An Eastern Europe Epidemic: Human Trafficking and Its Victims

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An Eastern Europe Epidemic: Human Trafficking and its Victims

With a market economy that is more open than ever before, both legitimate and illegitimate businesses across Europe are benefitting (Philips). Though the drug trade is often thought of as being the most prolific illegal trade, according to security experts, human trafficking has recently surpassed the drug trade as the largest illegal business in the world (BBC News). Thanks to economic recession, Eastern Europe is considered to be on the brink of a “dramatic rise” in human trafficking, as its’ citizens look abroad for jobs that are unavailable in their home countries (Lowry).

Trafficking is often considered to be just another term for human smuggling, which is not the case at all. Human smuggling is done to avoid immigration laws, and is planned with consent given from all parties. Human trafficking, as defined by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” Sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking and makes up seventy-nine percent of trafficking cases worldwide (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). Of the 500,000 women trafficked annually into Western Europe for sexual purposes, two-thirds of them are from Eastern Europe and have never been involved in the sex trade in any way (Coalition Against Trafficking Women). These women by no means choose their fate. More often than not, they are essentially tricked into leaving their homelands by the promise of a good paying job elsewhere, such as in Greece or Italy. Surprisingly enough, fifty-eight percent of those who “recruit” these women are acquaintances, friends, or even family members (International Organization for Migration via MSNBC), an unfortunate act of desperation brought on by rampant unemployment and the economic hardships facing Eastern European countries today. Hardest hit by the economic recession, Moldova, a former Soviet republic, with one quarter of its population unemployed, has seen the worst of the trafficking; nearly ten percent of the country’s female population since 1991 has been sold into prostitution. Though many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working hard to disrupt the trafficking trade and free the thousands of young women trapped as sex slaves, success stories are few and far between. With help from U.S. funding, the I.O.M was able to safely return Moldovan women home to their families, but only 400 of the assumed hundreds of thousands that have been and are being victimized by the sex trade. Many women are not rescued out of fear; bodily harm or death has been threatened, either against them or their family members. This is but one of the numerous ways their captors maintain power over them. According to the Coalition Against the Trafficking of Women, the majority of those responsible for the trafficking and prostitution of these women throughout the European Union are from the Balkans, and include Russians, Yugoslavians, Ukrainians, Turks, and Albanians. Victims are found through newspaper ads, with the traffickers posing as contacts for employment opportunities, modeling or tourist agencies, or they are simply kidnapped. Once in their captive situations, many different methods are utilized to “condition” the girls. These methods include starvation, confinement, beatings, physical abuse, rape, gang rape, forced drug use and the threat of shaming by revealing their activities to their family and friends. The torment that the victims of sex trafficking must endure on a daily basis is overwhelming, and the living conditions are at best deplorable. Olga, a young woman of nineteen who was trafficked into Macedonia from her village in Moldova, was interviewed by MSNBC reporter Preston Mendenhall about her life in forced prostitution. The following is just a...
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