The modern slave trade: Forced prostitution

Slavery is the best term to describe the situation of women, mainly from Eastern European countries, who are forced into prostitution the length and breadth of Greece. Young women are kidnapped, sold, imprisoned, raped and forced into prostitution after undergoing indescribable psychological and physical torments. This worst conceivable violations of human rights, those of personal liberty and the disposition of one’s own body as one wishes, are taking place at a time when humankind has never been more conscious of human rights. Yet there is no official authority to protect them. Human trafficking may vary (in East Asia, Latin America and Africa, the flourishing trade for sex exploitation may include children, while in Greece, Balkan women are the main victims) but the inhumanity is invariably the same. The chronicle of shame By Fotini Kalliri Kathimerini The women’s personal dignity is in the hands of male procurers, who force them to sell themselves while keeping the profits and ensuring submission through beatings and threats. Pimps have not hesitated to display a severed hand or foot of a disobedient woman, may forbid the women to leave their dwellings without permission, or make them dependent on alcohol and drugs. Ignorance of the language and isolation render the women vulnerable. Fear, pain, anxiety and rape are a daily reality for foreign prostitutes. Those wishing to escape face insurmountable obstacles. If they apply to the authorities for help, they run the risk of deportation, upon which the traffickers board the train in Bulgaria – often in cahoots with Bulgarian police officers – and force them back into prostitution in Greece or sell them on to other countries. Forced prostitution is the modern slave trade, a huge global industry with massive profits and countless women and children as victims. Over the past 30 years, according to UNICEF estimates, there have been 30 million victims of the modern slave trade in Asia and the countries of the Pacific Rim alone. Every year, over 1 million children are kidnapped, sold and forced into prostitution. The shameful chronicle unfolds in the shattering tales the victims tell. Sierra Leone to Athens Fourteen-year-old Masara from Sierra Leone saw her family (her parents and five siblings) killed before her eyes by rebels and was repeatedly raped. Robbed of any volition and finding herself pregnant, she became the executioners’ docile instrument. She arrived in Greece via the United Arab Emirates, with the Netherlands being the final destination. Last April, Masara was arrested in Greece on charges of illegal entry into the country and the possession of false papers. She applied for asylum and was placed in the detention center at Amygdaleza. There, her pregnancy became noticeable and she was transferred to a hospital. The public prosecutor deemed the termination of her pregnancy necessary, as she displayed symptoms of depression and psychological problems. In the meantime, she was granted asylum and she officially became a refugee in Greece by decision of the general secretary of the Public Order Ministry. After being discharged from the hospital, she stayed at a hostel run by the YWCA of Ilioupolis and took lessons in Greek. One day, she left the hostel without warning in the company of two Nigerians who picked up her things. It later became known that she had reached the Netherlands. Her fate is unknown. Nadia from Kiev Twenty-two-year-old Nadia from Kiev had supported herself as a dancer during the difficult years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, having studied classical ballet as a child. As a member of a dance troupe, she visited Greece twice on a group tourist visa. In 2000, she received a solo job offer in this country through the same Ukrainian agent with whom she had collaborated before. On her arrival, she was met by the Greek club owner. She received a rude shock when she realized that in reality, her employer had bought her. He took her passport, locked her in her room, deprived her of food, and beat her to make her realize that her survival depended on him from then on. Her treatment became even harsher as her legal period of residence in Greece drew to a close. He demanded that she prostitute herself. After eight months in Greece, she was arrested by the police during a chance sweep, and deported. At the first train station inside Bulgaria, the Bulgarian mafia boarded the train and kidnapped Nadia, along with another six women. She was prostituted again, this time in Karditsa, again by force and fed with drugs. As some point, Nadia got hold of a client’s mobile telephone and notified a female Russian acquaintance, a procuress, who managed to kidnap her from Karditsa. In order to live, she continued to work as a prostitute, without, however, enduring all the previous humiliations. When she was arrested for the second time, she managed to pay for the ticket from Greece to Ukraine with her own money, thus avoiding the Bulgarian mafia. There, she is trying to overcome the mental and emotional scars. Deception Sixteen-year-old Luci from a village in northern Albania, had a flirtation with a man who promised her marriage and work in Greece. But in reality, her stepfather had sold her behind her back for 70,000 drachmas. Her supposed fiance took her to Athens, where he prostituted her. A year later, he sold her to a Greek club owner on Crete. But a client to whom she told her story helped her escape her keeper. She reached Piraeus, where she wandered the streets of the unknown city. She met a 46-year-old Albanian, Lila, who claimed to be a doctor and promised to help her. He persuaded her to come to his apartment in Kypseli. The trip there was her last contact with the outside world for the next nine months. Raped by Lila, she was locked in and forced to receive 40 clients a day, chiefly from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Her procurer raked in 5,000 drachmas per client. When Luci refused to serve some clients, she was beaten, tortured and threatened with a knife. She was also forced to watch pornographic movies to improve her technique. When the police raided the apartment, they found her with a burn mark on her hand, a ruptured nose and a deep knife scar on her leg. She kissed the hands of her saviors and asked to be returned to her country, indelibly scarred by the memory of the abuse she had suffered. From the ‘golden triangle’ to Greece By Stavros Tzimas Kathimerini When they speak of the Bulgarian golden triangle, they mean the cities of Blagoevgrad, Sandanski and Petric in the south of the country which form the largest transit points in the trafficking of women from Eastern Europe to the southern Balkans and from there to the West. Organized smuggling rings transfer young women from Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Moldova via Romania to southern Bulgaria, where, in