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
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
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
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
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
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.