"Can people really buy and sell women and get away with it? Sometimes I sit
here and ask myself if that really happened to me, if it can really happen at all."
- A Ukrainian woman who was trafficked, beaten, raped and used in the sex industry in
Israel. After a police raid, she was put in prison, awaiting deportation.
At the end of the 20th century, trafficking in women for the purpose of
sexual exploitation has mushroomed into a multi-billion dollar shadow market. Women are
trafficked to, from, and through every region in the world using methods that have become
new forms of slavery. The value of the global trade in women as commodities for sex
industries is estimated to be between seven and twelve billion dollars annually. This
trade in women is a highly profitable enterprise with relatively low risk compared to
trades in drugs or arms. The moneymakers are transnational networks of traffickers and
pimps that prey on the dreams of women seeking employment and opportunities for the
future. The activities of these networks threaten the well being and status of women as
well as the social, political and economic well being and stability of nations where they
The transnational trade in women is based on supply and demand from sending and
receiving countries. Countries with large sex industries create the demand and are the
receiving countries, while countries where traffickers easily recruit women are the
sending countries. For decades the primary sending countries were Asian countries, such as
Thailand and the Philippines. The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up a pool of
millions of women from which traffickers can recruit. Now, former Soviet republics, such
as Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Russia, have become major sending countries for women
trafficked into sex industries all over the world. In the sex industry markets today, the
most popular and valuable women are from Ukraine and Russia.
This paper focuses primarily on the sending country of Ukraine, now the second largest
country in Europe, and currently, one of the largest suppliers of women for prostitution.
Although a comprehensive understanding of trafficking from the former Soviet republics is
lacking, more research on trafficking in women and advocacy for trafficked women has been
done by non-governmental organizations in Ukraine than the other primary sending countries
from that region.
At the beginning of the paper the scope of the problem of trafficking is discussed and
the definition of the term trafficking is reviewed. Next, the international shadow market
for women is located in the globalization process and characterized as a modern day slave
trade. The role of transnational crime networks in the trafficking of women is examined
with a few illustrative cases. A section on the methods of recruitment and trafficking
describes how women are recruited from their hometowns and transported to sex industries
in other countries. Although there are a number of ways that women are trafficked, their
ultimate situation is entrapment in prostitution. How women are controlled and why it is
so difficult for them to escape is described. The next section focuses who is profiting
from this slave trade and how official corruption and collaboration with organized crime
networks facilitates and protects the traffickers. Some people suggest that prostitution
and trafficking are shadow economies that enable unemployed women to earn a living. The
idea that women and communities may benefit from the shadow market of trafficking in women
is examined. This section describes who profits from trafficking in women. Although the
problem of trafficking in women in gaining more attention, when the causes of trafficking
are examined, the gendered dimension of the supply and, especially, the demand are
frequently left out of the analysis. The section on the gendered supply and demand
challenges a frequent assumption that poverty is the most important factor in determining
which countries will become sending countries. The last section takes a closer look at the
demand side of the dynamics of supply and demand from sending and receiving countries. The
legalization of prostitution and brothels is examined and old and new legal remedies that
address the demand are discussed.
Numbers of Trafficked Women
It is difficult to know how many women have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual
exploitation. The trade is secretive, the women are silenced, the traffickers are
dangerous, and not many agencies are counting. Often women are referred to as
"Russian" or "Eastern European" without further information on what
countries they are from. Also, the word "trafficking" does not have a universal
usage, resulting in different numbers of women being counted depending on the definition
used. In writing and analyzing trafficking in women, I use a broad definition of
trafficking and focus on trafficking of women for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Trafficking is any practice that involves moving people within and across local or
national borders for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Trafficking may be the result of
force, coercion, manipulation, deception, abuse of authority, initial consent, family
pressure, past and present family and community violence, economic deprivation, or other
conditions of inequality for women and children.
This broad definition accepts that trafficking occurs even if the woman consents, which
is consistent with the 1949 United Nations Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in
Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. Narrower definitions of
trafficking require acts of violence or coercion against the victim before trafficking is
said to occur. In the definition I use, trafficking can occur inside a country as well as
across national borders, as women are recruited and exploited in local sex industries and
sometimes later trafficked transnationally.
According to estimates from the United Nations, one quarter of the four million people
trafficked each year are exploited in sex industries. In the last decade, hundreds of
thousands of women have been trafficked from Central and Eastern Europe and the republics
of the former Soviet Union into prostitution throughout the world. In the European Union,
there are an estimated half a million Central and Eastern European women in prostitution.