the luxury hotels of Blagoevgrad and Sandanski, the lucrative trade in human flesh begins. Buyers tend to be Albanian and Greek gangsters, who choose, sample and place orders. The smugglers, locals with an excellent knowledge of the routes across the Greek-Bulgarian border, undertake to transfer the women to Greece or FYROM for 500 to 1,000 marks a head. Usually, they hang out at the train station or the cafes of the town of Petric, where they are sought out by gangs who hire them to take the goods out of Bulgaria. At the Greek border Delivery takes place on the Greek side of the border, where the women are taken charge of by Greek accomplices and transported further inland. The handovers are normally successful. But infrequently the groups of women fall into the hands of the police and, at other times, they are lost in the frozen mountains or steep gorges. Profits are so huge that police may be bribed. The general secretary of the Interior Ministry of Bulgaria, Boiko Borissov, fired a number of border guards on the accusation that they were involved in people smuggling. Corruption has reached massive proportions on the Bulgarian side, given the dissolution of state mechanisms, and though the presence of Greek border guards has worked to limit the extent of the problem, it does not seem able to solve it. According to data from a Romanian non-governmental organization, a large number of women who originate in Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Moldova are conveyed to Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Italy via Serbia. The gangs use one route, through the Iron Gates on the Danube at Turnu Serverin, in order to take the women to Nis, and then to Kosovo, FYROM and Bosnia, where the trade is especially lucrative due to the presence of tens of thousands of foreign soldiers. Women in Kosovo Illegal brothels, which even offer underage girls, flourish in these lands. Kosovo is estimated to have 1,000 foreign women to minister to the needs of the multiethnic force. The German television channel ARD revealed the story of the prostitution of underage women with the complicity of German soldiers serving at Tetovo (in FYROM). A 20-year-old soldier disclosed the operation of a brothel with 13 underage Bulgarian girls. The girls were deported to their country where they were placed in an orphanage. When some months later ARD reporters went to look for them, they had been snatched by gangs and prostituted elsewhere. Entrance permits Until recently, the transfer of women from the former Soviet Union to the West, Bulgaria and Romania was easy, as no visas were required until the Greek border. The pressure for a crackdown on human-trafficking rings resulted in these two countries establishing an entry permit regime, thus somewhat restricting the flow of women toward the golden triangle or the Iron Gates. Despite attempts at coordinating activities to eradicate cross-border crime in Southeastern Europe, poverty will continue to force people to abandon their homes in the hope of a better future, feeding the sex industry with its desperate victims. But the work of law enforcement agencies in destination countries, Greece among them, will bear no fruit if society itself – regrettably including those responsible for tackling the problem – does not cease to view this human drama with indifference and the degradation of women with the argument of never mind, let the sexually repressed get some pleasure as well. Where the exploitation starts and who benefits By Dora Antoniou Kathimerini Human trafficking will continue to be a problem in Greece and the EU due to the lack of improvement in the countries of origin, says a report by the Ministry of Public Order, Trade in People in Greece in 2000, an overall examination of the trafficking in people for forced prostitution in Greece. Changes in Eastern European countries in the early 1990s brought about huge socioeconomic problems and greater mobility. Greece’s geographical position and certain economic and cultural factors have made it a first-choice destination as well as a major transit country. Foreign women The women who fall into the hands of human traffickers are mostly foreign, between 20 and 30, and unemployed. The huge profits and low risks compared to other activities are some of the factors which contribute to the growth of the phenomenon. In 2000 alone, there were 41 cases of trafficking in women for sexual exploitation, with 125 victims. Also in 2000, 335 foreign-born women were arrested: 73 from Romania, 56 from Ukraine, 52 from Russia, 48 from Moldova, 29 from Bulgaria, 28 from Albania, 16 from Georgia, and nine from the Dominican Republic as well as other countries. In addition, 27 foreign women were arrested for illegal prostitution in brothels and another 191 in secret brothels. A further 1,822 foreign women were arrested for illegally working in bars, cafes and places of entertainment. Constant checks by police in combination with the strict provisions of the 1999 law on prostitution resulted in a sharp drop in the number of foreign prostitutes in legal brothels and simultaneously, an increase in secret brothels. A hundred and two procurers were arrested, of whom 82 were Greek (70 men and 12 women) and 20 were foreigners (17 men and three women). Recruitment Women are recruited in the countries of destination usually by deception, though cases of kidnapping or even sales by friends and relatives are also common. The most powerful lure is that of an honest, well-paid job or a good marriage. The women manage to enter Greece after having been supplied with stolen or forged documents, either on foot through unguarded points on the northern border or concealed in special hiding places on trucks or buses. The acquisition of travel documents as well as residence and work permits takes place through illegal grants of Greek nationality, exploitation of the green card system, changing personal details on identification cards, and acquiring visas and passports by the deposition of false papers. Provisions of the new bill The bill presented this month by Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis aims to harmonize legislation with other nations. Human trafficking is not an offense in itself in Greece. The legal arsenal is inadequate since the term only came into use in the 1990s. The bill attempts to fill the gap, and includes the following provisions: – Sex trafficking is defined as organized crime. – Punishment of sex-trafficking offenses and indecent assault of minors even if committed in another country. – Sex trafficking and sexual exploitation become felonies, with special provisions in respect to minors. – Paying to commit indecent assault on minors is made into an offense for the first time. – Emphasis is put on tackling child pornography and extending the ban on publishing sex advertisements so as to include advertisements involving minors.