Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/England: There is a new route to sexual slavery in Europe
From: Melanie Orhant (email@example.com)
Date: Tue Sep 26 2000 - 10:32:42 EDT
Adventures on the skin trail;
There is a new route to sexual slavery in Europe, and it leads from the
former Soviet Union to the sex clubs of Soho
By Sue Lloyd-Roberts
The Independent (London), September 22, 2000
AIJA IS an attractive, blonde Latvian 21-year-old with the body of a ballet
dancer and a fierce desire to escape the drudgery which has blighted the
lives of Latvian women since the country became part of the Soviet Union in
1941. Little, alas, has changed for her since independence apart from the
opening up of communications with the West. The only chance is to seek work
abroad. Stepping into an internet cafe in central Riga, she posts a job
application on the appropriate website: "I want a job. I am 25,
nice-looking. Have dance experience. What do I need to go to work?"
The reply is immediate, and could have come from any of the countries of
the European Union: all are major importers of young women, and as we shall
see, Britain is among the worst offenders. But this time, Denmark is first
to respond. "Hey Aija!" the e-mail reads, "you need no experience. If you
wish, you can come this week!"
When Aija expresses interest, she is told how to pose as a tourist when she
gets to Copenhagen airport, and instructed to take a taxi to "Club 8",
where she would be introduced to her duties as a dancer. Later, she buys
her ticket, follows the instructions and gets to the club. "I was shown the
sauna and another place where, they said, they hold the sex parties. 'You
mean I have to have sex with the clients?' I asked the woman in charge. She
said, 'Yes, of course'."
I know all this because, along with a camera crew, I followed Aija to the
club and posted bodyguards outside. Aija is a journalist who wants to help
expose the vulnerability of young girls from the former Soviet bloc to sex
traffickers. "I see it as a mission," she says, "because I find it sad that
so many girls from the Baltic States get caught like this, tempted by the
prospect of earning money abroad." Before Aija could be put to work, we
tipped the police off and they raided the club. They arrested and deported
four Hungarian girls working there. Aija was allowed to go.
She got away with her "sting", but it was a risk. Others aren't so lucky.
Some 80 per cent of the girls now working in the brothels and massage
parlours of Britain are foreign - many of them lured here from the
countries of the former Soviet Union. Another Latvian girl we spoke to, who
had applied for a job as an au pair, was told that she would be met at the
airport by her family. The "family" turned out to be a pimp who took her
straight to a brothel where she was expected to service her first client -
and lose her virginity - that very night. She was never paid for it, nor
for the three months of sex slavery which followed, during which she earned
thousands of pounds for her pimp. We heard of other girls in Denmark who
had been kept prisoner, manacled in cellars. Another Latvian girl was
murdered. And yet the penalties which the traffickers face are pitiful. It
is a low-risk, high-reward business.
There have been no charges brought against the club management to which
Aija applied for the job in Denmark. If you phone the club today, they are
still advertising the girls they have on offer (among them, a Lithuanian, a
Russian and a Pole) and describing their sexual attractions. This does not
surprise Dorit Otzen, a lawyer who has spent much of her life championing
the rights of women in Denmark. "The police don't know, and they don't want
to know anything about trafficking. You can get up to 10 years for selling
or importing drugs into Denmark but the longest sentence anyone has ever
received for importing women is a year. And even then the judge apologised
to the man in court, saying it was a long sentence. You could cry!"
Women's groups throughout the EU are in similar despair about official
attitudes to the problem. In the UK, the existing offences of sexual
exploitation under which a trafficker can be charged carry a maximum two
years' jail sentence. The maximum sentence for trafficking in drugs is life
imprisonment. The countries of the EU have pledged to review the situation,
but they are taking their time. Reformers point to progressive new laws in
Australia, where an offence under the new Slavery and Sexual Servitude
criminal code carries 25 years, as an example which they say should be
copied by EU countries.
Officers at the Metropolitan Police Vice Squad point out the difficulties
facing the investigating policeman. Even after a raid on a massage parlour
in London to "liberate" the young women who are kept there as sex slaves,
the girls themselves are so intimidated by the traffickers, who threaten
reprisals against their families back home, that they do not dare testify
in court. And Immigration officials seldom want to give them the chance
anyway: most of the girls have entered the country illegally and the Home
Office wants them out quickly.
There is a new route open to feed the sex industry in Britain - one which
makes use of the convenient backdoor of the Irish Republic to bring girls
into the country. Again it starts back in Riga, where I am introduced to
21-year -old Sveta and 19-year-old Ljuba. They are typical young Latvians:
well-educated, ambitious and attractive, they want jobs abroad. The streets
of the city are beginning to boast designer boutiques and ladies who step
out from new Mercedes cars to shop at them. Sveta and Ljuba know that the
"nouvelles riches" of Riga are those who have contacts and joint business
ventures with the West. In a cappuccino bar, they sift through the jobs
pages and find an agency offering jobs as hotel domestics in the Republic
of Ireland. It is a start.
Two weeks later, by the time I catch up with them again, they are still
determined to leave the country but are confused and apprehensive. The
agency has asked them to have Aids tests. Another girl, they say, was asked
by the agency for her bust measurements and a full- length photograph. "Is
this normal?" they ask. No, it isn't, I reply. The Irish Justice Ministry
confirms that Ireland, like all countries in the EU, does not require
foreign workers coming to the country to have an Aids test. The girls
decide not to go and leave it to us to investigate the Irish connection.
