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The Trafficking of NIS Women Abroad
An International Conference in Moscow 3-5 November 1997 Conference Report
Prepared by the Global Survival Network in collaboration with The International League for Human Rights

ILHR Briefing Spring 1998

Trafficing Women in the Former U.S.S.R

Prepared Opening Remarks, Moscow Conference 11/97

Steven Galster
Executive Director, Global Survival Network

The Global Survival Network (GSN) is a human rights and environmental non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. GSN works as an international organization with consultants in many different countries. GSN stumbled upon this project while investigating the illegal trade in wildlife in the Russian Far East. A Russian mafia group that was trading tiger bones to China and tiger skins to Japan, was also trading Russian women to Japan. GSN was looking for a way to pass on this information. However, the authorities were not responsive. Members of local NGOs were sometimes aware of the expanding trade in women and girls for forced prostitution but were unable to do much about it. Government apathy---and possible complicity--- combined with Russian mafia involvement in trafficking operations prevented authorities from investigating. GSN thus came in as an outside, investigative NGO. Investigations focused on the import and export sides of the trade.

GSN conducted a study from August 1995 through the autumn of 1997 to uncover the rapidly growing trade in Russian women for the purposes of forced prostitution. GSN conducted open interviews with numerous non-governmental organizations, more than fifty women who had been trafficked overseas, and police and government officials in Russia, Western Europe, Asia and the United States.

GSN also conducted some less conventional research. We established a dummy company that purportedly specialized in importing foreign women. The company was based in the United States and claimed to specialize in Foreign Models, Escorts and Entertainersî. There were business cards, brochures, a telephone and a fax line to give the operation a look of authenticity. Under the guise of this company, GSN successfully gained entry to the shadowy operations of international trafficking networks in Russia and beyond.

During the investigation, GSN met Russian pimps and traffickers who revealed their modus operandi and the identities of their financial investors and overseas partners. Together with information collected through interviews with NGOs, law enforcement agencies, trafficked women and relevant news reports, this information provided enough detail to target several countries where Russian women and girls work as prostitutes in substantial numbers, including Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Macau and the United States. Wherever legal, interviews were recorded by hidden camera directly inside the establishments where trafficked women were working. Wherever possible, the investigators revealed the nature of their work.

In cases where the safety and privacy of interviewees, or security conditions for investigator and interviewee needed to be preserved, pseudonyms have been used in the report Crime and Servitude. The videotaped material has been transcribed and forms the basis for GSNs video Bought and Soldî.

Prepared Opening Remarks, Moscow Conference 11/97

Gillian Caldwell
Co-Director, Global Survival Network
My name is Gillian Caldwell, and I am the Co-Director of the Global Survival Network, a Washington DC-based non-profit organization. The Global Survival Network is a non-profit organization which exposes and addresses human rights and environmental violations.

In 1995, we discovered a criminal group which was trading Siberian tiger pelts in the Russian Far East. They were also selling Russian women to Japan. This discovery led us on a two-year investigation into the trafficking of women for forced prostitution from Russia and the Newly Independent States. In a few moments we will show you the documentary film we produced based on our investigation that is called BOUGHT & SOLD, and gives you an insiders perspective on how the international trade in women actually works.

You may be aware that there is considerable controversy surrounding the definition of the term trafficking.For purposes of our investigation, we adopted the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women definition, which defines trafficking as All acts involved in the recruitment or transportation of a woman, within or across national borders, for work or services, by means of violence or threat of violence, debt bondage, deception or other coercion. It is important to emphasize that women may be trafficked for a number of reasons in addition to forced prostitution, including exploitative domestic service in private homes, and indentured servitude in sweatshops.

The United Nations estimates that criminal groups rake in more than seven billion dollars annually from trafficking human beings, rivaling the lucrative trade in guns and drugs. Originally, Latin America and Asia were the main sources of women for the trafficking business. Now, since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the transition to a market economy began, the former Eastern Bloc is an increasingly important source of women for trafficking networks. In several Western European countries, women from the former Eastern Bloc constitute up to three quarters of the trafficked women seeking help from non-governmental organizations. This reality is a direct result of the fact that the economic status of women has declined dramatically in the transition to a market economy. In the Russian Federation, for example, women represent between 70 and 95 percent of the unemployed, and they face rampant sexual harassment and discrimination.

Trafficking must be seen as part of the worldwide feminization of poverty and of labor migration. Women are structurally denied access to the formal and regulated labor markets, and pushed into unprotected or criminalized labor markets, such as sexual and exploitative domestic work. Just to give you an example of how dramatic the increases have been in women from Russia and the NIS trafficked to locations throughout the world, we learned that in 1989, 378 women from the entire Soviet Union entered Japan as entertainers visas; in 1995, 4,763 women entered Japan from Russia alone on entertainers permits. Although not all women entering the country on entertainers permits are entering through trafficking networks and forced to work as prostitutes, entertainers visas are frequently used by traffickers, and few Russian women have the disposable income to travel to Japan to work without assistance from one of the many organizations offering to front the money for travel and expenses, which creates the debt bondage relationships they will have difficulty escaping.

In our investigation, we interviewed women trafficked overseas, non-governmental groups working with them, and law enforcement in countries of origin and destination. We also posed as foreign buyers of women and filmed meetings with hidden cameras of Russian mafiya groups trafficking women abroad. We produced a documentary film based on our investigation, which demonstrates that trafficking is a criminal business, protected by Russian organized crime and other organized criminal syndicates, which provides a krishaî, or roof for the business. Our investigations also revealed serious allegations of government complicity in the business, including allegations that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was falsifying passports to get under-age girls out of the country.

But there are other forms of complicity as well. For example, consider the complicity of sending countries, such as the Phillippines, whose national economy relies on labor export and the hard currency sent home by migrant women, without assuming any responsibility for the conditions under which they work. And receiving countries in the West which too often respond to trafficking in terms of the primary state interests in limiting migration, and cracking down on organized crime. We found that stricter immigration regulations simply increase a migrant womans reliance on organized criminal groups, which offer to handle her visa and travel arrangements. And government pressure is too often placed on women to testify against criminal groups without appropriate protections, including stays of deportation, witness protection and relocation programs. Trafficked women must be recognized as victims of human rights abuses, rather than as illegal migrants, and as criminals.

© Copyright 2001, International League of Human Rights