[Stop-traffic] News/E.Europe: The oldest profession seeks new market in west Europe

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/E.Europe: The oldest profession seeks new market in west Europe
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Sep 26 2000 - 10:32:42 EDT

The oldest profession seeks new market in west Europe
By Roger Cohen
The New York Times, September 19, 2000

UBI, Czech Republic - Early this summer, Pavlika, a young Bulgarian woman,
boarded a bus in Varna on the Black Sea coast and traveled westward to this
town on the Czech-German border, where she now stands on the road in
vampish boots and a skirt so short it leaves little to the imagination.
"Work," she says simply, a helpless smile spreading across her broad face.
"Work, that is why I came. In Bulgaria, there was no way to make money."

Prostitution is an old trade but not an honored one, so Pavlika prefers not
to give her family name. At the age of 21, she has plenty of company. Dubi
now forms the center of a five- mile sex strip leading to the border where
bars have names like "Libido" or "Kiss" or "Alibi" and young women loiter
on every corner.

About 70 percent of the prostitutes are foreign, most of them from
Bulgaria, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, said Vladimir Kriz, the Dubi police
chief. He said several hundred women cater to "sex tourism" from Germany
the ugly face of the economic divide that scars the land where the cold war
died. Many of the women end up here because it is easier and cheaper to get
a Czech visa than one to a European Union country.

Average wages are $110 a month in Russia, three times that in the Czech
Republic, more than fifteen times that in the European Union. No wonder a
tide of more than one million migrants, a growing number of them women, is
washing up each year on the European Union's borders and within them.

Communism put women to work; post-cold-war capitalism does not necessarily
do so. More than 60 percent of Russia's unemployed are women. A Russian
girl called Luda, in a bar in southern Spain, put the West's lure simply:
"One-zero-zero-zero," she said laughing, "instead of one-zero-zero" the
chance to earn $1,000 a month instead of $100.

But the laughter can be short-lived, promised money illusory and the human
cost high. Scratch the surface in the Dubi area and a world of violence,
xenophobia, disease and misery is revealed.

At the orphanage in nearby Teplice, Jirina Rajtrova, brisk in white
uniform, points to three babies in a large bed and says two of them, Adam
and Lucia, were born to local prostitutes. Of the 55 infants under her
care, half are children of prostitutes. "You see," she said, "There are
regular clients for pregnant women." Mr. Kriz, the police chief, said he
last saw "some pregnant girls working" several months ago.

As for child prostitution, Jiri Voralek, the chief of police in nearby
Usti, says nine pimps are being prosecuted in three cases this year
involving 12 children. "The youngest was 9," he said.

Those are extreme cases. But, generally, moral codes are loosening in a
Western European society that is ever more mobile and bereft of the old
constraints that church, community and steady jobs provided. Wealth is
widespread, but so is alienation; sex has been commercialized like
everything else. Fast money is in; so is fast sex.

Central and Eastern Europe are far poorer, their once sealed borders now
open, their sense of what Bernd Burgfeldt, a Berlin police officer, called
the "Golden West" still full of illusions, their young women liberated but
often idle and desperate.

For the sex trade, the balance of supply and demand could scarcely be
better. Women have been coming to this border town for several years, and
the influx shows no sign of abating. "Between the two parts of Europe, the
business of trafficking for sexual exploitation is booming," said Bjorn
Clarberg, director of the "Illegal Immigration and Human Beings Group" at
the European Union's joint police force, Europol. "It's an industry now
worth several billion dollars a year."

Irene Freudenschuss-Reichl, an Austrian activist working to curb that
business, estimates that half a million women from Eastern Europe and the
former Soviet Union are being shipped abroad each year.

At Frankfurt an der Oder, on the German-Polish border, Mirko Heinke, a
senior border guard official, said about 60 percent of the 681 people
apprehended so far this year were women, with the largest numbers from
Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. In Berlin, Mr. Burgfeldt put the number of
prostitutes in the city at close to 7,000, "most of them from Eastern
Europe, women who have poured in since the fall of the wall."

Some move westward without illusions, convinced, however reluctantly, that
prostitution for a wealthier clientele is the only way to feed their
families and fashion a future. Others come deluded, lured into thinking
that they will work as babysitters or barmaids, forced into unpayable debt,
deprived of all freedom in the end.

Pavlika, the Bulgarian prostitute, saw no alternative to her current work
on the E-55 highway. Her parents are dead, killed in a car crash when she
was 16 and still at school. She took a succession of odd jobs, but they
were insufficient to support her 10-year-old sister. Hardship. Dead ends.
Vague dreams of "getting married and maybe living in Germany."

