Monday, January 4, 2010

By Kate Transchel — Special to GlobalPost

CHISINAU, Moldova and CHICO, California — “They brought us to a hotel and led us up a staircase — seven floors.

"I remember … wondering when they would let me go to my sister. The big Russian woman led us into a room with couches against the walls. There were men sitting, talking, drinking tea, laughing on the couches. One girl started to cry silently. I suddenly understood what was happening.

"They made the first girl stand in the middle of the room. They ordered her to take off her top. She hesitated so they beat her. Then it was my turn. I lifted my top for a second and pulled it right down. Then I noticed the curtains fluttering out the open window…. Time slowed. I heard a ringing in my ears and the room faded. I remember that I said a prayer — ‘God give me wings.’ I ran across the room and jumped over the men on the couch and out the window.”

When Marina woke up in the hospital she had shattered one leg and broken the other. She had a concussion and some internal bleeding. It was only then that she discovered that the Russian woman she had paid to take her to Italy had taken her to Istanbul instead and sold her to modern-day slavers. She was one of several women being auctioned to brothel owners when she jumped out the hotel window.

I met Marina in the fall of 2008 in her village, Drotcia, where I was doing field research for a book on human trafficking. One of her legs is held together by a pin and she walks with a pronounced limp. She continues to suffer from nightmares and headaches. Yet, hers is a rare success story. Many thousands of other women from Russia and Eastern Europe are not so lucky.

Generating an estimated $32 billion dollars annually, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world today. It is also the most lucrative. According to a 2005 International Labor Office (ILO) report, just a single female held for sexual exploitation yields an average of $67,200 annually in Western Europe and North America.

The United Nations estimates that between 800,000 and 4 million men, women and children are deceived, recruited, transported from their homes and sold into slavery around the world each year. Eighty percent are women, girls and young boys trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation. Of these, more than 200,000 women and children from Russia and Eastern Europe are forced into prostitution each year.

Western demand for Eastern European prostitutes fuels today’s sex-slave industry. Currently, the market for Slavic woman and children in brothels and in pornography in "developed" countries — particularly the EU and the U.S. — is the hottest compared to other parts of the world, and is drawing on an endless supply of impoverished and vulnerable women.

A multitude of recent studies try to explain why women get snared into the trade in flesh. Researchers point to poverty, chronic unemployment, domestic violence and drug addiction as the primary “push factors.”

But sadly, there isn’t enough discussion of the real root of the problem — the men. Human trafficking is basically international sexual terrorism perpetrated against women and children on a mass scale by men. It is their demand for illicit or predatory sex that generates huge profits for the slavers and leaves behind the tortured minds and broken bodies of those women and children they violate.

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