East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 2005, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Christian Responses to Trafficking in Women from Eastern Europe

Mark R. Elliott

Editor's Note: This article is an abridged and updated version of a paper given at the Lilly Fellows Program National Research Conference, "Christianity and Human Rights," Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, 13 November 2004.

In September 2004, at his swearing-in ceremony, before an assemblage of ambassadors, members of Congress, and White House and State Department VIPs, U.S. Ambassador-At-Large John R. Miller related the nightmare of Katya, "a Czech teenager lured to Amsterdam with a promise of a restaurant job, her passport seized, her two-year-old daughter threatened, so she would service 10 and 15 men a day in a brothel."1 Could this possibly happen today in a civilized Europe? Or in the U.S.? The awful truth is that Katya's story is all too commonplace.

Trafficking - A Growth Industry
Today trafficking in women is widely reported to be the third most lucrative branch of organized crime, after international sales in contraband weapons and drugs.2 Asia, historically, has been the major source for global trafficking of women, as well as the locus of international sex tourism. But the liberation of East European states from Communist rule in 1989 and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the addition of another major stream of trafficking victims. Millions of destitute women from these regions have been led away in new chains fashioned by Russian organized crime, traffickers, pimps, and brothel operators worldwide.3

The Numbers
Estimates for global trafficking in women range from 600,000 to four million per year.4 Dr. Laura Lederer, a State Department senior advisor on trafficking, believes this modern-day slavery "is now on par with estimates of the number of Africans enslaved in the 16th and 17th centuries."5 The number of women and children from post-Soviet states subjected to international trafficking is in the neighborhood of 175,000 to 250,000 per year6 [with] "50,000 to 100,000 Moldovans, over 100,000 Ukrainians, and 500,000 Russians [currently] active in prostitution outside their home country."7 So many Slavic women have been ensnared in the global sex industry that in many parts of the world, including Turkey, Israel, and England, "Natasha" has become the generic term for prostitute.8 One anti-trafficking NGO estimates that citizens of post-Soviet states now constitute one quarter of all women subjected to trafficking worldwide.9

The Destinations
Traffickers transport women from post-Soviet states to brothels and apartment lock-ups in Europe, the Middle East, even the Far East and the U.S.10

The Profits
This modern-day slave trade has become an extremely lucrative business for organized crime, with estimates up to nineteen billion dollars annual profit.15 One NGO, the Angel Coalition, estimates sex trafficking yields seven billion in annual profits in Russia alone.16 The income of individual traffickers and pimps is stunning. In Bosnia, with an average annual income of $4,400, a single bar owner working five East European women can earn $240,000 a year from prostitution.17 A chief of undercover police operations in Israel has tallied typical pimps' profits from mostly Slavic women at up to a million dollars a month.18

Rampant Corruption
Not only is trafficking a high-profit, low-overhead proposition, it is very low-risk as well. "Sadly, in most countries there's a greater penalty for dealing drugs than for dealing in human flesh."19 For example, trafficking in the Czech Republic is a misdemeanor.20 Rampant corruption only compounds the problem. Trafficked women fleeing brothels rarely seek help from the law because the police are too often the johns-or are on the take-or both.21 To give but one example, Macedonian police reportedly earn $750 every time they assist a trafficker, compared to a monthly salary of $200.22

Christian Responses
What has been and what should be the Christian response to trafficking in women? Having surveyed voluminous literature on trafficking and having conducted several dozen interviews, I can answer that Christian responses, though spotty and uneven, have been far more numerous and consequential than I originally expected. However, at the same time, it must be noted that Christian responses have not been nearly enough to help more than a negligible percentage of trafficked women and, to date, have been dwarfed by the research and work of non-faith-based NGOs and government agencies. And all anti-trafficking efforts to this point pale before the continuing escalation of the global sex trade.

