East European Women Trapped In Sex Slavery

By Irina Sandul
March 11, 2001
The Washington Times

        Until last year, Nadya was an ordinary student from Donetsk, a provincial mining town in Ukraine. But when he father died in an auto crash, she needed a job to help support her mother and two younger sisters. That led her to say yes when a friend known to her simply as Edik offered to find her a well-paid job as a waitress in Germany. Thus began her ordeal as a "smuggled woman," trapped into sexual slavery in a foreign land.
        La Strada Ukraine, the Kiev branch of an international organization that works to help such women, put Nadya's story on its Web site along with those of three others. None of them provided her full name, both from embarrassment and fear of the traffickers' revenge.
        Trafficking in Eastern European women is a huge business, bringing from $ 5 billion to $ 22 billion a year to the sex industry's tycoons. The risks are lower and the profits higher than from drug smuggling, according to a recent report by the British Helsinki Human Rights Group. A woman can be resold and utilized until she dies or goes mad, which is often the case, said Marie-Jose Ragab, president of the Dulles Area Chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Beatings, debts, threats

        Nadya, 22, said on the Web site that when her visa was ready, Edik drove her with two other young women to Germany. In Frankfurt, he took their passports, telling hem he needed the documents to register them in a hotel.
         Next morning he turned the girls over to a German friend, who took them to the brothel where Nadya would spend the next seven months. When she refused at first to work, she was beaten and told she could not escape. Her passport was gone, she spoke no German and she was told she owed the traffickers $ 5,000 for transportation and help in getting a visa.
         "They told me they will just kill me, and no one would ever get to know about it if I don't pay off this money within a month," Nadya said on the Web site.
         "I was locked in an empty room for several days. I was beaten and warned that they will deal with my family. They knew absolutely everything about my relatives. Only now I realized that Edik (here he was known as Stas) was a real pimp."
        Most of the girls who lived at the brothel were Slovaks and Poles. When they weren't working as prostitutes, they washed dishes and cleaned the floor in an adjoining restaurant. They were not allowed to turn down any client, most of whom were truck drivers from a nearby highway.

One of the lucky ones.

        Nadya finally broke free when police came to the brothel to break up a fight among some clients and arrested her because she had no identification. The German authorities allowed her to contact the Ukrainian Embassy which helped her to get home.
        That made her one of the lucky ones.
         After the collapse of communism, the centuries-old sex industry acquired an exotic new product, women from Eastern and Central Europe. With their Western looks, college education and good manners, they were much more attractive to many customers than the Asian and Latin American women who preceded them.
         The women were all too eager to seek a new life in the West. "During the Cold War, the Western propaganda was so extreme in creating an image [of the West] that women - a little adventurous, attracted by foreign life - got engaged out of naivete", said Mrs. Ragab.
"They grew up in the system where things were more protected. Communists didn't trade women. This percentage of na´ve, ambitious women was just made for this [industry]."

Ukraine is No.2 source

        Ukraine, where in 1997 women accounted for 64 percent of all unemployed persons, is the second largest exporter of women to Western Europe after Moldova, the poorest of the newly independent states. The Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior estimates that 400,000 Ukrainian women have been trafficked in the last decade.
         Ukrainian women are smuggled to Italy, Germany, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Greece, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Israel, the United States, Thailand, China and Japan, according to a recent report from Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington.
         Only about 10 percent of the women are, like Nadya, ignorant about what is in store for them amid the promises of work as au pairs, waitresses, models or dancers.
         The great majority understand they will be prostitutes, but believe they will earn $ 1,000 to 2,000 per week - some 20 to 40 times more than they can earn at home. They also expect at least eight hours of rest a day and a decent place to live.
         "Instead they end up staying with 10 people in a one-bedroom apartment that has only five beds," said Inna Shvab, la Strada Ukraine's manager of social assistance and victim support.
         "They sleep in turns and service 20 to 30 customers a day. They live in unsanitary conditions, without water. They are forced to have sex without a condom, because then, the price is two to three times higher."

