Thursday, July 19, 2012

New Eastern Europe - Sex trafficking from East to West: A flourishing criminal industry

Source: New Eastern Europe


Author: Charlotte Guériaux

 Human trafficking has become a large and lucrative business for criminal groups. Everyday throughout all Europe, hundreds of thousands of women (and girls, men and boys) are threatened and transported across borders, often illegally, and most are eventually used for sexual exploitation in the “sex industry”. Human trafficking is today one of the three largest organised criminal businesses worldwide, along with drugs trafficking and trafficking in weapons. In particular, trafficking in women from 
Eastern and Southern Europe has grown significantly in the past two decades.
The United Nations estimates that there are 2.7 million victims of trafficking around the world; of these, 80 per cent are women and children. This modern-day slavery includes different forms, such as trafficking in women for sexual exploitation (when women are lured by promises and forced into sexual slavery) or trafficking for forced labour, for instance in agricultural or construction work. Human trafficking is also about commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism or trafficking of body organs. The clear common characteristic is the abuse of the vulnerability of the victims.
Human trafficking for sexual exploitation is the most socially damaging but also the most lucrative market. The International Labour Organisation estimates that this transnational organised criminal activity has the annual value of 39 billion dollars.
 A contemporary story: “Igor and Victoria”
Let’s take the story of Igor and Victoria to illustrate what is human trafficking in Ukraine. Igor could not find a job in his hometown because of the high rate of unemployment. This is why he agreed to leave Ukraine to find paid, although illegal, work in Portugal as a labourer. After paying a “contact” 300 dollars he was promised to get an 800 dollar-a-month job in a factory, which would be enough money to live there with his wife. They left the country together, quite optimistic. However, once they arrived, they were coerced, threatened and beaten. Igor’s patrons forced Victoria into prostitution. They never got paid and no one listened to their complaints. They eventually managed to escape but they ended up with nothing and at a great cost to their health, emotional well-being and standing in the community. Igor and Victoria are classic victims of human trafficking. This kind of case study is presented by specific public institutions or NGOs: the message is clear, anyone can become a victim of trafficking.
Igor and Victoria escaped their traffickers but thousands of people in Europe do not have this chance. The life conditions of a trafficked victim are often extremely difficult, to put it mildly. These people are not only forced to live in unsanitary and drastic conditions, but they also suffer from constant threats and emotional or physical abuse. Deception, rape, sleep deprivation are the routines of a sex trafficking victim, connected to forced abortions and probable contraction of AIDS, Sexually transmitted diseases, or Hepatitis B and C.

The “Europe of sex”: The informal routes of human trafficking
Clear classification of certain countries as origin, transit, and destination countries is not as simple as one might suppose. Europe seems to be divided into two when it is the question of human trafficking: Eastern, Central and the Balkans are the source and the transit places, while Western, Northern and partly Southern Europe are the final destinations. Ukraine, Poland and Bulgaria as sources, transit and destination countries deserve a look to understand the broad and the variety of this European “sex economy”.
To start, Ukraine is today both a source and a destination country for trafficked women. The country remains one of the largest exporters of women not just to the European Union, but also to the Middle East and South East Asia. On the other hand, the country is also becoming a sex tourism destination, with new trafficking victims that originate from South East Asia, Africa or other Eastern European states. Moreover, domestic trafficking in Ukraine is extremely significant: most women work as prostitutes against their will and can suffer from other forms of exploitation such as forced labour. An alarming 7,000 to 8,000 cases of sexual abuse and exploitation are officially reported annually (UNICRI). And the number of street children has grown progressively each year. Surveys have shown that more than 30 per cent of the prostitutes in Ukraine are aged 11 to 18 years old.
Poland is another scenario. An EU member state, Poland is a transit and destination country for victims of sex trafficking because of its central geographical location in Europe, between rich Western EU countries and the poorer states of the former Soviet Union. The country remains also a country of origin for this “sex industry”: women are trafficked to Western Europe, Japan and North America. Since 2000, Poland made significant steps in the fight against organised crime and sex trafficking in ratifying the relevant international treaties and in enhancing its legal instruments, in particular provisions on the protections of trafficked victims. In the country, human trafficking is punishable under the criminal code for “forced prostitution,” “pimping,” and “trafficking.”
A point to underline is that traditional human trafficking flows to Europe from the Russian Federation or Ukraine have decreased; while the “sex industry” has significantly developed in South Eastern Europe, especially in Bulgaria and in Romania.

