SEX TRAFFICKING IN MOLDOVA AND RUSSIA—WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Consider the story of Angela, a young woman from an extremely poor area of rural Moldova, who was sold into sex slavery at the age of 20. Angela had hoped to get a waitressing job in Italy via her cousin, who resides there. Eager to find cheap fare to Italy, she contacted the wrong people in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. As a result, traffickers abducted her, transporting her illegally to the United Arab Emirates, where she was forced to have sex with multiple men a day. Speaking to Eugen Tomiuc of Radio Free Europe, she recounts,
I did not want to go to work as a prostitute. I started crying and said I wanted to go back home, and I did not want to work. They told me, ‘If you don’t work, you’ll end up dead and buried in sand in the desert.’ I got scared, and I went with them. From 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., we had to work in a disco. All day long, we were locked up in a house. When we would not have enough clients, they would beat us up and lock us up until 9. When I did not want to work, they kept me locked up for a week and beat me. I got really scared, and I tried to swallow pills to make them get me out of the house [to a hospital]. But they simply sold me in another city.
As stated by the United States Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report, sex trafficking in Moldova and Russia is the worst in Europe. Worldwide, conservative numbers estimate that around 4 million women a year are trafficked into sex slavery, with one third of these women coming from Eastern Europe. To put that in perspective, the number of women trafficked from Eastern Europe per year is equal to the entire population of San Diego, California. What are the conditions in Moldova and Russia like so that women from these two nations are abducted by the thousands and sold into sex slavery throughout the world?
Moldova is the poorest nation in Europe, with the average estimated yearly wage for an adult being around $2,000.00. Moldova’s economy is so depressed that women are desperate to find any employment possible so that they and their families do not starve. In a cruel twist of fate, Moldovan girls report knowing they run a high risk of being sold into sex slavery if they attempt to travel to the capital or to seek employment outside of the country, yet they are so desperate that they often do so anyway. Similarly, the Russian economy is also flagging terribly due to a prolonged period of financial depression which began in 1998. This economic slump, coupled with gender inequality and a wage disparity that has left women earning as little as 40% as much as their male counterparts, has forced many Russian women into dire financial straits. Western men are notorious for flocking to Russia’s western cities for sex tourism, so it is important to note that we, as Americans, participate in sex slavery. There are so few economic opportunities in Russia that when polled about what occupation they hope to pursue, Russian girls often answer that they want to be prostitutes, as that is one of the few ways they know they can make a living.
What can be done to combat the abuses of human rights occurring in Russia and Moldova? The governments of both nations are notoriously corrupt, yet they are feeling strong international pressure to combat sex slavery from the UN and other agencies. Recent high-level arrests of officials complicit in sex trafficking in both nations suggest that Russian and Moldovan politicians are taking the plague of sex trafficking more seriously. The United States has funded a coalition to fight human trafficking in Moldova, while Russia recently adopted a law guaranteeing a prison sentence for those found to be collaborating with traffickers, and has entered into a partnership with the International Organization for Migration to provide rehabilitation and a new beginning for each woman rescued from the hellish existence into which they were forced.
For those of us who are not directly involved in the fight against sex slavery among Eastern Europeans, there are still myriad ways in which we can do our part to help. Many human rights scholars agree that the best way those of us in the West can help advocate is to donate to local grassroots organizations that intimately understand their area’s problems and best know the ways in which they can be overcome. For example, one such organization is the Angel Coalition in Russia. A non-governmental organization that is dedicated solely to combating sex trafficking in Russia, the Angel Coalition has established regional women’s shelters across Russia, Moldova, and the rest of Eastern Europe, works closely with legislators to further women’s rights, and produces public service announcements and information designed to alert young women to the dangers they face from sex traffickers. As with many non-governmental organizations, the Angel Coalition accepts donations, which makes it possible for people outside of Eastern Europe to help directly fight sex slavery.
Sex slavery has been called the human rights issue of the millennium, and we must do our part to end this travesty. Millions of Moldovan and Russian women face the threat of sex slavery daily, and for us to sit idly by while they struggle to survive would be participating directly in their oppression. Remember Angela, the young Moldovan woman sold into sex slavery, and know that it is possible to directly fight sex slavery so that innocent women like her do not have to endure the torments she faced. Though sex slavery in Russia and Moldova may seem like a distant problem to those of us in the West, through our action we may still save women from Angela’s fate.
Claire Fletcher is an MA student in the Department of Sociology at East Carolina University.