The agency told Sveta and Ljuba that they would be working for a Mr Con
Foley, the owner of Foley's Hotel, Restaurant and Internet Cafe on the High
Street in Portumna, County Galway, and that several Lithuanian and Latvian
girls had already gone there. Portumna is a small, sleepy town, a
three-hour drive from Dublin, with the slow pace of life typical of the
west coast of Ireland. The locals were surprised to be asked about the
Latvians in their midst. "Where's Latvia?" asked one cafe owner. "Somewhere
in Yugoslavia?" At Portumna post office they confirm that there are no
Latvians in the town - "but we had a Spaniard here last year," the
postmistress adds, helpfully.
We found Mr Foley himself flipping hamburgers in the local Burger Express,
his sole outlet in the town. In the "Internet Cafe" - a booth squeezed in
beside the plastic tables and the juke box (leaving no obvious room for a
team of Latvian waitresses) - we struggle to understand how it might have
come about that he is known, erroneously, in Riga as a major importer of
girls to the Irish Republic - and, as it turns out, as an unknowing link
into the sex industry in the UK.
Mr Foley explains that he had posted a jobs vacant advert on the Web,
looking at the possibility of employing a waitress. There is nothing
unusual in this. With the Irish economy booming, the service industry is
desperately short of workers. The Irish government has already issued
10,000 work permits to companies employing foreigners this year, 1,000 for
Latvians. What is strange is that, so far, Mr Foley's is not one of those
companies. Although he posted the ad, he has not yet employed a girl from
Riga. "And if you did, would you ask her to have an Aids test?" I asked.
"Good God, no!" he replies, blushing.
A trawl through the lap-dancing clubs of Dublin produces no Baltic beauties
either. Detective Inspector Sean Camon reacts with the indignation expected
of the head of the criminal investigation bureau in a strict Roman Catholic
country where brothels and abortions are illegal. "We cleared out the
brothels a few weeks ago," he says.
"We found a few girls from Eastern Europe and we've got rid of them." Long
past midnight, when the only prostitutes still touting for business are the
desperate, over-40-year-olds, I arrange a rendezvous in the red light
district of Smithfield Village with a player in the vice trade. I am told
that he launders the vast profits of the vice bosses.
"The police might say that they've closed the brothels, but you don't see
any of the fancy prostitutes on the street tonight, do you? They've
re-located." He, too, claims not to have seen Latvian or Lithuanian girls
in any number - but he has a theory about the Portumna connection. "It
makes sense to use a bona fide employer as a front to bring Latvian girls
here on work permits for the service industry. They're handling thousands
of work permits every month. It's a new game for them and it would never
occur to them that someone could be abusing the system."
From Dublin, my contact says, the sex trafficker uses the free movement
between the Republic and Britain "to fulfil the vice requirements of
London, Birmingham, Manchester. I know one of the big names in vice here in
Dublin who is transporting the girls to Belfast, and from there, they're
taken to Britain." Although a girl might have obtained a work permit for
Ireland, once in the UK, she is an illegal and the pimp uses this to coerce
her. "He will seize her passport and force her into prostitution, arguing
there is no other way to pay back her 'travel expenses', which amount to
thousands of pounds. Payback time involves servicing up to 20 clients a day."
It is a grotesque abuse of human rights, of course, but in the UK it is
dealt with as an immigration problem. Some 80 per cent of the girls now
working in the brothels and massage parlours of Britain are foreign. After
Albanians and Thais, those most commonly found are from the former Soviet
Union. Immigration officials report a dramatic increase in the number of
Latvians and Lithuanians who have been deported for illegal entry. The
Latvian member of Interpol in Riga, Juris Jasinkevics, concurs. "Yes. A lot
of girls who get caught up by sex traffickers get to London - and not just
there. We have found them as far afield as Australia and Iceland!"
This contemporary form of slavery is a global problem, with nearly every
country in the world now affected as sending (eg Latvia), transit (eg
Ireland) or destination points (eg Denmark and the UK). The latest figures
from the Institute of Migration claim that half-a-million girls are being
shipped from the Far East and the former Soviet Bloc into the countries of
the EU every year. Interpol meanwhile has only two full-time officers in
The Hague to coordinate information on sex trafficking, while hundreds are
employed to combat drugs. And yet, in terms of profits, the estimated
pounds 9bn a year earned by sex traffickers is on a par with the drugs trade.
The policy in Denmark and the UK of removing women quickly without allowing
them to give evidence could well increase the number of women who become
ensnared. In Copenhagen, the lawyer Dorit Otzen says: "the police give the
girls 24 hours (after a raid) and then they're out. The pimps just go and
collect another batch, week after week, month after month." With the
present hysteria over asylum seekers in Britain, a change in UK policy is
And despite the horror stories, there are no signs of the supply end of the
market drying up. Back in Riga, Sveta considers her lucky escape. "I can
hardly 77bear to think about it. They might have sold me or something. I
dread to think how my life might have turned out." The agency that promised
to send her to Ireland is now being investigated by the Latvian police. And
yet the washing-up job which earns her pounds 3 a day looks paltry compared
with the winnings available in the West. It must be worth the risk.
Clutching the "classified ads" page, she goes to the telephone booth. "Hi!
It's about this work abroad. Could you tell me where it is? Ah, a waitress
in Spain? Good..."
Please contact me off-list for any questions about Stop-Traffic at
Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
Program for Appropriate Technology in Health
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funded by the Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
of the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH)
dealing with human rights abuses associated with trafficking
in persons, with an emphasis on public health and trafficking
in persons for forced labor, including forced prostitution,
sweatshop labor, domestic service and some coercive mail
order bride arrangements.
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