Russia’s Willing Sex Workers Find Enslavement Abroad

Author: Dimitry Paranyushkin (on 14 Aug 2009)

and photos from the Moscow

(by Anastasia Lebedev)

At a recent press conference, Elena Mizulina, the head of the Interdepartmental
Workgroup in charge of preparing a bill against human trafficking, was reported
to have announced that 92% of all Russian women who go to work abroad wind up
as victims, sold into sex slavery.

In its work, the workgroup relied on research by Russia’s Institute for

A woman standing on the street

Photo from MN Archive

and Economic
Problems of the Population. MosNews called the institute for
clarification and learned that the figure actually refers to
the percentage
of female victims of human trade. Instead, the institute’s Elena Tilyukanova,
also a member of the workgroup, gave MosNews a much more startling figure — as
many as 25% of young women leaving Russia for work abroad say that they would
work as prostitutes “if it paid more money” than their current
job offer.

Unlike “the gimp” in Pulp Fiction, most sex slaves are not kept fettered
in dungeons. Neither are they kidnapped against their will in the still of the
night. What happens in most cases, Tilyukanova explains, is that women leave
Russia to work in the entertainment industry, as dancers or waitresses — or
on a tourist visa, intending to illegally provide sex services — and
then find themselves dependent on their employer, who refuses to pay them
until they have worked off travel and visa costs.

There are currently 600 firms licensed by Russia’s Federal Migration Service
to find employment abroad for Russians; women go through these firms to obtain
employment as au pairs, entertainment industry employees, caretakers, babysitters,
etc. The women leave for a wide range of countries, Tilyukanova explained — primarily,
the south of Europe (Turkey, Greece), or any country with a large Russian
community, such as Germany, Israel, or the U.S.

Through the Inostranets weekly, a paper geared toward Russians looking
to find employment abroad, the institute polled women who already had job
were preparing to leave Russia. The poll ran twice, revealing the same
result — 25%
of young women (5% of all women) leaving Russia were prepared to become sex workers
if it earned more money. Unfortunately, since prostitution is illegal for migrants
even in countries where it’s legalized, that means involvement with the
underworld. Once they are absorbed into the shady illegal sex trade network,
there’s a good chance they’ll find themselves in conditions they
hadn’t bargained for. They are threatened, held responsible for travel
costs, and in general are kept ignorant about their legal options.

The workgroup used its findings to prepare a bill that has not yet been
passed by the Duma, although portions of it have been passed, such as the
to the Criminal Procedure Code. For the first time, human trafficking was
defined as a crime and punishment was stipulated. Prior to these amendments,
the Criminal
Code only listed the trafficking of minors as a crime. Some experts, however,
believe that the law about minors should have remained a law in its own
right, rather than becoming a clause in the new law, because it may be
harder to prove
exploitation of children under the new law.

International experts were involved in the writing of the bill, which has
been deemed by the international community as one of the most progressive
bills intended
to fight human trafficking, Tilyukanova says. Other parts of the bill establish
protection for the victims of human trafficking and call for the dissemination
of information about the criminal practice. Currently, NGOs in Russia offer
some help to victims and also to women who are seeking employment abroad
and want
to ensure their safety.

The U.S. Department of State subdivides all countries into three tiers,
based on their commitment to combat human trafficking; after the workgroup
its efforts in the writing of the bill, Russia was moved from the lowest
Tier 3 to Tier 2.

The Duma has not yet scheduled a hearing for the rest of the bill, but
Tilyukanova is hopeful — at least the issue has finally been addressed by
the government. The idea to curb human trafficking in and out of Russia has
been suggested to the Russian government, but this year steps are finally
being taken to protect all those who suffer.

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