June 29, 2006, Volume
TRAFFICKERS CAST A GREEDY EYE ON THE WORLD CUP
By Eugen Tomiuc
The World Cup in Germany has been tipped as arguably the largest global sports event, with a cumulative television audience of tens of billions throughout the world. At least 2 million fans are also expected to travel to Germany during the monthlong tournament. However, international officials and human rights groups warn that the World Cup is likely to generate a dramatic growth in the demand for sex workers, prompting criminals to smuggle thousands of women into Germany to force them into prostitution.
Several people work seated at tiny desks in a couple of crammed, badly lit rooms at the top of a staircase with no elevator in a Soviet-era building in Chisinau.
Not exactly someone's idea of modern office space, but there's one thing that lights up the place -- hope. Hope for many desperate women who come here to escape human trafficking and its horrific effects.
This is the Moldovan headquarters of the La Strada Program, an international network combating trafficking in women from Central and Eastern Europe. In addition to providing support for human-trafficking victims, La Strada is involved in an international campaign meant to raise awareness among local women about the increased dangers of human trafficking during the World Cup.
Worried About The World Cup
La Strada Vice President Daniella Misail-Nichitin says its existing hotline has been updated to offer guidance related to work offers in Germany during the World Cup. "Our permanent hotline also offers specific information in relation to this event, when it comes to [work] offers in Germany," Misail-Nichitin says. "We are ready to give advice regarding any kind of offer coming from Germany around the World Cup period."
World organizations and foreign governments have warned that up to 40,000 women could be trafficked to Germany for the World Cup to serve as prostitutes for some of the estimated 2 million football fans from across the world.
Prostitution has been legal in Germany since 2002, with an estimated 400,000 women legally employed as sex workers there.
Germany has seen a boom in sex clubs recently, including the opening of a four-story, 3,000 square-meter mega-brothel in Berlin, just down the road from the World Cup stadium.
The U.S. State Department took the unusual step of warning Germany against forced prostitution in its annual report on human trafficking, which was issued on June 6.
Kidnapping And Deception
The methods used by traffickers range from kidnapping to deception -- the offer of a well-paid job in a foreign country.
For underprivileged or naive girls and women in poor Eastern European countries such as Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania, the promise of a job abroad sounds like a dream -- which more often than not, turns out to be a nightmare.
Sveta, a Moldovan girl in her early 20s, was a victim of traffickers before seeking help with La Strada. "I was lured abroad, to Turkey, under the promise that we would get a job in Cyprus as chambermaids," she says. "But when we arrived in Turkey, [the woman who got us there] sold us to some pimps. We were four girls, and we were all sold for $500 each [in Istanbul]."
Sveta recalls her ordeal, which lasted for almost a year, before she managed to run away and go back to Moldova, where La Strada came to her aid.
'I Spent Nine Months There'
"In the beginning, we worked [as prostitutes] in a hotel, but after about a month, we were locked down in a basement," Sveta says. "Clients would come down there and pay the [pimp] master, and we would be forced to work there. When someone refused to work, they would be beaten and kept without food. I spent nine months there."
La Strada's Misail-Nichitin believes the World Cup has increased the danger that girls might fall prey to traffickers. She says that, on the international level, action by antitrafficking NGOs to raise awareness among potential victims is under way.
"We have joined this initiative, and in cooperation with partners from Germany, such as the SOLWODI [Solidarity with Women in Distress] organization, we are informing potential victims about the services provided both by La Strada and other groups, including some from Germany, to facilitate these persons' access to assistance," Misail-Nichitin says.
The Red Card Initiative
Sister Lea Ackermann is a German Catholic nun and the founder of the German nongovernmental organization SOLWODI, which initiated a project dubbed "Red Card For Sexual Abuse And Forced Prostitution."
Ackermann says many women in poor Eastern European countries risk being lured into Germany by false offers of jobs as babysitters, bar workers, or waitresses.
She says that well over 100 NGOs have been involved in the Red Card initiative. "We were writing to [organizations in] 20 countries more or less in East Europe -- [such as] Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and so on," she says. "And in these 20 countries we had contact with about 150 nongovernmental organizations."
