One woman against an entire village

The woman gave evidence for five hours in the packed courtroom. The entire village was there, including all the women. The witnesses for the defense included the village priest, a local government representative, a journalist for a major television channel and a construction contractor. They all swore to the impeccable morals of the accused and his sterling character. But the witness described the horrific details of her ordeal. How the accused had handcuffed her to a radiator, deprived her of food and water and raped her, all because she had asked a client to help her escape. Of course the client had promptly informed the trafficker, who was his friend and fellow villager. She recounted how he had forced her to have sex with clients even when she was menstruating. She said he beat her, though never hit her in the face. He repeatedly threatened her by saying that «If you try to escape, I’ll tell the gang to kill your children in Ukraine.» And he claimed that he had close connections with the police. When the head of the jury asked who in the courtroom had been her clients, nearly every man in the room raised his hand. None of them was bothered by the fact that the woman had submitted to them under fear of threats and beatings. Even the priest was asked if he was one of her clients: «Good heavens, no,» he said, alarmed. One member of the jury asked him: «These women here were bar hostesses at the very least. That didn’t that worry you?» The priest replied: «I look after my parish. I don’t care what happens outside my church.» The woman in this case was a typical example. A 35-year-old from Ukraine with three children, she had decided to leave difficult economic circumstances in her own country and come to Greece to work as a cook in order to to support her family. She got help from another woman who was also from Ukraine and was a family friend. First, she went to Bulgaria, where she stayed at the home of a man she did not know. Then a colleague of his guided her into Greece through an unguarded border post where she was met by another man who took her to Thessaloniki. There she waited a few hours at the home of another unknown man until some other men collected her and took her to the city where she thought she was going to work as a cook. When she realized what kind of work she was destined for, it was too late to escape. Using violence and threatening her children, the traffickers forced her to have sex with clients at their bar. They told her they had bought her from the people who had transported her for 3,000 euros and that she had to work that sum off in order to gain her freedom. She was paid 60 euros for each customer, of which the pimp took 45, supposedly leaving 15 for her. Needless to say she never saw the money. At night she was locked in the bar, under guard. Until the police conducted a surprise raid. One police officer pretended to be a client, then his colleagues raided the bar. They took the women they found to the police anti-trafficking unit in Thessaloniki and gave them special forms to fill out. The questionnaire, which includes questions such as «Did they keep your passport?» and «Have you ever been raped?» can give some clues about whether the person was a victim of human trafficking. She was taken to the prosecutor, who asked for a report from a psychiatrist specialized in dealing with abused and trafficked women. He reported that she had been trafficked and she was offered protection. At the trial she was alone with her lawyer, her only witness the police officer. On the eve of the trial the lawyer asked her for the last time if she was determined to undergo the painful process of an intensive, public interrogation. «Do you believe me?» she asked the lawyer. «Yes, I do.» «So, let’s go ahead.» They won the first time, but there was a second trial. The lawyer asked her again if she wanted to return to Ukraine and leave it all behind her. «I’ll go when the trial is over,» she replied. «I want to stay for the policeman [who saved her], the woman [she was staying with], the prosecutor [at the first trial] and you, because you made an effort.» «We might lose,» said the lawyer. That lawyer, Eleni Glegle, who voluntarily takes on trafficking cases on behalf of the Greek branch of the International Migration Organization, told the story to Kathimerini. «Fellow villagers, local government representatives, all of them knew under what conditions she was living,» said Glegle. «Not one one of them ever asked themselves if she was being forced or if she really consented to live like that because they were all on the side of their fellow villagers. Many of those in the court were her clients. She fought an entire community that had abused her again and again without mercy, hesitation, doubts or scruples.» Initially, the witnesses said that the woman was not working as a prostitute but was simply a bar hostess. Later, when sufficient evidence was produced, they said that she worked voluntarily as a prostitute. Even the women of the village said so. In fact one woman from a country in the former USSR who has a cafe in the area and sells cosmetics to the women in the bar said the woman had complete freedom of movement. Officially, the trafficker owns a bar. With the help of EU finding he has also built a hotel, on the second floor of which he forced the women to work. His wife and the child, now 6, live in the same building. It was a family business, the third accomplice being his sister-in-law, who distributed condoms to the clients and collected the money. Eventually the bar owner was convicted of trafficking (and sentenced to 12 years, eight months in prison), and his two accomplices were convicted for aiding and abetting. Of the four jury members, two were lawyers, who voted against the decision. Three months later, the trafficker was released on bail of 27,000 euros. Three months ago he was arrested again for trafficking. Now he is free again. He appealed against his conviction for trafficking and this time has employed a well-known lawyer from Athens.

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