A criminal investigation in Germany in 1998 found that 87.5 percent of the women
trafficked into Germany were from Eastern Europe. Seventeen percent were from Poland, 14
percent from Ukraine, 12 percent from Czech Republic and 8 percent from the Russian
In 1998, the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior estimated that 400,000 Ukrainian women were
trafficked during the previous decade; other sources, such as non-governmental
organizations, thought the number was higher. The International Organization for Migration
estimated that between 1991 and 1998, 500,000 Ukrainian women had been trafficked to the
West, with 100,000 of them literally enslaved in the sex industry. Popular destination
countries for women from Ukraine include: Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain,
Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany, United Arab
Emirates, Syria, China, the Netherlands, Canada and Japan. According to a Ukrainian
diplomatic source there are 6,000 Ukrainian women in prostitution in Turkey, 3,000 in
Greece, and 1000 in Yugoslavia. Ukrainian women are the largest group of foreign women in
prostitution in Turkey and the second largest group of foreign women in prostitution
outside the U.S. military bases in Korea.
Similarly, as a result of trafficking, Russian women are in prostitution in over 50
countries. In some parts of the world, such as Israel and Turkey, women from Russia and
other republics of the former Soviet Union are so prevalent, that prostitutes are called
Levels of violence and discrimination directed against women trafficked into
prostitution are extreme. Trafficked women get little sympathy or assistance once they are
under the control of traffickers and pimps, either from the general public or social
service agencies. In receiving countries, they are treated as criminals, either as
prostitutes or illegal immigrants. When they are discovered, often in police raids, they
are arrested or jailed pending deportation. Almost no services exist that address the
needs of victims of trafficking who are suffering from trauma, poor health, and physical
A Modern Day Slave Trade: The International Shadow Market for
The growth of shadow economies and transnational criminal networks in newly independent
states are negative manifestations of globalization, arising from expanding economic,
political and social transnational linkages that are increasingly beyond local and state
control. An important component of globalization is the transnational linkages created by
migration. Members of organized crime rings establish contacts with willing collaborators
in diaspora communities throughout the world and work within migrating populations to
build transnational criminal networks. Increased migration also serves as a cover for
traffickers in transporting women to destinations in the sex industry.
Privatization and liberalization of markets have created wider and more open
marketplaces throughout the world. Another important component of globalization, computer
communication technologies have enabled the increased volume and complexity of
international financial transactions, which increases opportunities for transnational
crime and decreases the probability of detection and apprehension. This technological
aspect of globalization enables the money gained through illegal activities, like
trafficking in women, to be transferred and laundered in any country.
In the former Soviet Union, the shadow economy began long before the collapse of the
communism. The state economy didnt supply the general population with the goods and
services they needed or wanted. For decades, a low-level shadow economy operated to meet
those demands. There is even evidence that shortages were planned, so as to benefit those
controlling and profiting from the shadow economy.
When the political and economic system weakened and collapsed, existing organizations
leaped to fill the vacuum. Privatization enabled previously illegal businesses to become
legitimate and expand, but they retained the same methods of doing business based on
corruption and protection schemes. As independent states emerged from the former Soviet
Union they lacked organized and efficient regulatory agencies to hinder the growth and
activities of crime networks. When the state system was no longer able to support many
employees, many joined the criminal networks. In Ukraine, people who were no longer able
to support themselves with one salary or werent being paid for long periods of time,
sought additional work. The only jobs available were in the shadow economy. By 1995, the
shadow economy accounted for 50 percent of the GDP. The result has been a criminalization
of the economy in general and expansion of organized criminal networks.
Transnational trafficking of women is a new type of crime in the republics of the
former Soviet Union. This activity first started in the Soviet Union during perestroika,
when restrictions on international travel were eased. The disintegration of the Soviet
Union opened borders for travel, migration and privatized trade, all of which facilitated
the operations of criminal networks. Sex industries in receiving countries create a demand
for women that transnational crime networks from the newly independent states have
organized to fill with relatively low risk and high profits for the networks. Trafficking
exists to meet the demand for women, who are used in brothels, massage parlors, bars and
stretches of streets and highways where women are sold to men in prostitution. Ukraine,
especially, has become a major source of young women for the international sex markets.
The following are a few cases of trafficked women.
Irina, aged 18, responded to an advertisement in a Kyiv, Ukraine newspaper for a
training course in Berlin in 1996. With a fake passport, she traveled to Berlin, Germany
where she was told that the school had closed. She was sent on to Brussels, Belgium for a
job. When she arrived she was told she needed to repay a debt of US$10,000 and would have
to earn the money in prostitution. Her passport was confiscated, and she was threatened,
beaten and raped. When she didnt earn enough money she was sold to a Belgium pimp
who operated in Rue dAarschot in the Brussels red light district. When she
managed to escape through the assistance of police, she was arrested because she had no
legal documentation. A medical exam verified the abuse she had suffered, such as cigarette
burns all over her body.