Under the plan, Ackermann's group distributed across Eastern Europe 30,000 yellow cards containing a warning in several languages about the dangers of human trafficking during the World Cup. Meanwhile, red cards are being handed out to German and foreign men in Germany, warning them about trafficking in women. The campaign has also established a permanent hotline in Germany where advice and help is offered in several languages.
"We installed a hotline with 20 women being on the service," Ackermann says. "And these women all speak German and another language -- [a total of] six languages [beside German] -- Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian, French, English."
Ackermann says it is too early into the World Cup tournament to evaluate the efficiency of the Red Card campaign. But she adds that there have been an increasing number of appeals -- hundreds more -- on the German hotline since its inception. (Originally published on June 15.)
IOM BATTLES HUMAN TRAFFICKING DURING WORLD CUP
To warn about the risk of human trafficking and forced prostitution during the World Cup in Germany, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has launched a joint awareness campaign with the MTV-Europe music channel and the Swedish government. IOM spokesman Jean Philippe Chauzy says the campaign's focal point is a public-service announcement (PSA), which directs viewers to a website where they can obtain information for anonymously reporting to the German authorities any cases of trafficking and forced prostitution they may encounter. RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc spoke with Chauzy.
What prompted IOM's initiative and who are your partners?
Jean Philippe Chauzy:
The International Organization for Migration decided to team up with the MTV Europe Foundation [a charity registered jointly in Britain with the MTV Europe music channel] and the Swedish [government's International] Development Agency to put out a public-service announcement [PSA] to warn the general public that, unfortunately, the World Cup will probably be marked by an increase in the trafficking of women, most of whom will end up in situations of exploitation.
We know from experience that it's unfortunately always the case that when you've got a big global sporting event, or a big global event, there is an increase in demand for sexual services, and we believe that the traffickers are going to make the most of the World Cup to make money. So we hope that the PSA will incite football fans -- and we're expecting about 3 million football fans to come to Germany -- to basically be aware of that problem and know that some women will be stuck in situations of exploitation during the World Cup.
MTV Europe and the Swedish government in 2005 launched a broader project, called EXIT, to raise awareness and increase prevention of the trafficking of women in Europe. Megastars such as actress Angelina Jolie and model Helena Christensen have lent their support to the EXIT project. Did this fact play a role in your decision to team up with MTV and the Swedish government in launching the public-service announcement?
MTV, like others, has and is doing a lot of work in terms of prevention alongside the International Organization for Migration and others. MTV is a key player, but, for instance, you've got the Council of German Women's Organizations -- that's an umbrella group of about 50 women's groups in Germany that launched a few months ago, an awareness campaign that is funded by the German government to put out the same prevention message.
So, the PSA is just one item, if you want, of a much broader initiative to raise awareness of the dangers of trafficking and to make sure that the people who will be going to Germany during the World Cup know that women who will be providing sexual services might be doing so against their will.
Do you enjoy the support of other groups and governments in this initiative?
Yes, absolutely, as in all parts of the world, the IOM is working very closely not just with civil society and clusters of NGOs, but also with the government authorities, with the German police. You've got to bear in mind that the telephone hotline numbers that feature on the public-service announcement will be tackled, the calls will be tackled by the German police. And we know that the German police [are] very much eager to clamp down on any cases of trafficking, of course offering protection to victims of trafficking and prosecuting those who organize and benefit from trafficking in women.
The World Cup had been under way now only for a couple of days and an increase in the number of trafficked women might not be obvious yet. However, would you venture to come up with an estimate on the impact of the tournament on human trafficking?
This is still very early [indeed], as the World Cup started on June 9. That being said, there are some groups that are saying that up to 40,000 women might end up in trafficking networks in Germany during the World Cup. We do not put out a figure -- what we say, more generally, is that up to 200,000 women are trafficked yearly to Europe for sexual exploitation from Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and other parts of the world, and that, unfortunately, the World Cup is not going to stop that phenomenon. In terms of the impact of telephone hotlines, we know from experience in other parts of the world that these PSAs, these TV and radio spots do make a difference. People do call the telephone hotlines to report cases of women being abused in exploitative networks.
Has the world soccer governing body, FIFA, offered you financial support?
Well, in terms of our initiative with MTV and the Swedish Development Agency, not that I'm aware of. But I can confirm that the German Football Federation, for instance, has been financially supporting other countertrafficking information campaigns that are currently ongoing in Germany. And I think that maybe FIFA or the German Football Federation are entirely aware of this issue, and, obviously, are very keen to make sure that the World Cup is not associated in any way with an increase in trafficking during the World Cup.
The announcement and the hotline number are accompanied by a video. The clip shows a naked woman streaking across a football pitch amid male spectators' amused cheers, and then cuts to images of her being violently shoved in the tunnel underneath the stands. The short film ends with the words "Are you cheering now?" and was deemed disturbing. Was it coordinated with FIFA?
Well, this video clip is supposed to be shocking. It is supposed to jolt people's consciousness, to make them realize that trafficking is a real issue. Now, to answer your question whether it was coordinated in any way with FIFA -- not that I'm aware of, but it was coordinated obviously with the Swedish Development Agency, with MTV Europe Foundation, and with others. And it is purposefully intended and designed to shock people so that they realize that trafficking is a real issue that cannot be ignored and that it is crucial for football supporters who will be gathering in large numbers in Germany -- to make them aware that this is an issue that cannot be ignored and needs to be tackled. (Originally published on June 15.)
A CROATIAN HUMAN-TRAFFICKING VICTIM SPEAKS WITH RFE/RL
By Ankica Barbir Mladinovic
Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is becoming increasingly widespread in countries undergoing transition. Many young women seeking better jobs and better lives find themselves against their will in secret brothels of Western countries. Such is the warning of nongovernmental women's unions in Croatia, where 45 victims of trafficking have been identified in the last four years. Unofficial numbers are many times greater.
"It happened abroad," says Martina, a 29-year-old trafficking victim from Zagreb. "I was sold for 3,500 euros [$4,400]. I was beaten, raped, forced against my will. They would put out cigarette butts on me and cut me with razors.
It was like a horror movie, she says. Martina was 19 years old at that time, trained as a cook. She lived in the suburbs of Zagreb and desired a better job and a better life. She met a young man who told her about his brother who had a restaurant in Italy, but who had a hard time finding good employees.
'It Sounded Rather Convincing'
"He told me that if I really wanted to work I could come with him, but that if I did not intend to pursue work there I could be back in Croatia in three days," Martina said. "It sounded rather convincing. Given that my life had been miserable since I was born -- my father was an alcoholic and my mother ill -- I went there without a second thought.
"As soon as I arrived and as soon as he brought me to his apartment, everything started. He told me there was no work and that I had crossed the border in order to work as a prostitute, that he had paid a ton of money for me and that he will come for me in three days, and that I had to be ready by then," she continued.
"I told him to get his mother ready instead, and then he hit me on the head with his fist. Since we were in the kitchen I turned around and struck him with a pot. Naturally, I was no match for him physically. He beat and raped me constantly for three days, to the point where I was lying in blood and urine while tied to a bed. He then brought two of his friends who raped me, put out cigarette butts on me, and cut me with razors."
Martina was locked in a Rome apartment for two months. Instead of working in a restaurant, she was beaten and raped daily until she was "broken" and had become a sexual slave. Then, she says, the man who bought her took her out to the street.
"That man was from Bosnia," she says. "We found in his apartment four passports and another girl from Croatia who was also a mother of three. That was a complete horror. They beat me endlessly. A girl of 16 from Albania almost bled to death in my arms because they had pushed a car antenna into her vagina. A girl from Bosnia was found dead. That is when I completely broke down."
She says she had been completely dulled, as if separated from her own body. Even when there was a chance of escape she remained a prostitute.
