Friday, February 18, 2011

Syndicate of silence

Emma Thompson at the César awards ceremony.Image via Wikipedia
by Fatal Promises on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 12:46pm

Politicians, men working for relevant organizations, managers, lawyers as clients of prostitutes: In interviews for “Fatal Promises” activists Emma Thompson and Gloria Steinem both identified those men’s involvement in the sex industry as one of the reasons why progress in the fight against human trafficking is hard to come by.

This point was driven home rather forcefully in Austria recently when media reaction to a TV-report about victims of human trafficking in Vienna’s most prominent club “Babylon” was non-existent. None of the mainstream media followed up on the report by the ORF. For years “Babylon” has been and still is a high-end and – in the Viennese context – a high society club in a prime location of the city. A huge advertisement of the club at the Vienna airport has just recently been removed after years of blatantly greeting visitors during their first minutes in Austria.

The report established beyond any doubt the connection between a model agency in Romania and girls forced to work as prostitutes in that club. One under age girl, 17 years old and finally rescued by one of the clients, told her story in no uncertain terms: Upon arrival in Vienna she was immediately taken to “Babylon”, her passport taken away. For three years she had to work in various locations around Austria as, in her words, “Babylon” wanted fresh supply of women constantly. Not to forget, all of this is happening within the European Union, involving two member states – not any third world country.

The report covered a court case against traffickers in the town of Slobozia in Romania, where two more reasons for the frustrated fight against this crime came to light. First: Asked about human trafficking, a Romanian journalist said: “There are bigger problems than human trafficking. It involves politicians…” Can there be a bigger problem than buying and selling human beings – regardless of who the clients are?

Second: The founder of the rescue organization “Reaching Out” in Romania was quoted: “ There is no political will. Many politicians are clients. And there is a lot of money to be made.” Society and governments, she said, are not really fighting the crime and the traffickers can do what they want. In her opinion stiff prison sentences are necessary and all the assets of the traffickers need to be confiscated as so may victims and activists have been saying for so many years – to little avail. As the founder of “Reaching Out” sums it up in the report: “There has not been any change in 12 years”. Of the ten women in her safe house seven are under-age.

In this special case the model agency “Star Company” was running into financial problems and was finally “rescued” by a politician of the opposition in Romania. According to reports this is when the trafficking to Austria as well as to Italy, another EU member state, started on a bigger scale. The politician has been called to court only as witness and not as a defendant. The principal defendant is free on bail.

As revealing as the report itself was, especially about the level of tolerance for this crime within the EU, the truly shocking aspect was the dead silence in the Austrian media and public after its airing.

None of the relevant questions came up for discussion: How can it be that not even well-educated clients are suspicious about certain girls since the club has been involved in a trafficking case before?

How can it be that they are proud to be filmed at the club during society events? How can it be that a very well-known and prominent lawyer associates himself with that club – totally unashamed of what might be going on?

As one man who runs a safe house in Vienna said in an interview, referring to the dirty business of trafficking: “Everything is connected with violence. There is no nice prostitution. It is just being whitewashed."

Syndicate of silence
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