Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What Would Dickens Do?

In its 2003 trafficking report, the US State Department estimated that between 800,000 and 900,000 people are trafficked across international borders worldwide. Interpol says a trafficked woman can bring in anywhere from $75,000 to $250,000 a year. This helps to make trafficking a $12 billion per year business, according to the United Nations. In other words: the world's third most lucrative activity, behind illegal weapons and drugs.

Orphanages in Ukraine, Romania and Russia -- like the one in the photo -- are suffering from drastic declines in government funding, making them vulnerable to the traffickers who lurk about the front gates -- or pay off the workers inside to secure their victims. One institution located in the Republic of Karelia in northwestern Russia near the Finnish border was targeted in 1999 by two recruiters who showed up promising jobs.

The beleaguered staff was overjoyed that these benevolent souls were taking an interest in the welfare of their girls. They knew full well the harsh reality the girls faced when they were turned out from the institution on their eighteenth birthday, and now at least a handful were being offered a fighting chance of making it on the outside. Following formal interviews, several hopefuls were selected for training in the art of Chinese cooking at a school in China. Their travel and instruction were to be free, with the proviso that they intern for two years as a waitress after their training.

About thirty girls anxiously signed up--all, not surprisingly, pretty, eager and naive. A week later, with their meager possessions, they boarded a bus. The excitement was palpable. And that was it. Instead of heading east to China, the bus barreled south, deep into Western Europe. The destination was a town in Germany, where they were taken to an apartment, locked up and deprived of food and water. The girls' dreams quickly degenerated into a grueling nightmare. They were yelled at constantly. Sometimes they were beaten. A few days later they were herded into the living room and ordered to disrobe before a group of men with bodyguards in tow. The thugs ogled the girls and began bidding, buying the orphans outright in lots of three, four and five. The girls were then distributed to various German brothels, where they were forced to have sex with up to ten men a day. Over a period of six months, a few managed to escape. Others were scooped up in police raids. Only then did the story of this horrific deception make its way back to the orphanages.

All quoted material and information can be found in The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade.