Thursday, May 17, 2001

Geoffrey York

Ads for foreign jobs lure Russians into pimps' net

MOSCOW — For an unemployed young woman in a provincial Russian town, the advertisement with the Canadian flag is a beguiling answer to a life of poverty and misery.

The newspaper ad promises a world of wealth and comfort. With no qualifications needed, jobs are offered in Canada as a nanny, a maid or a massage therapist, with monthly salaries beginning at $2,500 (U.S.) — more than 20 times the typical wage in local factories.

What the women don't realize is that the colourful, Russian-language ad might be the first step toward sexual slavery. Lured by false promises of high-paying jobs, an estimated 50,000 women in the former Soviet Union are forced into prostitution in foreign countries every year.

Canada is believed to be one of more than 50 countries where these women and girls — mostly from Russia and Ukraine, some as young as 12 — are coerced into a life of misery. After arriving in the foreign country, their passports are seized by criminal gangs that threaten to beat or kill them if they refuse to work as prostitutes.

Now, a coalition of Russian activists has launched the country's first campaign to warn women about such trafficking. The campaign includes television and radio commercials, posters, buttons, and 600,000 brochures that are being distributed by hundreds of volunteers in Moscow and five other cities. A telephone hot line has been set up to give accurate information to women interested in the heavily advertised foreign jobs.

The campaign uses the image of a fish hook to warn women that the job offers are bait laid out by ruthless criminals.

"Don't be lured by promises," the brochures warn. "There are no real jobs behind these nice fašades. The task of these agencies is to send you to a foreign state and sell you there."

Activists say the biggest markets for Russian sex slaves are in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, China, and the Middle East. Hundreds of Russian firms are involved in the trafficking of women, they say.

The ad bearing the Canadian flag, which promises to take care of visa, passport and travel needs, is part of an exhibit called Dangerous Work at a Moscow social centre that teaches life skills to orphans.

Because teenaged orphans are often enticed into prostitution, the centre has joined the campaign. A dozen orphans helped hand out brochures at Moscow subway stations and shopping malls yesterday.

The activists cannot prove that the ads touting big salaries for people without job skills are designed to draw women into the clutches of criminals. But about 95 per cent of the jobs don't exist, they say.

When the women arrive in the foreign country, the traffickers force them to work as prostitutes to repay their travel expenses. Their wages are cut, making it impossible to repay the debts. They are also warned that they are in the country illegally and could be arrested if they turn to police or others for help. "They are isolated, beaten and terrorized," said Valentina Gorchakova, executive director of the Angel Coalition, an alliance of 43 regional groups taking part in the campaign.

"It is real slavery, like being in a prison. When their contracts expire, they are given to another owner and the cycle begins again."

In a 1999 survey, about 20 per cent of Russian respondents personally knew someone forced into sexual slavery. The United Nations estimates that the global trade in women for sex industries is worth as much as $12-billion (U.S.).

One of the biggest problems is the lack of proper legislation against sexual trafficking, the coalition says. The Russian criminal code prohibits the sale of children, but says nothing about the trade of women.

In a case described by the Angel Coalition, a 20-year-old Ukrainian woman named Tatyana was forced into sexual slavery in the United Arab Emirates. She was from a small town in the Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine, and could not find a job because factories there had closed. A friend told her that wealthy Arab families were hiring maids and paying as much as $4,000 a month.

When Tatyana arrived in the UAE, her passport was taken away and criminals sold her for $7,000 to a brothel. Tatyana eventually escaped and made her way to the UAE police. Instead of being helped, she was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail for prostitution.

Another Ukrainian, 18-year-old Irina, saw an ad in a Kiev newspaper for educational courses in Berlin. In Germany she found the school closed, but its officials told her she could find work in Brussels. When she arrived in Belgium, she was told that she had a $10,000 debt and would have to work as a prostitute to pay it off.

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Created: May 24, 2001
Last modified: September 1, 2001
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