Human trafficking: victim confession to Voice of Russia
Experts who took part in the panel discussion, believe that law enforcement effort to curb the human trafficking needs to be coupled with extensive media coverage.
The Albanian man had befriended Sophie five years before she went to Italy for what should have been a week’s holiday, but turned out to be six months. Accompanying Sophie in the studio is Cambridge academic and the author of “Public Opinion in Russia on the politics of Human Trafficking” Mary Buckley and consultant Robin Briley.
Robin used to work for a serious organized crime agency in UK. Robin contributed to the UK threat assessment specializing in human trafficking. And joining us on the telephone is the vice-president of the Woman’s International League for Peace Freedom Martha Jean Baker.
Sophie, would you like to share your experience with us?
I was 18 when I originally met Kas and over a five year period we became friends. Last year I had quite a difficult time and he said: “Why don’t we take a break and have a nice weekend away”. It was incredible and he was such a good friend. And a month later he asked me to spend a week in Italy. So I went and to begin with everything was great and I really enjoyed being there. A new country with a friend I knew for so long. Three days into the holiday he sat me down and told me that actually I wasn’t there just for a holiday. And he hadn’t waited for me for five year so I would just walk away and leave. And that I was there for him, and for friend and for people that you love you have to make a sacrifice. And I was a sacrifice for him. He told me that he had a debt to pay off for a drugs deal that gone wrong. And then he told me that I had to go work on the streets in order to pay off his debt. So he took me to a place to work and said that if I ever refused to pay him or did anything wrong he knew where my family lived and my younger brother, who was 13 at the time, would be taken. And that I would never see any of my family ever again. He took me to a lake where he showed me that if I ever did anything wrong that’s where I would end up. My passport was taken and he took everything away from me. The person I thought he was wasn’t him anymore. He became so aggressive; I have never seen anyone act this way. So on the third night I went to work and for six months a continued on working. He took me to south of France to work and then back to Italy. And even in that time he told me never to trust anyone and he would send people as a test. He said never to trust the police and never trust anyone who said they can help me because they won’t.
Can you explain to us what you had to do, what was your work?
I had to come work in the streets and have sex with up to 30 men to pay off his debt, which I don’t even know if was true or was it just him and his way of making money. He told me that I wasn’t the first girl he prostituted and that he had been doing that since he was 17 with drugs with guns with girls. He said that girls were perfect because they made him so much money and for him I was a gold mine as I would never be deported and I could make him a fortune.
How long have you been in Italy for?
I was there for six months until I was sick. Throughout the six months they gave me ammonia and I weighted six stones (84 pounds). And the pain of having sex was too much so I ended up in a hospital and that’s how I managed to escape.
Mary Buckley, can you tell us a bit about your article on policies of human trafficking?
The situation in Russia like in every country in the world is one where the statistics that are given are really not definitive. No one really knows how many women or men are being trafficked out of Russia. There are estimates. But the situation in Russia is one of huge trafficking, thousands and thousands of women especially but also men have been trafficked out and also in the country – from rural areas into the cities. Also from Central Asia particularly man. And the situation there is really fluid and moving very fast. One might be trafficked by just having an quittance who suggests that there is a good job as a dancer or a weightier in another country which will earn a lot of money. Or a job for men in construction work. And not only through word of mouth but also through newspapers, where there are very enticing ads for well paid work elsewhere. So the situation of economic collapse after disintegration of Soviet Union at a time of unemployment and low wages it is very attractive to go somewhere else and see the world. I’m not surprised they did this and found themselves like Sophie in a traffic situation. The details of such incidents vary, some are more violent than others. But the attitude of the population to sex trafficking is very interesting. First of all we found that there is lack of knowledge, people don’t know, even though there are quite a few news articles out there and it has been covered widely in the Russia press. Secondly there is lack of understanding the extend of trafficking. Thirdly very often women who are being trafficked are blamed themselves; there is notion that it is her own fault. For a short while there were some politicians that said that women are just prostitutes anyway. Fortunately in 2003 Putin pushed through an amendment to the criminal code which introduced article 127.1 and.2 concerning about the anti-trafficking clauses. And more recently, when Medvedev was president he sighed an agreement with the states of CIS on a collaborative anti-human trafficking project.
We had two focus groups – one in Moscow and one in Vladimir. Their views although very different during the course of the focus groups at the end they came out with general conclusions that more media coverage and more knowledge is needed. And some of them argued for the strengthening of the family which is a very old sort of Soviet line. And they are also aware that the reason that traffickers are very hesitant to approach them is not just because they fear them it is also because they lack knowledge of language which makes it very hard speaking with the police.
I think that one of the key issues is raising the awareness within the public. Legislation is important but I think that raising awareness within the voting public are the ones who choose the government of their time and the government of the time makes legislation biased on the opinion of the public.