. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Trafficking In Women Said Rising

VIENNA -- European Commissioner Anita Gradin on Monday told a conference a harrowing tale of a Polish mother of four forced into prostitution in Germany after falling for empty promises of a good life in the West.

Justice Commissioner Gradin told delegates the unemployed 30-year-old had been lured from her home by a businessman who said he could get her well-paid work in Germany as a waitress.

Instead she was raped and blackmailed.

"If she refused to work as a prostitute she was warned her family would receive pictures of her ordeal in the mail," Gradin said.

The commissioner, who is chairing the European Commission's two-day conference on trafficking in women, said the Polish woman was an example of a growing slave trade in Europe and represented thousands in a similar situation.

"No country is completely free of trade in women ... They are driven away by poor conditions in their home country and forced into a deplorable life. It's a shame for all our countries," Gradin said.

The European Union estimates there are between 200,000 and 500,000 women living outside their countries as prostitutes, most of them victims of organized prostitution rings.

They are smuggled over borders, stripped of their papers and rights and forced into prostitution. Harsh treatment and exposure to diseases like AIDS go with the territory.

In many countries foreign prostitutes far outnumber nationals. In Germany, foreign prostitutes make up about 75 percent of the total, in Italy 80 percent. In Austria, some 85 percent of women working in bars and brothels are from abroad, mostly from the ex-communist states of Eastern Europe.

Gradin said trafficking in women had surged over the past five years, arguing that European nations had a duty to help the victims of the cruel trade.

She called for tougher penalties and said existing laws meant trafficking in women was less risky than smuggling drugs.

Representatives from 15 EU governments were participating in the conference along with delegates from EU aspirants from Eastern Europe, Cyprus and Malta. The United States, Canada and the United Nations are also represented along with the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and numerous nongovernmental organizations.

Delegates were to discuss the problem of trafficking by considering illegal immigration, changes to legislation to impose tougher penalties, cooperation in law enforcement and victim support and witness protection.

An EU report said criminal groups earmarked women from certain countries for particular destinations. Women from the Dominican Republic often end up in Spain or Italy, while Thai women are targeted for the Netherlands or Germany.