- In June, 2002, I was walking down Knyaz Aleksandar I,
a pedestrianized shopping street in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, with a Bulgarian
friend. Home appliances and racks of designer clothes filled the display
windows of the stores. In a patronizing Western way, I commented approvingly
on Bulgaria's commercial vitality. My friend, a hard-rock musician with
two university degrees, politely corrected my impression. Almost no one
in Plovdiv, he said, could afford this merchandise: The stores, which rarely
made a sale, existed to launder money for Bulgarian criminals who earned
huge profits by smuggling people from Russia to the West.
- Until reading reporter Victor Malarek's angry book about
the trafficking of women from Eastern Europe, I grasped neither the scale
nor the implications of the activities that financed those Plovdiv boutiques.
According to Malarek, formerly an investigative reporter at The Globe and
Mail, now at W-FIVE, during the last decade, hundreds of thousands of women
from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania have been sold into slavery as
- Crime syndicates use a variety of methods to capture
young women. A girl walking down a road in Moldova is forced into a car.
An overflowing Romanian orphanage receives a visit from "social workers"
offering "apprentice programs" for adolescent girls. A young
Ukrainian woman desperate to help her starving parents responds to a newspaper
advertisement for au pairs to work in Germany. An ambitious young graduate
signs up with what appears to be a legitimate foreign corporation at a
job fair at a Russian university.
- These women are transported westward to be "broken"
by being raped and beaten. In cities such as Belgrade, Yugoslavia, stunned
women stand naked in secluded apartments waiting to be bought by pimps.
A woman can sell for as little as $500 or as much as $10,000. After being
sold, she will be locked in a room, fed one meal a day, tortured with cigarette
burns to destroy her self-esteem, and forced to have sex with up to a dozen
men a day, seven days a week, until exhaustion or disease wipe out her
market value. The pimp makes back his investment in less than a week.
- The scale of this traffic is mind-numbing. In Germany,
up to half a million Eastern European women work as prostitutes. The streets
of Italy are lined with Romanian and Moldovan teenagers. Other serious
offenders include Greece, Turkey and South Korea, while some of the "Natashas"
end up in Toronto, Chicago or Los Angeles. Among Malarek's most shocking
claims is that on a per capita basis the two countries with the most voracious
appetites for Eastern European women are Bosnia and Israel.
- Prostitution in Bosnia sprang up to serve the United
Nations troops and international aid workers who flooded into the country
at the end of the war in former Yugoslavia. Malarek slams home the irony
of these supposed emissaries of civilization feeding a barbaric industry
with descriptions of 60-year-old U.S. military officers showing up at social
events with their 14-year-old sex slaves. UN police demand "freebies"
in return for curtailing raids on brothels packed with UN soldiers. Malarek
documents how attempts to clean up the Bosnian cesspool have been blocked
by UN brass and the U.S. private security firm contracted to stock the
UN police. He discovers similar conditions on a visit to Kosovo.
- In Israel, it is common to blame rampant prostitution
on foreign guest workers. But Malarek argues that these men lack the money
to buy sex. The Israeli "Natashas," smuggled in via Egypt, service
an estimated one million men a month. Many of the johns are Orthodox Jews.
Malarek quotes Israeli anti-prostitution campaigner Nissan Ben-Ami: "You
see a lot of . . . very, very religious men -- because these men need sex
but the women in their society cannot give it to them when they want it.
They also cannot masturbate because they cannot waste their sperm. . .
. These men also do not use condoms, therefore they must pay the pimps
more." In every country where women are trafficked, the police are
involved. Enforcement is cosmetic and judges refuse to believe a "foreign
whore" over a local businessman. International plans to crack down
on trafficking collapsed earlier this year when the United States backed
out to avoid imposing economic sanctions on Israel, Russia, South Korea
- This is a depressing book, crammed with ugly case histories.
Malarek's tabloid-style prose does not always do justice to his diligent
research. When every pimp is "scum," every enforcer is "thuggish"
and the rare honest cops are all "strapping six-footers," a cartoonish
aura threatens the book's seriousness. The passages written in the first
person, where Malarek narrates his experiences in Kosovo or on the notorious
highway E-55 between Dresden and Prague, brim with authenticity yet leave
- Malarek's own Ukrainian-Canadian roots appear to fuel
his anger at the way women from different countries are stripped of their
cultural identities by the derisive term "Natashas." He reveals
just enough of his myriad motives for pursuing this story that we want
to know more. Similarly, he tells us how these women are exploited, but
little about where they come from. Many readers, I suspect, would have
appreciated a fuller introduction to the poverty, corruption and fatal
idealism about the West that afflict the women's homelands. It may be hard
to believe, but for many Eastern European young people anything seems preferable
to life at home -- until they discover what can be meant by "anything."
- Stephen Henighan is the author of Lost Province: Adventures
in a Moldovan Family. He teaches at the University of Guelph.
- Target: Orphans
- No doubt one of the most appalling aspects of the trade
is the targeting of orphans throughout Eastern Europe. In March, 2003,
for example, the U.S. State Department reported a "pattern of trafficking"
involving orphans in Moldova. According to the Country Reports on Human
Rights Practices, the girls at risk are those who "must leave orphanages
when they graduate," usually at sixteen or seventeen. Most have no
source of funds for living expenses or any education or training to get
a job. Traffickers often know precisely when these girls are to be turned
out of the institutions ("some orphanage directors sold information
. . . to traffickers") and are waiting for them, job offers in hand.
The State Department also notes that throughout Russia, there are "reports
of children being kidnapped or purchased from . . . orphanages for sexual
abuse and child pornography" and that child prostitution is "widespread"
in orphanages in Ukraine. And in Romania, "many orphanages are complicit
in letting girls fall victim to trafficking networks."
- Vast armies of Russian children who have run away from
brutal orphanages wander the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
- Excerpt from The Natashas.