Lineo*, just seventeen (17) — tempted by the promise of a luxurious life in South Africa — found herself agreeing to date Charles*, they connected through social media, later agreeing to a first romantic get-away that turned out to be a gateway to being trafficked into prostitution.
She told MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism in an interview she still fears for her life even after her rescue by police.
Lineo said it was May 2017, when she met a young man online who enticed her to sneak away for a weeklong romance in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
She said her first encounter with the Nigerian national, she refers to as Charles was on Facebook. She had been connected by a friend who had moved to South Africa, she had suggested they would be a good match for each other.
Lineo said during her initial online chats, Charles flirted with her, told her she was sexy.
She remembers the excitement of continuous text messaging she found herself engaged in with Charles.
She said he posed questions that seemed like a normal conversation at the time.
“He asked me about school and what happened there, things like that,” she recalled.
“Within two days, he asked me to visit. I agreed to go for a week, but I told him the trip would be difficult to pull off,” she said. She remembers her dad would have never allowed it, but she hatched a plan.
She told her father she was going to a sleep-over at a friend’s home, but instead crossed the border.
The Centre heard how she and another friend from Mafeteng met one of Charles’ associates from Bloemfontein who drove them the rest of the way after crossing the border.
Lineo said they arrived at a house in Bloemfontein around 8 pm exhausted, and she went to sleep.
“When I woke up, I found myself alone with Charles”, but said any notion of a romance was immediately shattered as the charming boyfriend had changed his tone and demanded she should prostitute herself.
“He told me he wanted me to work. We got into a fight because I refused and I told him I wanted to leave.
“But, my resistance meant nothing. Charles beat me that first day when I refused to do what he wanted. He then took me to see a customer and forced me to have sex with him, while I was raped, he collected R3 000,” said Lineo.
Lineo had a temper. Even as a young girl growing up in Leribe, she was quick to argue with her father, her teachers, anyone in authority. She struggled academically, too.
Reading at a much lower level than her classmates, her frustrations grew. On her second day of high school, she was suspended for telling a teacher to “shut the (expletive) up.” Two weeks later she was kicked out for good.
“I just think they couldn’t put up with me,” said Lineo.
“A lot of people say I can’t work with others because I don’t like being told what to do.”
But the issues ran deeper than that. The Centre learned Lineo’s learning disability and behavioural issues were likely caused by her mother’s heavy drinking during pregnancy. Battling severe alcohol addiction, Lineo’s mother suffered from an array of health problems and died when she was just 32.
“She basically killed herself,” Lineo said.
She and a twin brother were barely two at the time and still living in Leribe. Soon after, their father and grandmother travelled to Mafeteng and moved the children there too.
They ended up in Mafeteng, where Lineo grew up and her struggles with authority and challenges in the classroom emerged.
She recalls having had a strained relationship with her father, which only escalated after she was expelled from school in Form B for insulting a teacher.
Barely into her teens, Lineo bounced around a few relative homes, where she regularly butted heads with other family members, the Centre has learned.
“I have to really like someone if I’m going to work with them,” Lineo said in an interview.
“I don’t get along well with many people,” she admits.
When she finally moved home again, it was only under the supervision of social workers who visited twice a month.
That is around the time she fell prey to Charles tricks and ended being trafficked into prostitution.
Sold for sex
Lineo said Charles burned her belongings that included a birth certificate and stole her health card, passport, applying tactics that the Centre understands are used by pimps and traffickers to gain control over their victims.
She said he also threatened to hurt her family if she ran away. On days when she didn’t want to work, Lineo alleges Charles would “pushed me around, pulled my hair and threw me against walls and wasn’t even shy to head-butt me in the face”.
With Lineo fully under his control, the Centre learned Charles would book her into hotels to service various men and post provocative photos of her on his phone and maybe on prostitution site too.
The Centre heard how Lineo had gone from that first day into prostitution to servicing nine or 10 men a day, for which she could bring in R21, 000.00 or more. Every cent of that money was handed over to Charles who would always be nearby to guard his cash-cow.
Lineo said clients got just about anything they wanted if they were willing to pay for it; unprotected sex drew the most cash.
She said she was shunted from one hotel to another and from one city to the next to stay a step ahead of authorities.
The Centre heard that Charles moved his flourishing prostitution enterprise from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg then back to Bloemfontein in the first month.
Then they went to Kimberly and back again to Bloemfontein, all three cities said to be popular stops along for prostitution circuit known to police as “The Pipeline”.