She stops talking, abruptly, says she has to work. The going rate is about
$35 for 30 minutes, or about half the price over the border in Germany.
Hence the steady stream of German cars.

Pavlika takes a wad of notes out of a bag. She hands them to her pimp. Like
others around here, he has a look: track suit, Adidas sneakers, gold chain,
sleeves short enough to reveal the bulge of his muscles.

Leona, 19, works in the nearby Bihac bar, an upscale brothel owned by
Bosnian immigrants. She is a Ukrainian girl from Uzhgorod; she seems
desperate, to judge by whispered confidences. Unlike Pavlika, she is in the
second category of women, those deceived, trafficked and ultimately trapped.

She came westward believing that she would work as "a gardener or some
normal work." But upon arrival this summer her passport was taken. She was
told she had been "sold" to the bar where she now works. She has no money,
she says. Her gaze is vacant.

"Money, money, money, money," says Natasha from Brest, Belarus, who is
sitting next to her. "There is none for young women in Belarus. There is
none in Ukraine. We are here because we can get a Czech visa for $25. A
German one is much more difficult, much more expensive."

But many women do get into Germany, some illegally, some with three-month
tourist visas arranged by the gangs that bring them. Barbara Eritt, a
social worker, says about 1,000 women a year are coming to Berlin from
countries further east to work temporarily as prostitutes. She tries to
help the casualties.

Their stories tend to resemble one another. The women may be teachers or
farm laborers or unemployed, ages 18 to 30. Often they have one or two
children to support. They receive an offer of temporary work and good
earnings in the West. Even an au pair in Berlin may earn several times the
wage of a teacher in Kiev.

Travel and visas are arranged for $800 to $1,000 the women's debt to the
gangs that organize their transportation and work. After arrival, passports
and any money are taken and the women are deposited, often in groups of
four or more, in small, guarded apartments. Then they are told what their
real job is to be.

The Berlin tabloid newspaper, BZ, advertises them daily: "The best from
Moscow," "Sweet, fresh Poles," "New! Ukrainian Pearls." Some are taken to
work in clubs or brothels; others are driven to clients' homes.

The average rate in brothels is about $75 a half-hour, but no more than a
tenth of that reaches the women's pockets. The women have to buy food and
pay rent from their earnings, and so the debts mount.

"The women are terrorized," said Ms. Eritt, who has helped about 30 of them
in the last two years. "They are often unable to pay off their debts. And
they are paralyzed, afraid to go the police, terrified the gangs will do
something to a member of their family back home if they try to escape."

Prostitution is not illegal in Germany, if confined to designated urban
areas. But trafficking in women, and their exploitation, is illegal; so,
too, is working with a tourist visa or with none at all. Mr. Burgfeldt, the
police officer, said he had 20 staff members fighting prostitution rackets,
with limited success.

The trade in women from the East has spread throughout Europe and is
increasingly well organized. The Russian-German and Ukrainian- German
mafias that dominate the business are an outgrowth of the long Soviet
presence in East Germany. Their networks are old, slick, flexible and
elusive. Everywhere, women are reluctant to testify because they are
afraid; without them convictions are almost impossible to get.

"If they are going to testify, these women need witness protection, new
names, new passports, assurances they can remain in Germany," said Cornelia
Bhrle, an expert on illegal immigration. "But German authorities will not
provide this. And the mafias are often much more sophisticated than the
police or the border police."

For Dr. Hana Duchkova, an expert on sexually transmitted diseases at Usti
Hospital, the collapse of Communism and the order it imposed have been a
"recipe for many problems." Foreigners have no medical records, and spread
disease. Cases of syphilis at the hospital are up to 134 so far this year
from 59 in 1999, she said, heaping blame on foreigners and a large Gypsy
population she described in disparaging terms.

One young Gypsy woman on the highway said she was 19 and had been put to
work at age 15 by her family. On a good day, she could make about $150.
With a tattoo of a rose on her upper arm and a ravaged look in her big
brown eyes, she seemed a waif broken before she could live.

Under the former Communist government, Gypsies had jobs, however menial,
and overt racism was repressed, although a contentious program involving
paid sterilization also existed. The women here from Belarus, Bulgaria,
Russia and elsewhere would also have had jobs.

"Poverty was not the same in Communist societies," said Mr. Burgfeldt of
the Berlin police. "What we are facing now is people moving because of the
poverty they face."

Bara Rempertova, 26, who is Czech, sells her body voluntarily on the
highway. At least, it is "voluntary" work in the sense that it is the only
work she has been able to find that allows her to make what she called "a
reasonable living." After six years, she plans to stop next year.

"I met a German here who is now my stable boyfriend and he wants to marry
me," she explained. "He understands why I have to do this. If things work
out, I plan to go and live with him in Germany."
Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

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