Lena, aged 21, was recruited by a woman who said her daughter was working in Greece and
making a lot of money. When Lena arrived in Greece, her passport had been taken away and
she was put into a small room in a brothel guarded by two dogs. She was sold in
prostitution each night from nine in the evening until six in the morning. When she
escaped and returned to Mykolayiv she had US$55.00.
Tatyana, aged 20, is from a small town in Lugansk oblast in Eastern Ukraine. She could
not find a job there because the economy is very poor and the factories are closed. A
friend of her mother told her that rich families in the United Arab Emirates were hiring
housemaids and she could earn US$4000 a month there. However, when she arrived in the
United Arab Emirates, her passport was taken away and she was sold to a brothel for
US$7,000 and forced into prostitution to repay the purchase and travel costs to the owner.
When she managed to escape and went to the police for help, she was arrested and sentenced
to three years in prison for working in a brothel.
Transnational crime networks take advantage of patterns of migration to traffic women.
An example is the increased migration and trafficking of women from the former Soviet
Union to Israel. After 1989, Soviet Jews started immigrating to Israel, resulting in
800,000 new immigrants to Israel. Russian and Ukrainian traffickers used this cover to
bring 10,000 women into Israel for the sex industry. The sex industry in Israel has since
grown into a US$450 million a year industry, which is dependent on trafficked women from
Eastern Europe. Professor Mealtime Amir of Hebrew University, an expert on organized crime
in Israel, estimates that 70 percent of the women in prostitution in Tel Aviv are from the
former Soviet republics. Moreover, according to Israels report to CEDAW (Convention
for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) Report, more than 95
percent of the women deported from Israel for illegal prostitution are repatriated to the
former Soviet Union. From 1995-1997, Israel deported 1500 Russian and Ukrainian women.
In Israel, a Russian or Ukrainian woman earns the pimp who controls her between
US$50,000 and $100,000 per year. The women are enslaved and get to keep little, if any, of
the money. Often, their only way out of the sex industry is a police raid, which results
in deportation. Women are held in debt bondage in which they must repay their purchase
price, travel expenses and all other expenses charged to them, which can be considerable,
before they are allowed to leave. A woman may be sold from one pimp to another at which
time her debt to be repaid starts all over again. There are indications that pimps,
working in collaboration with officials, tip-off police on the whereabouts of women just
about the time the women have earned enough money to leave, resulting in the women being
arrested and deported and the pimps keeping all the money.
The following are a few illustrative cases of transnational trafficking that have been
In March 1999 in Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine, two men and a woman, using the firm
"Sight" as a cover, were arrested for selling 200 Ukrainian women and girls,
aged 13 to 25, for the sex industry in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. They traffickers were
intercepted as they attempted to send more women to Turkey by ship. The traffickers
received US$2000 for each woman. The women were held in debt bondage until they repaid
their expenses. If they complained their debt was tripled.
In Poland, where approximately 70 percent of the Ukrainian women are working under
duress in the sex industry, a prostitution ring, called Agencija Tovazhyshka, controls
three to ten women. Guards travel with the women and watch them at all times. The women
are sold from one agency to another for DM2,000 to 5,000 and each time the woman incurs
the debt that must be repaid.
In August 1999 police arrested three people in Chernihiv Oblast, Ukraine for
trafficking women to Hungary. They had sold 16 women to Italian and Spanish brothels for
In September 1999, a woman psychology teacher from Cherkasy, Ukraine was charged with
being head of an international trafficking ring that sold young Ukrainian women into the
sex industry in the United Arab Emirates. Along with criminals from Kazakhstan, Syria and
the United Arab Emirates, the gang promised 30 young women jobs as dancers, waitresses or
domestic servants, then sold them to buyers in the sex industry.
Methods of Recruitment and Trafficking
Sex industries use up women, physically and emotionally, necessitating fresh supplies
of women on a regular basis, which keeps the recruitment and trafficking of women so
profitable. Recruiters, traffickers and pimps who engage in trafficking in women for the
purpose of sexual exploitation have developed common methods of operation. One method of
recruitment is advertisements in newspapers offering lucrative job opportunities in
foreign countries for low skilled jobs, such as waitresses and nannies. Some
advertisements promise good salaries to young, attractive women who will work as dancers
and hostesses. An inspection of newspapers in Ukraine showed that each contained five to
20 suspicious advertisements. Women are recruited through social events and auditions,
such as photo sessions. The process is usually complex, with detailed deception calculated
to reassure the women that the employment opportunity is genuine. It is estimated that 20
percent of trafficked women are recruited through media advertisements.
