Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Twisted Circle of Violence and Exploitation

From the International Herald Tribune:

ATHENS: Sex traffickers in Greece have found a way to increase their illegal trade while avoiding detection: They are using their female victims as predators to find new recruits in the Balkans, Russia and former Soviet states.

"We are seeing more and more victims turn into perpetrators," said Evangelia Vamvakaki, head of the Greek police's sex-trafficking unit. "It's a recent, and escalating, phenomenon."

The unit detained 39 female trafficking suspects last year, a 24 percent increase from 2006, compared with 83 male suspects, a 53 percent drop. The female suspects are almost exclusively former prostitutes and chiefly from Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Three years ago female suspects were so rare that they were not distinguished in Greek police statistics. Now they account for 30 percent of suspects.

In Italy, which has a similar problem with sex trafficking, the anti-organized-crime national directorate said 19 percent of suspected traffickers currently under investigation were women but could not say what proportion were former victims.

In Greece, the emergence of more women as trafficking suspects is the result of a change in strategy by organized crime, migrant protection groups say.

"Traffickers are always one step ahead of the police - their latest trick is to use their victims for recruitment," said Daniel Esdras, director of the Athens office of the International Organization of Migration.

As the tactic relies on psychological exploitation rather than violence, it is perversely referred to as "happy trafficking," Esdras said.

Women are offered incentives: a way out of the sex trade, a visit to their homeland - but always at a price.

"The traffickers say, 'O.K., go home but come back with a new girl,' " said Vera Gracheva, an expert on former Soviet states at the countertrafficking office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, based in Vienna. "They do it - they are scared of what will happen if they don't."

Well-dressed and with full wallets, they return to their hometowns to lure girls - usually poor and desperate - with promises of easy cash.

"There are many cases they even approach relatives," said Mariana Yevsyukova of La Strada, a support group for trafficking victims in Ukraine. She said only a fraction of cases reach police attention as women rarely testify. Once the recruits have been convinced, forged documents are issued and travel arrangements made with the help of local ring members.

The quote from Daniel Esdras is sad, but becoming ever more apparent. Traffickers continue to find even more underhanded ways of conducting their work. Already aware of their victims' vulnerability, the traffickers manipulate the victims and striking fear into them to recruit new victims so that the trafficker's hands appear clean. Also from the same article:

"Many victims start identifying with their aggressors and even seeing them as potential saviors," said Stavros Boufidis, who runs a hostel for former trafficking victims in the northern port of Thessaloniki.

The traffickers build a complicated web of abuse and violence that bring victims into submission. And of course, as the victims become deeper involved into the process, the more afraid they become of coming to police. I was pleasantly surprised to see Mariana Yevsyukova quoted in the article. She's an incredibly smart, capable coworker.

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