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'They Could Kill You, And No One Would Ever Know': Interview With A Trafficking Victim

Valentina Ursu, a correspondent with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service, spoke to Svetlana, a young trafficking victim, in Chisinau International Airport, where she was returning under police escort after being trafficked to Turkey.

Svetlana: A friend of mine told me that I should go with her abroad, to work in the market. She took care of my documents, and I was sent through the city of Comrat, then to Ukraine and on to Turkey. I arrived at a flat where there were lots of girls. They spoke Russian, and I asked them what they were doing there. They asked, didn't I know already? I said I didn't, and that I had come to work in a market and sell clothes. Then a man came and took me away in a car. He was Turkish, but spoke Romanian. He told me that if I didn't want to work for him [as a prostitute] that he would just sell me to another place. I was frightened and started to cry. He told me, "We can't send you home -- we paid 3,000 euros for you." I went back to flat. The girl who had brought me there was gone. I never saw her again.

RFE/RL: How long did you stay there?

Svetlana: Nine months. I was sold three times. I never had any money of my own.

RFE/RL: You trusted your friend, the girl who took you there. Had you been looking to leave Moldova?

Svetlana: I had a very tough time with my parents. I had a difficult life, and they promised me something. When I arrived there, I had no choice.

RFE/RL: How old were you?

Svetlana: I was 18. The clients would cut us with knives. They used drugs. After a month and a half, I was able to pay off the 3,000 euros, but then they sold me to another guy, saying that my "debt" was now 4,000 euros. This time I was sold to an Azerbaijani woman. I was locked up. I had to be with 15 men a day, sometimes even 20. They would beat me until I fainted, then throw water on me and tell me it was time to "work." There was nothing you could do. They had guards watching you at all times. It was impossible to leave.

RFE/RL: It sounds like a very organized network.

Svetlana: Yes, very well organized. There were lots of old men who came. They beat us because we didn't want to go with them. The people keeping us were like wolves, they didn't have a soul. They didn't let us even see the sunlight. They didn't feed us. We got some olives and bread, nothing else. If they thought I was too fat, they forced me not to eat -- only cigarettes and coffee -- so that the clients would like me more. But the other girls would help me and secretly bring me food. I got just two cups of water a day.

The women who go there think they'll be able to make money. It's not possible. The Turks lie. They abuse you because you're a foreigner; they treated us like stray cats, especially when we didn't know their language, which I didn't.

It was horrible to have sex with men there. They do whatever they want. They asked me why I was always crying. I told them, but they didn't do anything.

Some of the clients were policemen. As soon as they heard you were thinking of how to escape, they would tell the guards. They could kill you then, and no one would ever know. They keep a gun with them at all times. Even the taxi driver who took us to the clients couldn't do anything.

There were 40 of us girls. Some of them were married, and had children. They promised the women they would get lots of money for their children. But it wasn't true.

RFE/RL: Were there also men who had been trafficked?

Svetlana: Yes. They came to work as laborers, but there are a lot of very wealthy women who would use them for sex. I met several men like this in Turkey.

RFE/RL: In the end, a policeman helped you?

Svetlana: He was from another town. He was a client, and he paid extra so that he could take me out, to have dinner together. During dinner, he called some other police to ask for help. They asked about my documents, and I said that I didn't have any. The police went to the place where I was kept and arrested everyone. The girls were all freed. I spent a month in police detention; it was just as bad. I wouldn't wish this on anyone. There was no warm water. I had to sleep on the ground.

RFE/RL: How do you feel now?

Svetlana: I understand that it doesn't matter how difficult life is in Moldova -- you can still live with the parents you have. Our family is all we have, and this is what I came to understand. Your friends, even your best ones, can just sell you.

RFE/RL: Do you know other girls who have had the same experience?

Svetlana: Some of them were with me. I was the only one from Moldova, but there were girls from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

RFE/RL: Did you ever find out to whom you were sold the first time?

Svetlana: Yes, but I can't do anything against that person. They have documents and no one can do anything to them. They have money, so even if they get put in jail, they'll be out just as fast. Only God can punish these people.

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