Another method of recruitment is "marriage agencies," sometimes called
mail-order-bride agencies or international introduction services. According to the
International Organization for Migration, all mail-order-bride agencies with women from
the republics of the former Soviet Union are under the control of organized crime
networks. Many of these agencies operate on the Internet. Recruiters use "marriage
agencies" as a way to contact women who are eager to travel or emigrate. This route
into the sex industry can take several forms. The recruiters may be traffickers or work
directly with traffickers. The woman may meet with a man who promises marriage at a later
date. The man may use the woman himself for a short period of time, then coerce her into
making pornography and later sell her to the sex industry, or he may directly deliver the
woman to a brothel.
Some traffickers use the womans legal documents and tourist visas to legally
enter the destination countries. The women may be put on a circuit by pimps in which they
are moved from country to country on legal tourist visas or entertainers visas.
Other times, the woman is given false documents. In this case, the woman is even more
vulnerable after she arrives in the destination country because she is there illegally. If
police discover her, she is arrested and deported.
The most common way women are recruited in Ukraine is through a friend or acquaintance,
who gains the womans confidence. A recruiter gets from US$200 to $5,000 for each
woman recruited.. An increasing phenomenon is called "the second wave," in which
trafficked women return home to recruit other women. Once a woman has been trafficked and
trapped in the sex industry, she has few options. Escape may be difficult. Since women get
to keep little of the money they earn, they often have little to show for their
experiences abroad. Also, because of the stigma attached to women in prostitution, they
often face discrimination at home. One of the few means of escaping the brutality of being
forced to have unwanted sex each day with multiple men is to move from victim to
perpetrator. To do this, women who have been trafficked return home to recruit new
victims. According to one report, for instance, in Ukraine, 70 percent of pimps are women.
Sometimes women are recruited in groups. In one case, women from Lviv, Ukraine were
offered housekeeping jobs in the Czech Republic. The traffickers took their passports when
they crossed the border. Upon their arrival in the Czech Republic, they were sold for
US$300-$700 each to a pimp who forced them into prostitution on the Czech-German highway.
Entrapment of Women in Prostitution
Whatever the recruitment method, the majority of women do not expect the sexual
exploitation and violence that awaits them. Aleksandr Strokanov from Interpol-Ukraine
estimated that 75 percent of the women do not realize they will be forced into
prostitution. After the woman has reached the destination country, the trafficker or pimp
will tell her that she is not going to work as a waitress, nanny, or whatever more
agreeable opportunity was offered, but will be in prostitution. The methods used to
control women once they reach the destination country include: confiscation of travel
documents, violence, threats to harm family members and debt bondage.
Even when women know they will be in prostitution, their expectations are usually far
from the reality. One woman, who knew she would have to engage in prostitution, thought it
would be like in the film "Pretty Woman," where one man would support her. The
women dont realize the lack of control they will have, the level of the violence
used against them, and what small percentage of the money they will receive. The following
is one such case:
A friend introduced a Ukrainian woman to a pimp, who told her she could make US$2000 a
month in a club in the Netherlands where prostitution was optional, but not required. When
she arrived in the Netherlands, she was told that prostitution was a requirement and no
man could be refused. When she protested, she was raped. She was forced to engage in
prostitution seven days a week for three months before she paid off the debt. She feared
trying to escape because the pimp knew where to find her at home in Ukraine. When she left
she only got 50 percent of what she had been told she had earned.
Even women who voluntarily travel to engage in prostitution do not anticipate the level
of manipulation, deception and coercion to which they will be subjected. According to
Narcisa Escaler, Deputy Director General of the International Organization for Migration:
the question of the voluntariness of the movement of trafficked migrants
merits particular attention. For many migrants who are eager to escape poverty or
political and social insecurity, and who are unaware or unmindful of the pitfalls of
But, in many instances, trafficked migrants are lured by false
promises, misled by misinformation concerning migration regulations, or driven by economic
despair or large scale violence. In such cases, the migrants freedom of choice is so
seriously impaired that the "voluntariness" of the transaction must be
The networks that traffic women are modern day slave traders. There are even aspects of
trafficking in women-such as auctions-that are reminiscent of the 18th and 19th
century African slave trade. In Milan, Italy in December 1997, police uncovered a gang
that was holding auctions of trafficked women from the former Soviet Union. The women were
stripped partially naked, displayed and sold for an average price of US$1000. Traffickers
and pimps use extreme violence to control their women and territory. In Italy, police
report that one woman in prostitution is murdered each month. Women are mutilated and
murdered as warnings to competing traffickers and pimps and as punishment for refusing to
engage in prostitution. In two reported cases women who resisted were killed as an example
to other women. In Istanbul, Turkey, two Ukrainian women were thrown off a balcony and
killed, while six of their Russian friends watched. In Serbia, a Ukrainian woman who
resisted was beheaded in public.