"There was no way for me to be freed from what had happened to me," Martina says. "I endured this for six years. I went to the street with prostitutes, not in order to work, but to see the people who come to them and who force them to do this. Then I would throw a bottle of gasoline on their car or puncture their tires. I didn't care what would happen. I did one or three customers -- I didn't care. I didn't look at those people."
Martina was a typical, vulnerable young woman without steady employment or family support. Nobody wondered about her disappearance. After all, even her own father beat her from a very young age. Sadly, that experience prepared her for what she endured in Rome.
'That Is How I Distanced Myself'
"I rehearsed this since I was six," Martina says. "I recited 'The Pit,' a poem by Ivan Goran Kovacic, persistently to myself as my father beat me with roots from the vineyard or his military belt, as he would throw me against a wall or door, or kick me with his military boots. That was my defense. That is how I distanced myself. Although I would bleed, having been burnt all over with cigarette butts, I would distance myself from all that."
Today, Martina is 29 years old. She lives in Zagreb and has a 7-year-old son. She is still undergoing therapy.
'A Cup Of Coffee Saved My Life'
"I started to work on a regular job in Zagreb," she says. "However, since I'm not psychologically strong I break down very easily. The owner once pinched me on my behind. I hit him with a frying pan and called his wife. I left. But one cup of coffee saved my life. I was already looking out the window and thinking about jumping."
Martina was offered that cup of coffee by activists from the Center for Sexual Rights/Women's Room and the Center for Women Victims of War (ROSA). For the first time in her life, she says, somebody approached her without scorn.
"If it weren't for them, I don't know how our life would have continued, the life of all of us who were tortured, mistreated, sold in different ways," she says. "We can reach a particular point on our own, and when we cannot go any further we all need a ferry, a crossing, a helping hand, somebody's smile."
Marina entered a program of psychological help and therapy provided by the nongovernmental women's union. She works from time to time cleaning apartments for the elderly.
"Now I'm cleaning grannies' apartments," she says. "I drink coffee with them and call them my well of wisdom. With their help, you can go back and remember some of the good roots of life. My life currently consists of women from the center and my son."
Still, Martina cannot forget what she endured.
"Even today, when I see gestures by some people, certain motions that remind me of that life, I immediately break down and want to jump at them," she says. "With the help of women from the center, I learned to control myself pretty well."
She claims the general public isn't even aware of the extent of trafficking in women in Croatia and the extent to which that business is blossoming, couched in legitimate activities.
"This business has been developed in Croatia precisely and efficiently," Martina says. "A woman with a university degree can end up in a miniskirt on the street just like a woman from the country. It doesn't matter whether it is a bar, a shop, an office, whatever. They keep their tentacled octopuses on every corner." (Translated by Naida Skrbic. Originally published on June 15.)
UZBEK ACTIVIST DESCRIBES STRUGGLE AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
On June 5, the U.S. State Department issued its annual report on global human trafficking. The report includes a section titled "Heroes Acting To End Modern-Day Slavery, " and among the 10 heroes singled out for mention was Uzbek citizen Nodira Karimova. Karimova is the head of the Tashkent office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and founder of the NGO Istiqbolli Avlod.
In October 2004, Karimova spoke with Andrea Powell, director of the Washington-based NGO FAIR Fund (http://www.fairfund.org). FAIR Fund is an international organization that supports and engages young women in civic activism to better their lives and communities. Through cross-cultural collaboration, education, funding, and training, FAIR Fund advocates the active and successful participation of young women and girls in the development of civil society.
Below, Karimova discusses the desperate situation of girls in Uzbekistan, and why trafficking is such a big problem. (Interview used with permission from FAIR Fund.)
Thousands of girls are being kidnapped from their homes and forced to work as sex slaves each year. Our campaign is opening a hotline, informing Uzbek girls and women of risk of accepting one of the 'dream' jobs offered to them in other countries. These people offering the jobs aren't their friends; they just want to use them for money. We want girls who are trying to come home to know we can help them. At our hotline center, a specially trained operator will give free and anonymous information on the telephone. In the last few months, we have received more that 1,000 calls, among which are calls from parents and relatives whose daughters or wives were kidnapped and forced to work as slaves. Most of these callers don't even know if their daughters, wives, girlfriends are alive or dead.
