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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Without a Law, Sex Slavery Flourishes

When Svetlana Posvezhinnaya saw a newspaper advertisement two years ago offering young women jobs as dancers in Turkish restaurants, she leapt at the chance to get out of dreary Chelyabinsk and make some money.

"They offered $20 for one evening, a fantastic sum for a saleswoman like me in Chelyabinsk," she said in a telephone interview.

For several weeks, Posvezhinnaya, then 27, and seven other women received dance lessons from the private company that placed the ad and were then flown from Chelyabinsk, an industrial city in the Urals, to the Turkish resort of Samsun.

"By that time, each of us owed the company $370 for tickets, visas, transfers and medical examinations," Posvezhinnaya said.

"Then, we began dancing in a local casino, but the managers refused to pay us and urged us to have sex with the clients to repay our debts."

She said most of the women in her group readily agreed and ended up having sex with up to 10 men per day for a few dollars.

Posvezhinnaya's story is typical in a flourishing sex business that takes thousands of Russian women abroad every year, according to the Angel Coalition, a public entity uniting 43 nongovernmental anti-human trafficking organizations in 25 Russian regions. The Angel Coalition estimates that at least 3,500 Russian women become sex slaves abroad every year.

"We are the third-largest supplier of sex slaves on the European market after Moldova and Ukraine," said the organization's director, Marianna Solomatova.

The favored destination countries in the trafficking of women are Cyprus, Germany, Turkey and France, she said.

Prostitution is an extremely profitable business, with male clients in Europe and Turkey paying from $50 to $100 for an hour or two of sex, Solomatova said. The woman's cut is $5 to $20.

It also is a safe business because legislation outlawing human trafficking is only in its initial stages in the State Duma. An anti-human trafficking bill, drafted by a joint commission of governmental agencies and public organizations, was submitted to the Duma in February and is to be considered in a first reading later this month. In April, the Duma adopted in the first reading seven amendments to the Criminal Code that introduce prison sentences of up to 10 years for those who participate in human trafficking.

"As of today, we cannot charge those who trade in people. We have to resort to related charges such as illegally operating a business or kidnapping," said Interior Ministry spokeswoman Tamara Veligurova. "Also, we have problems obtaining evidence. Prostitutes and other victims are afraid to complain to the authorities."

In Turkey, Posvezhinnaya refused to have sex. Her Turkish manager drove her out of town one night and threw her out of the car, leaving her without any documents or money. She did not speak Turkish.

Posvezhinnaya was lucky. The Angel Coalition has collected a thick file containing mind-numbing reports about what has happened to women who refused to engage in sex. Some were burned alive as an example to others.

Solomatova said, however, that the usual way to make the women relent is to take away their documents.

Stranded in Turkey, Posvezhinnaya said she had no choice but to sell herself to get money to eat. "It was always against my will, but I could not survive otherwise," she said, her voice rising defensively.

After a few weeks she was arrested and deported to Odessa, Ukraine, where her parents picked her up and brought her back to Chelyabinsk.

Posvezhinnaya has returned to work at a supermarket and gotten married.

She said she tried to sue the company that lured her to Turkey, but local authorities rejected her complaint -- leading her to believe they might be in cahoots with the company.

In Chelyabinsk alone, about 40 women go abroad every year hoping to earn a little money as waitresses, nannies or dancers, said Larisa Vasilyeva, head of the Chelyabinsk branch of the Angel Coalition. Some of them hope to marry a foreigner. "Call it naivete, but they sincerely believe the offers usually made by traffickers who disguise themselves as tourist and employment agencies," Vasilyeva said.

One 17-year-old woman who returned to Chelyabinsk after working as a prostitute in Cyprus for three months in 2001 left a written account of her stay with the Angel Coalition.

The woman, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Maria, went to a local employment agency after finishing school and was offered a job as an escort in Cyprus.

"I was told that I would be paid good money, eat in luxurious restaurants, receive presents and live in villas," she wrote. "If you don't like a man, they told me, I could refuse to be intimate with him. I would be treated like a queen."

Once she arrived in Cyprus, a representative of the agency passed her and several other women to a Cypriot man, their "master," and departed. "I and two other girls were locked in an apartment and, as if on a conveyor belt, clients were sent to us," she said.

The men came from early in the morning to late at night. "We could not leave the apartment and could not make phone calls, as the line was cut. We did not know English and could not ask anyone for help," Maria said.

In two weeks she paid off the $600 she owed to the Chelyabinsk agency and, two weeks after that, she repaid a "commission" to her master.

She was only sent home after three months when she discovered that she had contracted a venereal disease.

The Angel Coalition tried to help Maria find a job or continue her education for two years but to no avail, Vasilyeva said.

"Maria now is somewhere in Europe working as a prostitute," she said. "For most former sex slaves, their experience is so degrading that they begin to regard prostitution as an easy and profitable trade, as something trivial."

Of the seven dancers who went with Posvezhinnaya to Turkey, all are now selling themselves in Chelyabinsk or abroad, Posvezhinnaya said.

"They think that if they stay smart, nothing bad will happen," she said.