Assistance to victims is hampered by the lack of recognition of the harm to trafficked
and prostituted women. Studies on the health of women in the sex industry indicate that
many women have serious health problems and are exposed to life-threatening risks. Women
suffer from infectious diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries from violence,
drug and alcohol addictions, depression and other mental health problems as a result of
Many people view the women as complicit in the trafficking, as immoral or as workers -
a wide span of perspectives, all of which ignore the harm to the victims. An investigation
on trafficking and prostitution in the Czech Republic found that people had little
sympathy for victims of trafficking and assumed they were getting rich.
It is typical for the Czech post-communist society that it is totally indifferent to
the destiny of these victims. Our investigation
. confirms that the brothels
operating in small towns and villages in the frontier zones are considered as a tax
for capitalism by local inhabitants. Practically nobody is interested in the living
conditions of most Ukrainian, Russian and Bulgarian women. This commonplace [sic] is
nourished even by the media which present prostitution mostly as a highly profitable
NGOs which deal with the problems of trafficking in women and
their slavery status are considered too feministic.
Societies and institutions still hold patriarchal attitudes toward women in
prostitution, which blame the victim for crimes committed against them. Officials often
minimize or deny the severity of the problem, the violence and coercion used in
trafficking and the harm to victims. According to Gennadi Lepenko, Chief of Interpol-Kyiv,
Ukraine, "Womens groups want to blow this all out of proportion. Perhaps this
was a problem a few years ago. But its under control now." Advocates for
trafficked women report that officials acceptance of prostitution and trafficking
exacerbate the problem. According to Kateryna Levchenko, Coordinator of La Strada-Ukraine,
"Complacency on the part of government and law enforcement officials is as much to
blame as financial difficulties. Our government bodies cannot understand that it is very,
very important for women." Some government officials may be collaborators in
trafficking networks. Investigations by the Global Survival Network documented the
involvement of government officials in the trafficking of women from Russia. Of course,
male officials themselves may be buyers of women in prostitution, resulting in lack of
empathy for victims of trafficking and prostitution.
Profit and Corruption
Once a woman is under the control of a trafficker or pimp, she can be exploited to make
a large profit. Pimps can make five to 20 times as much from a woman as they paid for her.
Research by the International Organization for Migration indicates that trafficked women
receive little of the money, but the profits for traffickers are enormous. In a case study
of women trafficked into Germany, they found that each time a man buys a woman in
prostitution, he pays DM30-50, but the woman gets to keep almost nothing. First, the
trafficker or recruiter requires payment of US$3,000 - $30,000 for her travel expenses and
her purchase price. Then she must pay for her room and board in the brothel, which can be
as much as DM280 a day, the pimps fees, compulsory lawyers fees, doctors
fees, and sometimes, private living expenses. In the end, the woman often is in debt. Even
after a woman has paid off her debt, she must turn over 50 to 75 percent of her earnings
to pimps. The following are a few examples:
A Ukrainian woman in a massage parlor owned by a Russian in Silver Spring, Maryland,
USA was allowed to keep only 30 percent of the US$70 price for a massage. If she wanted
more money she had to perform sexual services for tips.
During a three-month stay in Germany on a tourist visa, a woman will make $20,000 for a
pimp, according to German police. An Eastern European woman will earn more than that for a
pimp or trafficker in Japan, where Eastern European women are considered exotic.
Oksana Ryniekska, a Ukrainian doctor, operated a brothel with non-English speaking
women from Eastern Europe in Essex, UK for eight months before she was arrested. During
that time she made more than GBP130,000 (US$210,000).
Mikhail Lebed, Chief of Criminal Investigations for the Ukrainian Ministry of the
Interior said, "It is a human tragedy, but also, frankly, a national crisis.
Gangsters make more from these women in a week than we have in our law-enforcement budget
for the whole year." The money made from the sexual exploitation and often
enslavement of trafficked women enriches transnational criminal networks. Trafficking in
women has arguably the highest profit margin and lowest risk of almost any type of illegal
activity. According to Michael Platzer, United Nations Center for International Crime
Prevention, "Theres a lot of talk about drugs, but its the white slave
trade that earns the biggest money for criminal groups in Eastern Europe."
