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American lesbian ex-footballer trains Nigerian girls how to combat sex trafficking

Retired American lesbian soccer player Joanna Lohman is in Nigeria training young girls on how to combat sex trafficking using sports.

Joanna Lohman (front center) sits with Nigerian girls participating in GOAL!, a soccer program meant to teach female empowerment and teamwork through sports. Image courtesy of Joanna Lohman

Lohman who formerly played with the Washington Spirit as a midfielder, arrived Benin City last weekend.

Her visit was sponsored by Sports United, a U.S. State Department initiative through which U.S. Soccer sends former USWNT members to foreign countries for players to use soccer as part of a larger educational framework addressing serious regional problems.

”Part of the program is showing young women that there are other options, and sport is a tremendous resource for them to change their future,” Lohman told Outsports from the airport. “It allows them to become part of the team. Most of the young women in these areas are very isolated. So part of becoming a team is very empowering for them. It allows them to have friends and local coaches and adult figures who are accountable for them.”

This is actually Lohman’s fourth African trip with Sports United. Previously, she’s traveled to Botswana and Niger to empower young girls, and to Côte d’Ivoire to help boys and girls learn concepts of reconciliation and working together following the country’s recent civil war.

Nigeria and Edo in particular are a major source of sex trafficking victims in Europe, according to an August 2019 Human Rights Watch report. Young girls are lured with promises of education, professional training and good-paying “house jobs” abroad, made to take dangerous journeys to Libya or Europe and then forced into sex work under the pretense of paying off thousands in “debt” for travelling costs.

These girls are subsequently pimped out, raped, impregnated, forced to get abortions in unsanitary conditions without pain medication or antibiotics, and are sometimes made to marry their abusers. Their pimps will stalk them, confiscate their passports, threaten to report them to the local police or use beatings, drugs, extortion, torture or the murder of their family members if the girls try to escape.

So, to combat that, Sports United works alongside other local non-government organizations to educate, empower and unite the girls against falling victim to such schemes.


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