Prostitution goes underground to avoid the law

VIENNA (AP) – Criminal networks in Europe are moving prostitution underground to make it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to trace Eastern European victims of human trafficking, an official of a special task force said yesterday. Helga Konrad, the chairwoman of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe’s task force on Trafficking in Human Beings, said crime groups throughout Europe are abandoning traditional brothels and bars to avoid police raids. Organized crime groups are now selling the services of their victims at private homes through telephone services, Konrad said. «Raiding bars and brothels is not effective because they are shifting victims to private locations where we have no access,» Konrad said. «The number of victims who are identified is falling rapidly… because human trafficking is going underground.» Authorities last year were only able to find about 20 percent of the women suspected of being victims of the sex slavery trade, according to a report which Konrad presented yesterday to delegates of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Security Pact was founded on the initiative of the European Union in 1999 and is run by the OSCE. The special task force began its study into human trafficking in 2000. In its first report, the task force gathered concrete figures on human trafficking in Southeastern Europe, identifying around 5,000 victims, Konrad said. The majority of the women came from Albania, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria, the report says. Only 10 percent were kidnapped before being taken abroad. The report says most victims leave their homes because they believe false promises of well-paid employment abroad. Most victims are poorly educated and often in their teens when they are recruited and forced into prostitution. Konrad called on non-governmental organizations to play a greater role in contacting victims without involving law enforcement agencies. «That would encourage more victims to come forward,» Konrad said.