Corruption of officials through bribes and even collaboration of officials in criminal
networks enables traffickers to operate in communities and states. Officials in key
positions and at many levels use their authority to provide protection to criminal
activities. During a two-year investigation of trafficking in women from Russia, the
Global Survival Network found evidence of government collaboration in the Interior
Ministry, the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the
influence of criminal networks deepens, the corruption goes beyond an act of occasionally
ignoring illegal activity to providing protection by blocking legislation that would
hinder the activities of the groups. As law enforcement personnel and government officials
become more corrupt and members of the crime groups gain more influence, the line between
the state and the criminal networks starts to blur. This merging of criminal networks and
the government seems to have occurred in many of the states that have emerged from the
Soviet Union. Under these circumstances it is difficult to intervene in the succession of
corruption, collaboration, crime and profit.
Kateryna Levchenko from La Strada-Ukraine made the following comment about the criminal
networks interests in creating and maintaining an environment favorable to
trafficking in women:
the main part of income from this criminal business is obtained by foreign
criminal organizations that are the ones interested in preservation of the current
situation. They do not want any improvements in the status of Ukrainian women or in
Ukrainian economy as a whole. The scale of this illegal business, huge monthly and annual
turnovers, merging with certain power structures (first of all, the police) in the
countries of Central and Eastern Europe, make it a real national security issue.
The cooperation of criminals and corrupt government officials in the trafficking in
women ensures that traffickers can operate with no interference, leaving women vulnerable
to whatever treatment and exploitation is profitable for traffickers and the sex industry.
Impact on Communities
Trafficking in women as a shadow economy does not bring financial prosperity to local
communities. The women often end up with nothing, or any money they earn comes at great
cost to their health, emotional well being and standing in the community. The money made
by the criminal networks does not stay in poor communities or countries, but is laundered
through bank accounts of criminal bosses in financial centers, such US, Western European
countries or in off-shore accounts. It is widely believed that transnational money
laundering schemes often include proceeds from trafficking in women.
In Israel, for instance, organized crime groups from the former Soviet Union,
collectively referred to as "Russian" organized crime groups, have invested
profits from trafficking in women, along with other activities, into legitimate
businesses. Israel is considered a "safe haven" for illegal profits because
money laundering there is fairly easy. In 1995, it was reported that between 2.5 and 4
billion dollars had been invested in banks and 600 million in real estate.
Moreover, trafficking in women has been found to be part of broader transnational
criminal schemes. In August 1999, a money-laundering scheme was uncovered in the Bank of
New York, USA. From early 1998 until mid-1999, US$10 billion dollars had been laundered
through the bank. The account belonged to known Ukrainian-born crime boss Semion
Mogilevich, who the FBI and Israeli intelligence reported was involved in prostitution,
weapons and drug trafficking and investment scams. Mogilevichs crime network, called
the Red Mafia, operated in Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the United States.
Cases such as these demonstrate that most of the money made from illegal operations,
such as trafficking in women, does not make its way back to the community. The money goes
to the top where crime bosses make enormous profits. The "dirty money" is
laundered into clean money after which it can be used to buy legitimate businesses and
Gendered Supply and Demand
Trafficking and prostitution are highly gendered systems that result from structural
inequality between women and men on a world scale. Men create the demand and women are the
supply. In this gendered system of supply and demand, little or no attention is paid to
the legitimacy of the demand. The ultimate consumers of trafficked and prostituted women
are men who use them for entertainment, sexual gratification, and acts of violence.
Victims and advocacy groups for survivors of prostitution compare the dynamics of
prostitution to battering and sexual assault. Survivors often recount their experiences
spent in sex industries as being abusive, degrading, and harmful to their health and well
The most crucial factor in determining where trafficking will occur is the activity of
traffickers. Poverty, unemployment, inflation, war and lack of a promising future are
compelling factors that facilitate the ease with which traffickers recruit women, but they
are not the cause of trafficking. Many regions of the world are poor and chaotic, but not
every region becomes a major supplier of women trafficked into the sex industry.
Traffickers take advantage of poverty, unemployment and a desire to emigrate to recruit
and traffic women into sex industries. Women, in large numbers, do not make their way
across borders to enter prostitution, nor do they traffic themselves or organize
themselves en masse to travel internationally to enter prostitution. Women do not
voluntarily put themselves in situations where they are exploited, beaten, raped and
enslaved. Without recruiters, traffickers and pimps, trafficking in women would not exist.
According to Michèle Hirsch, a barrister in Brussels in her report to the Council of
Poverty does not automatically and in every case lead to traffic in human beings and in
fact only creates the necessary conditions.
Trafficking will appear only when
criminal elements take advantage of this desire to emigrate to entice people, particularly
women, to the West under false pretences.
More than 120 million people in Eastern Europe earn less that US$4 per day. Where old
Soviet economic systems have been disrupted or discarded, there has been economic
contraction and hyperinflation, which has wiped out peoples savings and security. In
Ukraine, over 60 percent of the unemployed are women, and of those who have lost their job
since 1991, more than 80 percent are women. The average salary in Ukraine is about US$30 a
month, but in many small towns, it is only half that.
