Reporter : Marion Mayer-Hohdahl
Camera: Stefan Reisinger
VT editor: Frank Huzij
The former Soviet republic of Moldova is one of the poorest countries in the world. And, one of the easiest countries in Europe to recruit women for the sex trade. All it takes is a promise of work in the rich West. Once there, most of women are forced into prostitution, their passports are taken, they are beaten, abused and sometimes tortured. Europol estimates the illegal trafficking of women runs to over a billion dollars. In Vienna, in mid-September, 2003, an international working group under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE met to look at ways of stopping the human trade. This report talks to sex-slave victims in Moldova. The women have kept their faces hidden to prevent identification.
Video clip, the UN against drugs and criminality
Tens of thousands of women are forced into prostitution against their will. In over 30 countries, the United Nations is starting its information campaign against the trafficking of women with this video. Telephone numbers are given where women can get help.
Like here in La Strada in Chisinau (pronounced Kischinau), Moldova. Around the clock, seven days a week, the help organisation can be reached. Since they opened their lines in September 2001, they’ve had over 7’000 calls. Moldova is one of the poorest of the former Soviet Union republics. Which is why human traffickers have it so easy.
La Strada – women’s rights organisation
“Many people leave to find a well-paid job. Unfortunately, this is a good situation for traffickers of women. They sell their prey for nothing – for 10 dollars – and then the girls are transported illegally, via Romania, and over the border into Western Europe.”
This woman needed money for medicine and just wanted to work for a short time as a waitress in Italy. She was forced to stay away for three years during which time she was sold seven times.
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“I was taken to Bosnia and not to Italy. I was forced into sex work. I was locked up. My passport was taken away from me. I thought only about my children – I just had to endure what was happening.”
Today, the 30-year-old takes us to her parents in one of the countless small villages in Moldova. There’s no running water, no bath and the entire family has to work in the fields to survive. They don’t know about her terrible experiences.
Her children lived here, without knowing why their mother never sent a message and never sent any money. Particularly, even though she had abandoned them to earn money.
Unofficially, the rate of unemployment in Moldova is around 70 per cent. Before independence, Russians used to come to this fertile land - known for its wine and fruit - for holidays. But nobody comes here any more. Every fourth Moldavian lives abroad – legally or illegally. The money they send home makes up over half of the gross national product. There’s a huge flow of young people leaving the country to escape the poverty and misery of village life.
They promise to come back soon. This young woman wants to start a new life with her children. For the time being she’s living in a Rehab centre. Here, homecoming prostitutes find refuge. Shortly, a new section will be opened to welcome minors who’ve been forced to work as sex slaves.
In the capital of Chisinau the information campaign for young people has already started. Young Moldavian women are warned against the dangers and tricks of traffickers. Up to 80 per cent of prostitutes in the brothels of Southern Europe come from Moldova, says a non-governmental organisation. The authorities here deny this figure, but the poster warns, “Don’t let yourself be sold.”
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IOM – International Organisation for Migration
“She was thrown out of a 7th story window in Turkey and this one was so severely beaten over her head and face that she is now blind. And this woman will probably lose her leg and she’s only 20. And, see, this woman has cigarette burns. They try to torture them. These are peoples lives we are dealing with and I hope that we can do something to stop it.”
The pins cover the whole country. Each one marks the place where one or more women, who had been forced into prostitution, live. Red means more than 20 victims in one town.
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“These girls come from very poor circumstances. Many of them were raped or sexually assaulted. They want to change their lives and grab every opportunity.”
An opportunity can look like this. This Moldavian girl was hidden under a car bonnet when Israeli police discovered her. The traffickers are well organised on an international level. They’re equipped with weapons and explosives. According to Europol, prostitution is a billion euro business. The money is ploughed back into the drugs and weapon trade. The chronically underpaid police can do little about it.
Lieutenant, Police special unit
“The problem with the trade in women began straight after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. The gangsters take the girls directly to Romania and smuggle them out. With every border crossing the price rises –according to their beauty.”
Traffickers, smugglers and pimps meet in this bar to recruit girls to send abroad. The special police unit for fighting human trafficking has only become active recently. Twenty-seven police work for the unit. But they lack cars and money. Over 100 traders in women have been arrested, but most of them go free. (103) They can afford highly paid lawyers. And, of course, there is corruption. The police don’t have an easy life. They get paid around 100 euros a month – and even for Moldova, that’s not much. This man isn’t just trafficking women, he’s also looking for young boys to supply homosexuals.
He contests every point. He wasn’t aware of anything … Yugoslavs are the culprits. Not him. But the facts tell a different story.
Since summer 2001, human trafficking in Moldova is illegal. And, since then, a fresh wind has been blowing.
International aid organisations have been giving money to rehabilitate former prostitutes. Here they can get an education and a future - so they won’t fall for the lure of gold and glitter abroad again.
This theatre piece is based on a horror story of trafficked women. It’s been acted out over 20 times in villages in Moldova to warn young girls of the dangers they face.
“Most of the women have nightmares or think about suicide. Some are aggressive because they blame themselves for their misery. They trust no one anymore.”
Like this girl. As a minor, she believed the false promises and became a victim. Four years ago, she was taken by bus to Romania and later ended up in a bar in Kosovo.
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“The traffickers are monsters. They hit us. They were all armed. I had to do what they wanted. Now, I just want to forget everything.”
That’s what they all want. But it’s not that easy.