An Eastern Europe Epidemic: Human Trafficking and its Victims With a market economy that is more open than ever before, both legitimate and illegitimate businesses across Europe are benefitting (Philips). Though the drug trade is often thought of as being the most prolific illegal trade, according to security experts, human trafficking has recently surpassed the drug trade as the largest illegal business in the world (BBC News). Thanks to economic recession, Eastern Europe is considered to be on the brink of a “dramatic rise” in human trafficking, as its’ citizens look abroad for jobs that are unavailable in their home countries (Lowry).
Trafficking is often considered to be just another term for human smuggling, which is not the case at all. Human smuggling is done to avoid immigration laws, and is planned with consent given from all parties. Human trafficking, as defined by the U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking and makes up seventy-nine percent of trafficking cases worldwide (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). Of the 500,000 women trafficked annually into Western Europe for sexual purposes, two-thirds of them are from Eastern Europe and have never been involved in the sex trade in any way (Coalition Against Trafficking Women). These women by no means choose their fate. More often than not, they are essentially tricked into leaving their homelands by the promise of a good paying job elsewhere, such as in Greece or Italy.
Surprisingly enough, fifty-eight percent of those who “recruit” these women are acquaintances, friends, or even family members (International Organization for Migration via MSNBC), an unfortunate act of desperation brought on by rampant unemployment and the economic hardships facing Eastern European countries today. Hardest hit by the economic recession, Moldova, a former Soviet republic, with one quarter of its population unemployed, has seen the worst of the trafficking; nearly ten percent of the country’s female population since 1991 has been sold into prostitution.
Though many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working hard to disrupt the trafficking trade and free the thousands of young women trapped as sex slaves, success stories are few and far between. With help from U. S. funding, the I. O. M was able to safely return Moldovan women home to their families, but only 400 of the assumed hundreds of thousands that have been and are being victimized by the sex trade. Many women are not rescued out of fear; bodily harm or death has been threatened, either against them or their family members.
This is but one of the numerous ways their captors maintain power over them. According to the Coalition Against the Trafficking of Women, the majority of those responsible for the trafficking and prostitution of these women throughout the European Union are from the Balkans, and include Russians, Yugoslavians, Ukrainians, Turks, and Albanians. Victims are found through newspaper ads, with the traffickers posing as contacts for employment opportunities, modeling or tourist agencies, or they are simply kidnapped. Once in their captive situations, many different methods are utilized to “condition” the girls.
These methods include starvation, confinement, beatings, physical abuse, rape, gang rape, forced drug use and the threat of shaming by revealing their activities to their family and friends. The torment that the victims of sex trafficking must endure on a daily basis is overwhelming, and the living conditions are at best deplorable. Olga, a young woman of nineteen who was trafficked into Macedonia from her village in Moldova, was interviewed by MSNBC reporter Preston Mendenhall about her life in forced prostitution.
The following is just a small excerpt from her tearful account of her terrible life: “”None of the clients use condoms, and if I insist they use condoms, they will tell my owner, and I will have so many problems. The conditions we live in are horrible. There is no shower; we must wash ourselves in the sink. Eleven of us sleep in one room. The owner once made me clean the toilet with my tongue, just because I was the new girl. The clients are from Albania, Macedonia; there were NATO soldiers from Britain, France, Russia, and America too… I couldn’t ask them for help for fear they might tell my owner.
There’s nowhere to go, I can’t escape. I’ve given up; I want to die. I don’t want to live. What is there to live for? I have been forced to sleep with 2,000 men in nine months, and they do whatever they want to do… I just want to go home, to see my parents. All of Macedonia is filled with girls like me, and we are all crying. ” Her story, as horrible as it is, is not uncommon. The majority of young women trafficked throughout Europe live in conditions such as this, and are at immense risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (e. g. HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis, UTIs, pubic lice), and can sustain injuries such as broken bones and concussions from their constant abuse. Those are just some of the physical risks. There are psychological risks as well, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a condition called traumatic bonding – a form of coercive control in which the malefactor instills in the victim fear as well as gratitude for being allowed to live. Most people believe that those who are the masterminds in these types of crimes are doing it because they are struggling with poverty and overall economic inequality.