New trends in sex trafficking?
Bulgaria and Romania hold the record for the most severe flows of trafficked victims in Europe. They are more important than any other European origin countries in terms of the wide range of destinations of the trafficking.
In Bulgaria, organised prostitution and trafficking in human beings are certainly the most profitable criminal activity, even if this market has contracted recently due to the economic turmoil in Southern Europe. Bulgaria is a source country for human trafficking and to a lesser extent a transit and destination country for women and children trafficked into the sex slave industry. Today, between 11,000 and 21,000 Bulgarian prostitutes are exploited abroad, in particular in Germany, in Greece and in the Netherlands. This organised crime still generates the largest revenues for Bulgarian criminal networks, amounting to nearly 800 million dollars (650 million euro) per year.
Some populations are extremely vulnerable to different forms of trafficking, such as the Roma community. Ethnic Roma people represent more than the half of trafficked persons in Bulgaria due to ethnic discrimination, poverty, the high level of unemployment, homelessness and complicity of family members trafficking their own.
A new trend in the European “sex industry” is the growing diversification of the origins of human trafficking victims: new nationalities have appeared in the last years, such as Chinese, Paraguayan, Sierra Leonean and Uzbek victims.
The increase in human trafficking is obviously a product of economic globalisation, of labour mobility and technological advances - especially through the rapid and unregulated enticement and movement of human capital via the internet. This multifaceted and growing phenomenon can also be explained by the significant and progressive demand for personal services in the developed world and the increase in unemployment among women in some countries.
Most trafficking victims are unwilling to participate in this European “sex market”. However, the “push and pull factors” can explain the voluntary departure of people from their homelands, pushing women into the hands of traffickers. These factors include economics, violence and corruption of officials. The increase in human trafficking in Moldova can thus be explained by high rates of unemployment, few economic opportunities and corruption that all feed a black market economy that sells goods as well as people.
Moreover, many women from Eastern Europe that have been willingly trafficked for sexual exploitation to the Netherlands often end up in the hands of traffickers and organised criminal groups. Victimised and usually threatened, these women are the victims of different criminal networks collaborating throughout Europe, especially from Eastern and Central Europe, and their related networks in the Netherlands and former Yugoslavia. In the Netherlands, the recognition of the social problem of victimisation of prostitutes is thus a recent process because prostitution is a legal economic activity there.
In the former communist countries, trafficking is the product of transnational political criminal relations and of progressive and strong relationships between individual criminals, organised crime networks, corrupt officers, police, the judiciary and high profile government officers. Through the unregulated transition from socialism toward democracy and a market economy, organised crime groups and corrupted officials have seized control of much of the state apparatus and business sector, leading in many countries to the criminalisation of the state and economy. Europol, the European law enforcement agency, reported that criminal organisations use a rich variety of corrupt means to obstruct law enforcement and judicial processes.

The key: political commitment
Human trafficking is an abhorrent violation of the dignity and rights of human beings. In January 2010, this notion of human trafficking was confirmed by the European Court on Human Rights, which recognised trafficking in human beings, in line with Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as a form of slavery and forced labour.
However, the overall number of victims trafficked in the EU is still unknown, and only estimates are available. What is clear is the fact that the number of victims is much higher than the official statistics. Indeed, most of the victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation are part of a “hidden population” made up of illegal migrants, which is one of the most challenging problems that faces researchers. The defencelessness and invisibility of the victims, such as children or poor and desperate women, as well as the lack of public debate and responses from the Member States to commercial sexual exploitation of people, are some of the most serious features of these forms of abuse.
Organised crime is without a doubt a threat to European citizens, businesses, state institutions as well as to the economy as a whole. A comprehensive and transnational strategy must be developed to fight these organised criminal activities. It is necessary to develop methods for preventing children and women from falling into the hands of traffickers and protect the trafficked victims who often end up penniless and without rights in foreign countries. At the European level, EU agencies such as Europol, Eurojust and CEPOL are dedicated to the combat against these criminal networks operating throughout Europe. NGOs are also very active in this field, such as the Polish section of La Strada.
The key to tackling the problem is political commitment because there is clearly a lack of official concern about these realities and the subsequent absence of reliable statistical data.

Charlotte Guériaux is a French student in a double masters program in European politics and studies between the Institute of Political Sciences of Strasbourg and the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Her academic interests include Central and Eastern Europe politics, organised crime and corruption, and energy security.
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