawing from her own experiences as a trafficking survivor to raise awareness about human trafficking in Italy. She also partners with the Catholic Church, particularly women religious, and travels throughout her home country of Nigeria to educate vulnerable women and girls in poor and remote areas to help them detect traffickers’ fraudulent recruitment and employment tactics, including false promises of work and a better life in large cities and other countries. In 2017, she published a book, co-written with an Italian journalist, to tell her story and to shine a light on this abhorrent practice.
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