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Eastern/Central Europe: Dutch Foundation Curbs Forced Prostitution

London, 26 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Katarzyna is a Polish hairdresser who turned to prostitution after being raped and blackmailed in Germany. Her fellow national Grazyna was sold to a prostitution racket after being abducted to Germany.

Both were rescued by a Dutch voluntary group that campaigns to end the forced supply of women for prostitution from the East and Central European countries and the former Soviet Union.

The Dutch Foundation against Traffic in Women (STV) intervened for Katarzyna and Grazyna by winning them special asylum in the Netherlands, allowing them to escape their abductors.

This is typical of the work of STV which began a pilot program to save women from prostitution in Poland and the Czech Republic four years ago, and has since extended it to Ukraine. The group now plans to spread its campaign to Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia.

The group was in the news last week because it won praise from U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for its work on behalf of women's rights. Its campaign is funded by the EU's Democracy Program, aimed at promoting civil societies.

Social workers say trafficking in young women is one of the most serious social problems to emerge since the collapse of communism.. The women are often physically abused, many contract sexual diseases, and the HIV virus, and many become drug abusers.

The Dutch group was founded in the 1980s by volunteers opposed to sex tourism in Asia, particularly in Thailand, a favored destination of European and U.S. men seeking prostitutes.

Two years ago, it launched a follow-up program "La Strada (The Street)" that aims to draw the attention of governments, media and the public to the problem of prostitution from the CEEC and NIS countries, and to warn young women of the dangers they face.

A report by the EU's Democracy Program says the forced supply of women from the Central and East European countries and the NIS states is "an extensive violation of human rights." It says the problem is probably growing but this is difficult to prove as victims often hide due to shame or intimidation by the sex traffickers. Since they are white, women from the CEEC countries are less recognizable as illegal immigrants in the streets of western Europe.

The report says the growth in trafficking in women is partly caused by the economic crises in the eastern countries, causing women to leave home in search of a better economic life.

The report also says that economic differences within the CEEC countries have caused labor migration, including the migration of women. One example of this phenomenon is the movement of people from Russia to Poland as Poland becomes more affluent.

The La Strada program mounts press and lobby campaigns; distributes education leaflets targeting young girls; and provides legal, emotional, and medical help to women forced on the streets.

One of its goals is to encourage the formation of non-governmental volunteer organizations in all CEEC countries that are dedicated to fighting the racketeers and the pimps.