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Soviet Women Slavery Flourishes

November 7, 1997

MOSCOW (AP) _ The 18-year-old technical school graduate jumped at an offer to leave her native Ukraine to go to Cyprus to pick oranges.

Instead, she was taken to a brothel in Turkey, where she was raped and drugged and forced to work as a prostitute, until her escape nine months later.

``Now, after two forced abortions, which left her unable to ever have children, she is completely broken, she is an invalid,″ said Olga Shved, head of a Ukrainian group helping women who were sold abroad for prostitution.

Trafficking in women from Ukraine, Russia and other nations of the former Soviet bloc has become widespread since the breakup of the Soviet Union, with increasingly assertive slave traders taking advantage of the economic and social turmoil.

Global Survival Network, a U.S.-based rights group, estimates the trafficking brings criminal syndicates worldwide billions of dollars _ an amount rivaling their incomes from drugs and guns.

In Europe, the group said, the most popular destinations are Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey and the former Yugoslavia. Women are also sent to Japan, China, Macau and the United States.

Activists from human rights groups around the world attended a conference in Moscow this week to discuss ways of combating what they described as modern-day slavery.

They painted a grim picture of traffickers using violence, threats, amd coercion to force their victims into submission.

The Global Survival Network said many women have complained that the pimps would start by taking away their passports until they could pay their ``debt″ for being brought abroad, sometimes as much as $15,000.

``The pimp won’t give me my passport. He’ll say I have to work off the contract first,″ Vika, a Latvian woman working for a Turkish pimp in Berlin, told the group, according to their report on the trafficking.

If threats don’t work, pimps often rape their victims, as happened with Ira, the 18-year old Ukrainian woman, who told of being raped by three men.

``They do it to subdue the victim, to make her feel broken and helpless,″ said Shved, who leads the Kiev-based group, La Strada.

Ira finally managed to free herself by using a client’s mobile phone to call her embassy. Embassy officials brought her home, but the woman who recruited her in her native Ukrainian town was never found, Shved said.

Many of the women forced into prostitution prove hesitant to report the abuse to authorities, fearing reprisals for illegal migration. Even if they are deported or are able to get home, they still face threats from criminal rings linked to their hometowns.

The traffickers usually find their victims through newspaper ads, posing as employment, marriage, modeling or tourist agencies. In a stark background of unemployment, poverty and domestic violence, they easily lure women with promises of prosperity abroad.

Global Survival Network investigators conducted a two-year undercover investigation, during which they sometimes posed as ``buyers″ to get firsthand knowledge of how traffickers operate.

``These meetings revealed very serious allegations of government complicity in the business of trafficking women abroad,″ including Russia’s Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Gillian Caldwell, co-director of the Global Survival Network.

A spokesman for the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB, strongly denied the group’s claim. ``On the contrary, when there is any need, we help the militia to investigate such cases,″ spokesman Andrei Kostromin said.

Officials at the other two agencies were not answering their phones late Thursday, on the eve of a national holiday.

Participants at the human rights conference urged authorities to amend legislation to include specific charges for trafficking and toughen punishments.

They also suggested a broad campaign to warn women at risk, and said governments should provide medical, financial and other assistance to the victims.

Finally, they said it was important to change public attitudes toward the victims.

``Some people say ... `They ask for it, they are voluntary victims,‴ said Marjan Wejers of the Netherlands’ Foundation Against Traffic in Women.

``There are no such things as voluntary victims,″ Wejers said. ``This is exactly the kind of attitude that allows the criminal organizations to operate with impunity.″

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