One does not need to be a criminal mastermind to reap the monetary benefits of trafficking. All that is required is greed and an immense disregard for the sanctity of human rights and dignity. The real reasons for becoming involved are much more basic. The criminal industry that is trafficking is in fact driven by 1) slight-to-low risk of prosecution, and 2) the ability to make large profits due to high demand (Polaris Project). It is a harsh truth: sex sells and people all over the world are buying.
The situation is so very sad that it seems almost hopeless, yet steps are being taken to fight human trafficking. Education is an important tool in this fight. Not only do those most at risk of becoming victims need to learn, the population at large needs to understand the problem as well. Someone who is working hard to educate the public is actress Emma Thompson, the force behind an artistic installation entitled “Journey”, which chronicles the harrowing experiences of a woman named Elena, a young victim and survivor of sex trafficking.
The installation is made up of seven shipping containers, each one designed by a different artist to interpret a part of what Thompson refers to as Elena’s “journey into hell. ” To avoid enduring their own versions of hell, at risk populations need to be able to recognize the types of people, propositions, and situations that could lead to them becoming victims as well. There are many programs out there whose sole purpose is to aid those who are and have been victims of trafficking.
The common threads between all of them are the fact that they focus on the prevention of trafficking, the protection of its victims, and the implementation of harsher policies towards the prosecution of those responsible for the victims’ situation. In the year 2000, the United Nations held the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, sometimes referred to as the Palermo Convention because of its location in Palermo, Italy, and put forth a covenant of sorts, entitled Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
This signified the creation of an international standard to which all participating countries that have ratified the protocol are expected to adhere when dealing with human trafficking, its victims, and its culprits. One of the more important articles of the Protocol is Article 5, which states, 1. Each State Party shall adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish as criminal offences the conduct set forth in article 3 of this Protocol, when committed intentionally. 2.
Each State Party shall also adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish as criminal offences: (a)Subject to the basic concepts of its legal system, attempting to commit an offence established in accordance with paragraph 1 of this article; (b)Participating as an accomplice in an offence established in accordance with paragraph 1 of this article; and (c)Organizing or directing other persons to commit an offence established in accordance with paragraph 1 of this article. With the Protocol as a tool, the world has been given an inroad to curbing appetites for human trafficking, but it is still an immense problem.
Every world citizen has a responsibility to ensure that human rights are respected by all and not just something for those in positions of power to be concerned about. All of us will meet someone who is an immigrant in the course of our lives, and we need to be aware of the signs that someone is suffering, and show compassion and an interest in their well being. Human trafficking is one of the worst things a person can be made to suffer, and as Emma Thompson has said, “Don’t think of it as a cause, think of it as something absolutely revolting that needs to be stopped. Works Cited “Eastern Europe Trafficking “. Coalition Against the Trafficking in Women. 05/24/1998 . “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons”. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. 02/12/2009 . “Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling”. U. S. Department of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. 03/12/2010 . “Human Trafficking Eclipses Drugs Trade”. BBC News. 06/20/2002 . Lowry, Joseph. “Human Trafficking ‘Set to Rise’ in Eastern Europe”. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. 03/17/2009 . Mendenhall, Preston. Infiltrating Europe’s shameful trade in human beings”. MSNBC. 03/03/2004 . Mendenhall, Preston. “Escaping brutal bondage in Europe”. MSNBC. 03/03/2004 . Phillips, Leigh. “Organized Crime in EU Thriving on Liberalization”. EU Observer. 10/23/2009 . “Sex Trafficking Fact Sheet”. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. 12/04/2009 . Simon, Scott. “Emma and Elena, Exposing the Sex Trade”. NPR. 10/31/2009 . “UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children”. United Nations. 01/08/2001 .