What inspired you in starting your organization?
I have worked with a lot of different organizations dealing with women's issues. I was always worried about the fact that women in lower economic classes were ignored and did not know about the help they could be offered by these groups. The government and social services did not pay attention to poor women. But they are the ones that need the assistance the most. It was my observation that these women and girls don't ask for help because they have been taught there is no hope for their situation. They see so many hungry, poor people around them, and eventually they give up on a good future. It is my hope that my organization can really bring hope back to lives of these women and their children through real solutions.
What personal and professional problems did you have while starting your organization?
A lot of my family and professional friends did not understand why I wanted to start my own nonprofit organization. They were worried that I was trying to solve a problem [trafficking] that was never going to get any better. They thought it was impossible to help girls who "don't want to help themselves." But I talked to them and eventually they started to help me. My biggest supporters were actually my husband and my father. They told me to not be impatient, and to really trust my inner voice. This was very important for me because I was pretty impatient in the beginning. I wanted to save every girl possible, but first I had to build a structure to do that.
Why do you think trafficking is such a big issue in your country?
I think that for a long time Uzbek people and the government hid the problem. We are a secretive society that does not like to share their problems with the world. A good Uzbek woman had to be first a daughter, than a wife, and finally a good mother. The girls who went abroad were not considered to be good girls. People thought any girl who would do this are just doing it be a prostitute. They did not realize the true deception of the traffickers. Most of these girls need the money -- that is why they agree to go.
For a long time, no one here really sat back and wondered about how these girls get abroad. No one asked what the problems were that a girl was so desperate to agree to go with a stranger to a foreign country. People just kept closing their eyes, and every time they opened them, the problem was bigger. I decided that we needed a hotline for people to call and ask us questions. A lot of girls call us about their offers to work abroad. And a lot of families call us because they want to find their daughters. I think that any one can look at our country and see that we are at a crossroads. The economy, patriarchal views of the woman, corruption -- it all leads to a fertile ground for girls to be kidnapped into slavery.
Do you think your government is dealing with the problem of trafficking in an adequate way?
If we compare the trafficking situation from one year ago, to the present one than we can be sure the situation has improved a little. I think that the latest U.S. Department of State report, "Trafficking In Persons," released this summer has made an influence on my country's attitude to trafficking prevention and prosecution of offenders. Our country was classified as Tier 3, which means we are one of the worst countries for trafficking. Before this report was released, our country didn't really tackle these issues seriously. But, now we are already busting trafficking rings that have been in existence for a long time. I really hope that our government will make relevant conclusions and direct all its efforts in preventing this human tragedy.
What has been the response of the girls you speak to when you tell them about trafficking?
When we held the seminars for schoolgirls in Tashkent, the girls were really skeptical in the beginning. They only knew very little about the problem, and they were certain that good girls would not be caught in that situation. We told them about the real picture. They learned about the ways that a girl can be tricked into thinking that the job is teaching languages, selling clothes, or translating. We also told them that really poor girls are often the most vulnerable because they are afraid of living on the streets.
After these talks, they started to understand why a girl would go abroad. This is very important because girls who go are often thought of as "bad women" or "sluts." They were really shocked about the beatings, forced sex, and even deaths of the girls who are trafficked. They didn't know about any of this even thought the problem is very big in our country. The more that these girls know about the problem, the better they can handle dangerous situations or false job offers. These seminars can save their lives.
What are your future goals for yourself and your organization?
First of all we are going to expand the "Information Campaign For Antitrafficking" all over the country. For the past year we have gained a lot of partners and support from organizations like FAIR Fund. This shows that our work is being recognized, and that we are becoming stronger. The information campaign will include establishing more hotline call centers in our three branch offices in Termez, Jizzak, and Syrdarya and highlighting the trafficking issue through collaboration with the local press in these regions. (Originally published on June 7.)