The European Slave Trade
- 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
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
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
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