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The Guardian (UK)
February 20, 2003
Moscow targets sex trade at last
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow

Russia has finally moved to outlaw human trafficking, which has led to many thousands of young women being sent abroad for exploitation as sex workers.

The Russian parliament, the Duma, has drafted legislation with the help of the United Nations to close a glaring gap in the current laws which means that such trafficking is not a criminal offence.

Official figures show that 7,500 women migrated legally last year, but experts estimate that up to 20 times that figure may be being trafficked illegally to countries such as Greece, Turkey and Portugal, where they are forced into the sex industry.

The new law will cover three main areas: ensuring that officials educate the public about trafficking, rehabilitating victims of trafficking, and forcing law enforcement officers to take action.

The legislation will focus on trafficking for the sex industry, which earns criminal gangs an estimated $7bn a year.

Elena Mizulina, an MP who was involved in drafting the law, said recently: "The problem of human trafficking is intercontinental. It is one of the most serious forms of organised crime alongside terrorism and drug trafficking.

"The profits of the slave trade are bigger than those from drugs."

Many methods are used to lure women into the sex trade. One is based around advertisements in Russian newspapers which promise unfeasibly good wages abroad in the tourism industry. When a woman arrives to start her new job, her documents are taken away and she is forced into prostitution.

"It is hard to estimate how many women are trafficked from Russia, as it is not a crime and not monitored," said Elena Turukanova, from the Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

"At present we can only estimate roughly that about 160,000 women are trafficked from Russia alone each year. This makes the amount officially recognised of 7,500 only 5% of the total.

"The majority - over 50% - end up in the sex industry. This can be open, like in the Netherlands, or it can be the underground world of strip shows, prostitution, and escorts."

"I am sceptical about the new law as it is impossible to stop this phenomenon which is deeply rooted in the economic system," she added.

"We cannot stop illegal migration but we are obliged to make it better. This is just the first step."

Last October a joint operation between Italian police and Europol resulted in the arrest of 80 people allegedly running a huge prostitution ring for the Russian mafia which had lured hundreds of women to foreign countries and forced them to work in the sex trade.

More than 1,000 police officers swooped on a network of travel agents, coach companies, and hotel owners in Italy, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

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