Thursday, March 8, 2001 1:32 PM ET

Marie-Louise Moller

EU Plans to Protect Sex Slaves Who Give Evidence

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Commission said Thursday it wanted to give women caught in Europe's growing sex-slave trade special protection, including temporary permits to stay in the wealthy bloc, if they gave evidence against pimps and smugglers.

Launching a campaign against human trafficking to coincide with International Women's Day, EU Justice Commissioner Antonio Vitorino said he planned to make concrete proposals within weeks.

"We can only be effective in fighting against criminal networks that traffic in women if we can count on the cooperation of the victims in the investigations," Vitorino told a meeting at the European Parliament.

"The Commission intends to propose in the next few weeks … that these women are offered a temporary permit of stay." The proposal would have to win support from all 15 member states to take effect.

Traffickers often exploit women's illegal status in Western Europe to intimidate them and prevent them from seeking help from the police. They usually confiscate the women's passports.

Brussels estimates that up to 120,000 women and children are sold into EU sex markets each year.

European Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou told the meeting that traffickers could make up to $250,000 selling and reselling one woman. For many women, "the only escape is death," she said.

For the traffickers, the trade is less risky than drug smuggling. But Diamantopoulou said many women were killed as a result of trafficking.

Hundreds Of Bodies Found Each Year

"Corpses of several hundred women are found each year, and Europol thinks many more bodies are never found," she added.

Most of those smuggled into the wealthy Western bloc to work under "conditions akin to slavery" are from Central and Eastern Europe, mainly the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine and Russia.

"The victims are subjected to violence, rape, battery and extreme cruelty," the Commission said in a background note.

Most of those smuggled across EU borders are aged between 15 and 18. Many are duped by promises of money and comfort inside the bloc working as nannies or in restaurants and beauty parlors.

Swedish Minister for Gender Equality Affairs Margareta Winberg, who also attended Thursday's meeting, criticized EU partners for failing to crack down on customers of sex slaves.

"We know all EU states ban trafficking, but I'm sorry to say they don't see the link between trafficking and prostitution … and therefore do not approach the demand," she said.

Stockholm last year implemented legislation to prosecute men who pay for prostitutes. Officials say the move has cut street prostitution by 70 percent.

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Created: March 11, 2001
Last modified: September 1, 2001
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