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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sex Slave Hotline Expands to U.S.

WASHINGTON -- Russian-speaking women trapped in sexual servitude in the United States will soon be able to reach out for help through a toll-free international hotline advertised on printed cards, inside mint candy wrappers and perhaps even on lipstick tubes.

Two groups devoted to rescuing and repatriating victims of human trafficking from Russia and other former Soviet republics announced Monday that a help line already operating in parts of Europe will expand to the United States next month.

"I think the trafficking situation here is enormous," said Juliette Engel, founding director of the MiraMed Institute, which provides social programs for orphaned children and trafficking victims in Russia.

Engel said thousands of Russians are trafficked into the United States each year, although she did not have precise numbers. "I just saw a babushka wearing a billboard, marching up and down the streets of Moscow saying 'Great jobs for sexy girls in Chicago,'" Engel told a forum at the Johns Hopkins Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies to discuss the problem.

Engel described Russian web sites with one side in English reading "cheap women, you can fit three in a room, they'll serve 10 men a night" and the other in Russian saying "great jobs overseas, have your own apartment, don't pay for anything."

After more than a year of planning, MiraMed and the Angel Coalition, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations throughout Russia, opened the first toll-free international hotline in Germany, Netherlands and Belgium about a month ago.

Its extension to the United States means that specially trained operators -- including psychologists -- in Moscow will be on hand 24 hours a day to receive calls from Russian-speaking victims and their families or friends.

Using a sophisticated database developed by MiraMed, callers will be instantly referred to law enforcement agencies and other groups ready to help them wherever they are. Cards are being printed with the U.S. toll-free number 1-888-222-5673 and other information in Russian on them. The number is expected to go live in March.

In Europe, similar cards are distributed on the street, at job centers, in bars and nightclubs. Some European embassies in Moscow hand them out when Russian women apply for visas.

Engel has experimented with printing the help line number on the inside of candy wrappers and even hopes to extend it to feminine items like lipstick cases and tampons.

Between 14,000 and 17,000 victims of trafficking enter the United States each year, coming from many different countries, including South East Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

U.S. officials have documented cases of Latvian girls trafficked into sexual slavery in Chicago and Ukrainian girls taken to Los Angeles and Maryland.

Victims from Russia and Eastern Europe have testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and U.S. President George W. Bush devoted a speech to the issue during last year's presidential campaign.

The Bush administration has provided more than $295 million to support anti-trafficking programs in more than 120 countries.