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The European Slave Trade

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  • Djehuti Sundaka
    We hear so much about modern slavery as if it s just an African or Southeast Asian thing, implying something morally wrong about the peoples of those
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2002
      We hear so much about modern slavery as if it's just an "African" or
      "Southeast Asian" thing, implying something morally wrong about the
      peoples of those lands. What isn't broadcasted to the world on a
      regular basis is the ongoing and growing slave trade of Europe where
      capitalism, democracy, and the values of freedom and justice are
      supposed to be the norm. The people of European society are supposed to
      be the leaders of the "free" world yet it is apparent that they are the
      leaders of a situation that is quite the opposite of their projected

      Djehuti Sundaka

      World View: Activists combat sex trafficking in east Europe

      Monday, July 01, 2002

      By Paul Jaskunas, Special to the Post-Gazette

      VILNIUS, Lithuania -- A disturbing image can be seen everywhere on
      Lithuania's billboards and
      buses: a lifeless young woman suspended in the air like a marionette,
      hanging by sharp hooks.
      Beneath is a warning: "They will play you like a doll."

      "You" refers to the women who accept tempting offers of work abroad
      only to be forced into
      prostitution. "They" are the traffickers, thugs and pimps who trick and
      beat their victims into

      The poster is part of a Baltic campaign by the Geneva-based
      International Organization for
      Migration to curb the trafficking of women into western Europe's
      brothels, a problem experts say is
      on the rise.

      The story has become familiar: a young woman in need of cash answers an
      ad for a high-paying,
      no-skills-required job abroad. Upon arrival, she is deprived of her
      passport, locked up, beaten
      and told she must work as a prostitute or face arrest.

      Worldwide, human trafficking is the third most profitable organized
      crime, after the sale of drugs
      and weapons, according to Interpol. The problem is hard to quantify,
      but the migration organization
      recently estimated that the trafficking of women nets $7 billion a
      year. Traffickers in eastern Europe
      rarely face prosecution, as they prey on the region's impoverished
      women to meet the West's
      demand for sexual services.

      "The social and economic conditions here make a good atmosphere to work
      for these traffickers,"
      said Rasa Erentaite, coordinator of the migration organization's
      anti-trafficking campaign in Vilnius.
      "A lot of stories are told in the media about people who go abroad and
      bring back a lot of money.
      Those rare cases, told so loudly, really lure people. We want to warn

      Warn women against blindly believing in sweet foreign job offers, that

      Telling her story in a 2001 migration organization report, 24-year-old
      Marija (a pseudonym)
      explains how she was offered a job in Germany by a friend she'd known
      for three years. He said
      he could get her an illegal au pair job with a rich family. Trusting
      him, she moved to Germany,
      where her "friend" sold her to a group of Albanians for $1,000. She
      says she was beaten, raped
      and later sold a second time and taken to a small Italian town, where
      she was forced to work as a
      prostitute for half a year.

      Marija had never suspected danger because the job tip had come from
      someone she knew.

      "I'd heard all these stories about trafficking, but even then it did
      not occur to me that I would fall
      into that trap," she said.

      Her case exemplifies a troubling trend. While prostitution rings used
      to rely on rather transparent
      advertisements placed in local newspapers to lure women, they now are
      more subtle.
      Acquaintances, friends, even lovers have been known to betray
      Lithuanian women and sell them
      into sexual slavery, Erentaite said.

      To help people distinguish between valid opportunities abroad and
      dubious job offers, the
      migration organization has set up hotlines in all three Baltic states.
      Callers may inquire if prospective
      employment is legal and who they could contact for help if they get in

      The organization also hosted a job fair in May, which is most unusual
      for Vilnius. Some 2000
      Lithuanians flooded the lobby of a theater to ask questions and gather
      brochures from Western
      embassies and foreign employment agencies.

      Julia Vorobjova, one of those in attendance, is only 16, but she's
      already thinking about working
      and studying in western Europe. She says she probably wouldn't take an
      illegal job -- "It sounds
      too risky" -- but understands the appeal.

      "For some people in Lithuania, especially students, life isn't so
      good," she said. "They want
      something now, some fast money and adventures, and it seems okay to
      take an illegal job."

      Nevertheless, the information campaign has forced young women to at
      least think about the risks
      inherent in illegal work, Vorobjova said.

      "Of course everybody has heard of terrible events happening to girls,
      but with such campaigns you
      think about [the dangers] more," she added.

      Beyond its information campaign, the migration organization has sought
      to coordinate its activities
      with law enforcement. Any tips picked up through its telephone hotline
      are passed on to police.

      Recently, a man called the Vilnius office about his girlfriend. She'd
      been in the Netherlands,
      supposedly working as an au pair, when she phoned her boyfriend in a
      panic to say her passport
      had been taken away. The conversation lasted two minutes and ended
      abruptly. Worried, the
      boyfriend called the migration organization, which in turn notified
      police in the Netherlands.

      Experts say cross-border cooperation between law enforcement and
      non-government agencies is
      crucial in combating criminal rings that operate throughout Europe.
      Victims who fear talking to
      police might talk to a group like the migration organization, which has
      the wherewithal to contact
      the proper authorities.

      Igoris Bazylevas, chief of public security in Lithuania's Interior
      Ministry would like to enhance the
      Lithuanian government's ability to cooperate with non-government
      organizations and foreign
      governments in this regard. As part of a $750,000 anti-trafficking
      program recently approved by
      Parliament, his ministry plans to set up an information database about
      suspects, victims and
      trafficking routes which will be available to police departments,
      border guards, and
      non-government organizations.

      So far, however, the Lithuanian government's record against traffickers
      doesn't inspire confidence.
      Since 1998, when the country passed a law criminalizing human
      trafficking, 35 cases have been
      initiated, resulting in only three convictions. All three were police
      officers. They were convicted for
      attempting to traffic two young women into Germany for 1,000 German
      marks and sentenced to
      seven, six and three years.

      Asked why so few traffickers have been caught, Bazylevas explains that
      in most human trafficking
      cases the victims won't talk.

      "A case can be solved quickly if there are witnesses," he said.

      Daiva (a pseudonym) is a case in point. Now a Vilnius resident, she
      says she was sold into
      prostitution in Germany last year after being picked up while
      hitchhiking. She spent four hellish
      years in a brothel filled with other Eastern European women before
      police raided the place last
      spring. She refused to testify against the pimps who'd held her

      "I was very afraid for my baby," she said. "I wanted to be with him."

      When asked what she would tell women considering work abroad, Daiva
      advised, "Don't think
      about it. Stay home."

      Paul Jaskunas is a free-lance writer and recent Fulbright fellow to
      Lithuania who lives in
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