Womens NGOs report that the economic hard times has lead to a depression of
womens psychological state with loss of self-esteem and hope for the future. Women
accept unlikely offers of employment in unskilled jobs at high salaries with the
resignation that "it cannot be worse" than their present lives. Recruiters for
the sex industry target the most economically depressed areas. According to an estimate by
a Ukrainian womens NGO, one-third of unemployed young women get involved in illegal
There also tends to be a paucity of information about the problem in sending countries.
MiraMed, an anti-trafficking NGO, asserts that there has been a "relative media
blackout" on the subject of trafficking in women, which has left women without
information about what is happening to women who have gone abroad.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) conducted a survey of 1,189 women
and girls, aged 15 to 35, in ten urban regions of Ukraine. The purpose was to assess
womens attitudes and intentions toward migration. The IOM concluded that 40 percent
of the women in Ukraine are at risk of becoming victims of trafficking mainly due to their
interest in emigrating or seeking employment abroad. Although many young women are eager
to travel to seek jobs, prostitution was viewed as absolutely unacceptable. When asked if
"a job in the sex industry" was an "acceptable job abroad," none of
the women and girls in any age group (Ages 15-17, 18-19, 20-24, 25-15) said yes. When
asked if being a "dancer" or "stripper" was an "acceptable job
abroad," however, all of the girls aged 15-17 indicated that it was, while none of
the older women said yes.
Legal Factors and the Demand for Trafficked Women
Although trafficked women can be found almost anywhere, even in quite unexpected
places, the destinations for most trafficked women are countries and cities where there
are large sex industry centers and where prostitution is legalized or widely tolerated.
Trafficking exists to meet the demand for women to be used in the sex industry. Although
some women may appear to voluntarily enter prostitution, this number could never meet the
demand. If prostitution were a desirable, rewarding, lucrative job, traffickers would not
have to deceive, coerce and enslave women to get them into and keep them in the sex
Popular destinations for trafficked women are countries where prostitution is legal
such as the Netherlands and Germany. The Dutch Foundation Against Trafficking in Women
(STV) surveyed women in the sex industry in the Netherlands and found they came from 32
countries. In 1994, in the Netherlands, 70 percent of the trafficked women were from
Central and Eastern European countries. A survey of women from Central and Eastern Europe
found that 80 percent of the women had their passports confiscated, were kept in isolation
and forced to work long hours for no pay and were physically and emotionally abused by
pimps, traffickers and male buyers.
In the Netherlands, in 1995, more women in prostitution were from Ukraine than any
other foreign country and in 1996 they ranked second. According to Dr. Gerben Bruinsma of
the University of Leiden, 33 percent of the 25,000 women in prostitution in the
Netherlands are from Ukraine, and three percent are from Russia. Most of these women are
in conditions of slavery.
In Germany, prostitution is legal for citizens of the European Union, but illegal for
non-European Union citizens. Therefore, while it is legal for men to engage in
prostitution and for pimps to run brothels, trafficked women are doubly victimized, first
by being victims of trafficking and second for being foreign citizens. An estimated one
quarter of the 200,000 to 400,000 women in prostitution in Germany are from Eastern
Europe. Another source estimates that 80 percent of the trafficked women in Germany are
from Central and Eastern Europe and CIS countries. The German Family Ministry reported
that 1500 trafficked women were caught by police in 1997. Ninety-five percent were
Legalization of prostitution, pimping and brothels causes an increase in trafficking in
women to meet the demand created by a legalized sex industry. There is also evidence from
Australia that legalized prostitution and brothels resulted in a "significant rise in
organized crime" and an increase in trafficking and enslavement of women.
Legalized prostitution makes it difficult to hold traffickers accountable for their
activities. Trijntje Kootstra, from La Strada, said that traffickers evade prosecution by
claiming the women knew what they were getting into and that prosecutors generally have a
hard time establishing the line between voluntary and forced prostitution. When
prostitution is legal the prosecutions case depends on proving that the woman did
not consent. Considering how vulnerable the women are in these slave-like circumstances
and that women often do initially consent to traveling or even being in prostitution, it
makes the case much more difficult to prove. According to Michael Platzer, Head of
Operations for the United Nations Center for International Crime Prevention,
"The laws help the gangsters. Prostitution is semi-legal in many places and that
makes enforcement tricky. In most cases punishment is very light." In the Plan of
Action Against Traffic in Women and Forced Prostitution for the Council of Europe, Michele
Hirsch stated, "where only forced prostitution is illegal; inability to prove
constraint has repeatedly led to international procurers being acquitted by the
The trafficking of women for purposes of sexual exploitation is not a new phenomenon
and international laws were drafted and ratified in the earlier half of this century.
