July 21 (UPI) -- Sex trafficking involving migrants fleeing to Italy by sea increased by nearly 600 percent over the past three years -- particularly among young girls -- a United Nations' agency said Friday.
The International Organization for Migration issued a report saying most sex trafficking victims came from Nigeria and increasingly more are younger girls "already subject to violence and abuse on their way to Europe."
The report estimates 80 percent of girls arriving from Nigeria are potential victims of sexual exploitation. About 1,400 girls traveled from Nigeria to Italy in 2014, a number that increased to more than 11,000 last year.
"Trafficking is a transnational crime that devastates the lives of thousands of people and is the cause of untold suffering," said Federico Soda, director of the IOM Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean. "This is a theme we have been working on for years, committing to protect, prevent and collaborate with the authorities dealing with organized crime."
Data collected from landing sites and reception areas in southern Italy found most sex trafficking victims are:
-- between 13 and 24 years old
-- from the Nigerian states of Edo, Delta, Lagos, Ogun, Anambra and Imo
-- more submissive and silent, and likely let other migrants speak on their behalf
The IOM said most victims are reluctant to reveal their experience out of fear of traffickers or because they don't want to break an oath sealed by ritual or rite of initiation. Some victims also fear their families back home may be retaliated against by traffickers if they speak out.
"The report describes the organization's activities in the face of this phenomenon: the difficulties in protecting victims and the main vulnerabilities identified among several cases of people who were assisted by the organization," said IOM project manager Carlotta Santarossa. "We also wanted to tell some of the stories of people who have been assisted by IOM staff to highlight the true nature of this painful and hateful form of slavery. We also feel that it is increasingly urgent that data analysis be accompanied by an examination of the market these girls supply, and the growing demand for paid sexual services."