Prostitutes for NATO

        Ukrainian women who think they are headed for jobs in Italy or France often make it no farther than the Balkans, where they are forced into service in local brothels.
         "International peacekeeping troops in Kosovo are reportedly fueling a prostitution boom in the Yugoslav province," said the SAIS report, which was released last month.
         "Women from Russia, Ukraine and Central European countries have been trafficked into the region to service the large population of foreign soldiers. A recent investigation by the United Nations found more than 150 Eastern European women who had been forced into prostitution in Bosnian refugee camps."
         In November 1995, the SAIS report said, survivors of the former U.N. safe haven in Srebrenica in Bosnia accused Dutch U.N. troops of serious misconduct, including abetting child prostitution.
         The German Defense Ministry said in December that it would investigate a report that underage girls are working in Macedonia brothels regularly visited by German peacemakers serving in Kosovo.
         Women are also smuggled in groups of 10 to Turkey and Greece across the mountainous border with Bulgaria, where they often encounter the dead bodies of their compatriots, according to Mrs. Shvah of La Strada Ukraine.

Women sold as slaves

        She said worse lies ahead for those who reach Turkey. There they are delivered to a market in the Turkish city of Trebizond, where they are literally bought and sold as slaves.
        From Bosnia to Israel, women are sold for anything from $800 to $15,000, depending on the quality of the "product" and remain obligated by large debts for their transportation and the arrangement of documents, according to Human Rights Watch.
         The women's debt can range from $10,000 in Italy to $1,000 to $3,000 in cash-trapped Serbia, Mrs. Shvab said.
        A dissatisfied owner will often sell the woman to another owner, who then demands that she repay him the purchase price, said Martina Vandenberg, a researcher at the Washington office of Human Rights Watch who has interviewed trafficked women in Bosnia and Middle East brothels. She said the debts accumulate to the point where few women ever come close to working them off. Even if a woman does come close, she may then be resold, leaving her with a new debt to pay.
         Mrs. Shvab said some traffickers break the women's will by bringing them in bunches to a "show murder" of a woman who refuses to work. Some are sent to a "training camp" in Italy, where according to Mrs. Ragab, traffickers make them have sex with 50 to 100 men a night until they are totally broken.

Police can't be trusted.

        Usually the women are forced to stay in the brothels, often behind barred windows.
         Sometimes a woman finds a client who will help her escape, Mrs. Shvab said. "But we do not recommend [that the women] contact police. Authorities in Greece advise them to contact the office of a public prosecutor because the police are corrupt. Often, they themselves are [brothel] clients."
         In most countries, police will arrest and prosecute the woman unless she can convince them she was illegally sold into prostitution, Ms. Vandenberg said.
         " Then they often have to pay a fine, and then they will be deported. States are prosecuting the victims instead of traffickers," Ms. Vandenberg said.
         The women usually are reluctant to testify against the traffickers for fear of revenge against themselves or their families. Seldom do prosecutors or police offer witnesses any kind of protection.
         Even in New York, police failed to provide witness protection or visa assistance - as is normal in drug cases - to a young Czech woman who helped in the March 1998 investigation of the Playpen, a topless bar in Manhattan, Ms. Vandenberg said.
         "The trafficking issue is usually looked upon either as a law enforcement issue or an immigration issue, but this is a human-rights issue. [Though] most of the women I interviewed knew they would work as prostitutes, [they] still have human rights," she said.

Home countries benefit

        Advocates for the women say there are economic incentives for the governments of both the exporting and importing countries to ignore the trafficking in women.
         According to Ms. Vandenberg, Human Rights Watch found evidence that officials in some countries were accepting bribes for issuing visas for young women. The women's home countries, meanwhile, sometime enjoy "a net increase to their economies" from money sent home by the women. "Money [from sex trafficking] goes to the national budget," Mrs. Ragab said. "It's an indication why governments at the moment are not cracking down." She estimated that 5 percent to 10 percent of the proceeds of the traffickers filters back into the economies of the women's home countries.
         "The immigration offices and identification centers [of every country] have ways to control [trafficking] if they want to," she said. Mrs. Ragab said even more money remains in the hands of the traffickers, who launder most of it in offshore zones and return it to their own countries, where it often makes a significant contribution to the balance of payments.         "Between $600 billion to $1,5 trillion per year is looking to enter the regulated world economy," Mrs. Ragab said. "From 20 to 25 percent of this money is considered to come from women trafficking," while the rest comes from drug trafficking, racketeering and other forms of smuggling. She said many governments have looked at the experience of the Philippines, which for years has helped its people find jobs overseas as maids, drivers, entertainers and sometimes as prostitutes, gaining a big boost to its economy from the remittances they send home.
         "It is extreme sexism that borders with racism - people are objects to be used and ruined," said Mrs. Ragab. "We are in the same position as 150 years ago when they trafficked in Africans."