"Mama Leather" and prostitution abuse around the North Station in the spotlight

An appeal judge has lightened the sentence of "Mama Leather", one of the key figures in a notorious prostitution network centred on the neighbourhood around the Brussels North Station.  "Mama Leather" was first sentenced to 14 years in jail.  An appeal judge has now reduced this to 10.

The court also ordered the seizure of all the premises where sex workers were exploited.  The properties' owner was convicted too and that's the first time that happens in Belgium.

"Mama Leather”’s gang was notorious for its cruel treatment of young Nigerian girls.  Girls were recruited in their home country by promises of an incredible future.  Next they underwent a voodoo ceremony and then had to travel via the desert to Libya where they boarded a boat for Italy. Arrived in Belgium they were forced into prostitution.  Voodoo was used to control the women and allow them to be exploited for years.  Victims refused to co-operate with the authorities, were threatened and abused like their families at home.

For many years "Mama Leather" too worked as a sex worker and SM dominatrix.  After the reduced sentence was announced her lawyer said work could now start on her reintegration: "She's been in jail for two years and will qualify for jail leave soon.  She would like to start a cafe or a restaurant, but won't be working in prostitution."

Alexis Deswaef of Myria, the Belgian Migration Centre, says the sentence is a powerful signal: "Exploitation of sex workers is punishable, just like people trafficking.  Victims experience a real Calvary, but along the way there are people who make this possible."

"The people who own the windows earn large amounts by closing their eyes.  The rent you can earn in this way is far higher than normal rents. The seizure of the premises is a powerful signal.”