In1949, the United Nations General Assembly passed the Convention for the Suppression of
Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. The convention
states that "prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the
purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person
and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community." Ukraine is
a signature of the 1949 Convention (1954), along with Latvia (1992), Belarus (1956), and
the Russian Federation (1954). The 1949 Convention states that consent of the trafficked
person is irrelevant to the prosecution of the exploiter. The 1949 Convention was not
widely ratified and did not create a monitoring body, so there has been no ongoing
evaluation of its implementation or effectiveness. In 1998 at the United Nations
Commission on the Status of Women, the World Federation of the Ukrainian Womens
Organizations and World Movement of Mothers called for governments to work toward
suppressing the trafficking of women and girls and implementing the 1949 Convention.
Currently, the 1949 Convention is under strong attack by those who favor legalized
prostitution and even "consensual trafficking." The trend toward legalization of
the sex industry and narrower definitions of trafficking which require proof of coercion
or force will make the conviction of traffickers very difficult and will greatly benefit
transnational criminal networks.
Another approach to ending trafficking is to end the demand for women to be used in
prostitution. In 1998, Sweden passed a law on violence against women that created a new
offense-"gross violation of a womans integrity." Prostitution was included
as a type of violence against women. As of January 1, 1999, the "purchase of sexual
services" was prohibited, punishable by fines and/or imprisonment up to six months.
The Swedish government was clear that this new offense marked Swedens attitude
toward prostitution as an "undesirable social phenomenon" and an act of violence
against women. The new offense of gross violation of a womans integrity and the
prohibition on purchase of sexual services aims to eliminate acts of violence that stand
in the way of equality for women.
Swedens approach recognizes the harm done to women under conditions of sexual
exploitation. Their approach starts from the premise that women have the right to dignity,
integrity and equality. This new law is the first that aims to protect women from violence
by holding men accountable and thereby addressing the demand for women to be trafficked
In the Soviet Union, a shadow economy existed for decades to meet the needs of the
people for goods and services. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the shadow economy
networks expanded to become transnational criminal networks that increasingly operate
beyond the reach of law enforcement in any one state, and more ominously, operate in
cooperation with law enforcement and government officials in some states. One of the
commodities that is in great demand and Ukraine, and other republics of the Soviet Union,
have in great supply, are women who were eager to travel and look for opportunities
abroad. The trafficking of women for purposes of sexual exploitation has become a highly
profitable shadow market for organized crime networks. The lucrative trade in women
garners billions of dollars for criminals, who use the money to enrich themselves and buy
influence to further their activities. Although organized crime networks have benefited,
trafficking in women is not a shadow economy that has brought prosperity to local
communities. The growth in number and size of organized crime networks has become a threat
to the safety of citizens and to legitimate economic, social, and political institutions.
Trafficking in women is a modern day slave trade that is consuming increasing numbers
of women, especially from Ukraine and other republics of the former Soviet Union. The
existence of recruitment and enslavement of women for purposes of sexual exploitation at
the end of the 20th century threatens the status of women throughout the world.
There can be no true democracy in any country if half the population can be viewed as
potential commodities to be recruited, bought, sold and enslaved.
Most analyses and approaches to the problem of trafficking in women have focused on the
supply side in the sending countries, with economic factors assumed to be the primary
causes of trafficking. A more complete understanding of trafficking in women is achieved
by also examining the demand for trafficked women in sex industries in receiving countries
and the essential role played by organized crime networks in committing serious crimes
against women. In addition, the gendered nature of the dynamics of the supply and demand
has to be examined. It cannot be ignored that women are the sole victims in trafficking in
women for prostitution and men are the sole players in creating the demand for women in
Legalization of prostitution is sometimes thought to be a solution to trafficking in
women, but evidence seems to show that legalized sex industries actually result in
increased trafficking to meet the demand for women to be used in the legal sex industries.
Increased activity of organized crime networks also accompanies increases in trafficking.
Legal remedies that address the demand side of trafficking have been passed at the
international level at the United Nations and the national level in Sweden. The older 1949
United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the
Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others has not been widely ratified and lacks a
monitoring body, so it has had limited impact against the transnational trafficking of
women. The newly defined type of violence against women and crime in Sweden "the
purchase of sexual services" has only been in place for one year and its
effectiveness is yet to be evaluated.
Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation has become such a large and
severe crisis for the well being of women and the security and stability of some states
that interventions are needed at all levels and points in the trafficking process. This
modern slave trade is a shadow market that benefits only criminals.