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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Bemoans Problems of Fighting the Sex Trade

The number of Russian women smuggled out of the country for sexual exploitation abroad has skyrocketed in recent years but police are virtually powerless to prevent it, Interior Ministry officials said at a news conference Tuesday.

The officials said the ministry had made little progress in fighting the problem because under Russian law neither prostitution nor trading in women for the purposes of prostitution is classed as a criminal offense.

"There is not even a legal definition for the trade of human beings; no distinction between who is an offender and who is a victim," Yevgeny Sadkov, the Interior Ministry's chief lawyer, said during the conference, which was held to discuss the ministry's efforts to curb trafficking in people.

Viktor Plekhanov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's organized crime directorate, said that while he was aware of an escalation in people trafficking he was unable to provide any concrete statistics about it, describing it as a "latent phenomenon."

Sadkov said it was impossible to talk about numbers when trafficking is not legally a crime.

Under Russian law, traffickers can be charged only for trading in minors, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Plekhanov said 24 such cases were opened in 2001 and 40 in 2000.

To charge traffickers in women, Russian police have so far been forced to use articles of the Criminal Code dealing with such crimes as illegal deprivation of freedom, illegal crossing of the border and illegal business activities, Sadkov said.

Earlier this month, however, President Vladimir Putin ordered ministries to come up with a legal solution to the problem, he said.

The Interior Ministry has already drawn up a set of amendments to the Criminal Code which would make trafficking in people a crime, Sadkov said. The amendments have already been examined by experts at the Justice Ministry and will be presented in a bill to the State Duma this fall, he added.

Igor Martynov, also of the Interior Ministry, said Tuesday that in some ongoing cases isolated criminal groups have trafficked as many as 100 women.

In just one raid in Nice last year, French police detained 30 Russian women and four Russian pimps for whom they were working, Martynov said. The women were recruited through a Rostov-on-Don tourist firm registered under an assumed name, he added.

Juliette Engel, director of international relations for the Angel Coalition, a nongovernmental organization that fights trafficking, claimed Tuesday that as many as 50,000 Russian women are forced into sex slavery abroad annually and that the industry is worth $7 billion per year.

Traffickers' methods have remained unchanged since the early 1990s. Russian women are invited to apply for well-paid jobs overseas as nannies, dancers or waitresses through recruitment or tourist agencies. Then on arrival in the foreign country, pimps take away their passports and force them to work as prostitutes.

Plekhanov said the main destinations for Russian sex slaves are Western Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Saudi Arabia.

"Russian women are in high demand in many countries because of their exotic nature, relative novelty and cheap price on the sex market," he said.

Martynov claimed that most trafficked women knew perfectly well what kind of work was expected of them abroad. He said the role of a deceived victim of trafficking was very convenient for stirring the pity of foreign police and escaping charges of illegal prostitution.

Engel angrily rebutted Martynov's comments. "It is convenient for Russian police to depict the victims as guilty -- then they don't have to do anything," she said in a telephone interview.

In the U.S. State Department's 2002 Trafficking in Persons Report, released in June, Russia was listed in the lowest category of 89 countries surveyed. The report said that Russia, along with 18 other countries, did not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of people trafficking and was not making significant efforts to do so.