The Centre has learned that not only organised prostitution like the one Lineo found herself trafficked into, but even Women working independently travel to many of these same communities as do women willingly working with pimps.
In late November, Lineo told the Centre Mpho*, a young lady joined the operation as Charles’s assistant.
Mpho is described by Lineo, to have also been in her early twenties (20s), she was some sort of an online marketing expert, who hit the ground running on her first day “started posting my nude images online and on her apps, booking hotel rooms, negotiating prices and setting updates”.
Eventually, Lineo said Charles added Durban to his pimping circuit.
“We bounced between two hotels in the capital before a seemingly small incident changed the course of many lives.
While at the Extended Stay Kimberly, Lineo said she lost her room key on the second floor.
Then she said as she was picking up a new one at the front desk, she also asked about paying for additional time in the hotel.
“Charles also wanted me to book the room longer,” she said, now recognizing the significance of that request.
“The clerk refused me the booking because; she said I was too young. Then I was just 17”. Lineo said she returned to her room and the men kept coming.
She said the next night, at around 11 p.m. while expecting another client to arrive, she was told by Mpho the appointment had been cancelled.
Lineo said Mpho wanted to go to Room 219, occupied by another woman, she believes was being prostituted by either Charles or another pimp.
But, she said their conversation was interrupted and stopped abruptly when a knock on the door echoed off the white walls of the room.
She said they were not expecting any client following the cancellation. She recalls they both stayed silent and slipped out onto the balcony together.
Standing in the night air, Lineo said they listened as the knocking continued.
“I was wearing flip-flops, shorts and a skimpy top, and smoking long, nervously from my cigarette. The smoking was not helping my inflamed throat. I had been nursing for a few weeks.
“Then with a suspicious look, Mpho demanded a wad of cash from the clients I had seen that night.
“The room door opened and a deep voice announced, “We’re the police”. Within seconds of several officers barging into the room, a husky man in street clothes appeared in the balcony doorway and called out my names,” Lineo said.
“He took me out of there and we went to my room,” she said.
“I told him everything that was going on with me.”
Lineo said as she narrated her story, the officer, let her smoke in the room.
“I smoked a couple of cigarettes, further aggravating my sore throat, as I laid out my story,” she said.
The Centre learned at that time, Lineo wanted out.
She wanted to go to the hospital badly as she feared she may be pregnant.
Lineo said the first conversation with the officer was just the beginning.
From there, they went to police headquarters where Lineo would reveal even more.
For two hours, the teenager stared toward the beige walls of the small interview room with her back to the camera. Sitting in a chair across from the officer, she walked the officer investigating the case through the lurid nightmare that had been her life in the past summer.
“I didn’t really talk about the details — I was embarrassed,” she said.
“At the time, I wasn’t ready to expose every little thing, every little moment. That’s like telling every little detail about yourself to someone you don’t even know.”
Even so, the Centre heard that Lineo fielded dozens of questions in those two hours, but she still had no answers to her most pressing concerns.
Was she pregnant? What diseases had she picked up? Would Charles finds her? What could the police really do to help her?
She said she eventually went with a uniformed officer to the government’s Hospital in Kimberly, where medical staff had more questions. She remember a range of tests being ran on her.
Lineo said police brought the rest of her belongings from the hotel room and stationed an officer outside her door.
She said it was for the first time she finally got some rest, and she slept on and off throughout the rest of the morning.
The Centre heard her test results came back: and she was not pregnant.
“My worst physical diagnosis was a case of tonsillitis, which explained a sore throat. Otherwise, I was going to be okay,” she said conceding she was lucky.
The Centre learned that back at the police station, the officer continued his investigation, interviewing Mpho and the third woman from Room 219.
The Investigators eventually went to check on Lineo and placed a call to one lady called Carol, he said it was to make sure she had somewhere safe to go.
Carol Motolo, founder of Carol Motolo foundation a non-profit whose mission is to assist victims of molestation, abuse, sexual assault, raped and human trafficking, arrived and took Lineo to her home.
Lineo told the Centre she was grateful that Motolo shared her own personal space, where she stayed for a month until a secure shelter was found for her.
She said during her stay at Motolo’s place she was taught skills like doing nails, beading and jewellery making, and she learnt to craft.
Lineo said Motolo found ways to get her to open up and was able to now reach out to social workers and therapists and narrate her story.
She said every day she would be subjected to talking to a therapist and would remember things gradually and helped strengthen the case against Charles.
The Centre has learned in June, Charles was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for human trafficking of minor and other charges by the Bloemfontein High Court.
*Names have been changed to protect the victim.