U.S. Legal Efforts
Landmark U.S. legislation to combat international trafficking in women, passed in 2000 and strengthened in 2003, owed much to concerned Christians inside and outside government and their willingness to work together with equally concerned Jewish groups and feminist organizations. Two Catholic laymen in Congress, epresentative Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), worked in tandem to lead efforts to pass legislation in 2000 and 2003 that commits the U.S. to a major role in combating global trafficking in women. Political scientist Allen Hertzke has written a fascinating account of truly "strange bedfellows" coming together to promote Congressional action against trafficking: "At a pivotal last stage of the legislative campaign, members of Congress received a letter from Gloria Steinem and other feminist leaders at the very moment that they were being lobbied by such figures as Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, and John Busby of the Salvation Army."23

Christian Networking
Christian networking to combat trafficking is having an impact. The U.S.-based National Association of Evangelicals, for example, helped launch an Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking (IAST) in 1999 that in 2001 came under the auspices of the Salvation Army. This grouping of 28 church and parachurch organizations supporting anti-trafficking efforts is led by Lisa Thompson. She is a tireless, energetic, single-minded crusader who has been inspired by the 19th-century anti-slavery campaign of William Wilberforce and the compassionate ministries to prostitutes undertaken in England by Josephine Butler and Bramwell and Florence Booth.24

Anti-Trafficking Public Letters
Increasing Evangelical involvement in an issue of international social justice is no better illustrated than in a string of anti-trafficking public letters with multiple signators. Examples include open letters to President Bill Clinton and congressional leaders to support U.S. anti-trafficking legislation (June 1999-130, mostly Evangelical, signators); to President Vladimir Putin opposing Russian legalization of prostitution (September 2002--185 signators); to Pope John Paul II urging greater Vatican efforts to combat trafficking (January 2003--146 signators); and to President Vaclav Klaus and other Czech officials, opposing the legalization of prostitution (May 2004--105 signators).25

The Salvation Army
The premier Protestant denominational response to trafficking to date is seen in the concerted efforts of the Salvation Army. Around the world the Army works with women trapped in prostitution, including India, Tanzania, Switzerland, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, The Netherlands, Britain, Ghana, Costa Rica, and Bangladesh. It also establishes microenterprise and microcredit projects to alleviate the poverty that breeds trafficking from prostitution. At-risk women and women emerging from brothels are given literacy classes, training, and work. The Army's Sally Ann Shop in Bangladesh sells crafts and clothes made by women in the care of the Salvation Army.26

In Germany, the Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches staff some 20 counseling centers for victims of trafficking, helping women cope with trauma and assisting them in finding shelter and food.27 A quite recent Protestant initiative is that of the European Baptist Federation, which, urged on by concerned Swedish Baptists, made counter-trafficking efforts the focus of their annual meeting in March 2005 in Budapest.28

Editor's Note: The conclusion of this article, focusing on additional Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox efforts to combat trafficking, will appear in the next issue of the East West Church and Ministry Report.

Mark R. Elliott is editor of the East West Church and Ministry Report.


  1. Ambassador John R. Miller, "Remarks at Swearing-in Ceremony," U.S. State Department, 7 September 2004.
  2. U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report (Washington, DC: Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 2004) 6; Elizabeth Kelly, "Journeys of Jeopardy: A Review of Research on Trafficking in Women and Children in Europe," International Organization for Migration (IOM) Research Series (November 2002), 19; E-mail from Oleg Turlac to author, 24 November 2004.
  3. Francis T. Miko, "Trafficking in Women and Children: The U.S. and International Response," Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 26 March 2004, 1; Donna M. Hughes and Tatyana A. Denisova, "The Transnational Political Criminal Nexus of Trafficking in Women from Ukraine," Trends in Organized Crime 6 (Spring-Summer 2001), 9; LaStrada Foundation Against Trafficking in Women-Poland (http://free.ngo.pl/lastrada/pagel/html), 15 September 2004; International Organization for Migration, "Trafficking and Prostitution: The Growing Exploitation of Migrant Women from Central and Eastern Europe," May 1995, http://www.globalmarch.org/child-trafficking/virtual-library/traff_women_eng.htm, p. 4.
  4. .6 to .8 million men, women, and children across borders: State, Trafficking, 2004, 6; .7 to 4 millions: Dina Francesa Haynes, "Used, Abused, Arrested and Deported: Extending Immigration Benefits to Protect the Victims of Trafficking and to Secure the Prosecution of Traffickers," Human Rights Quarterly 26 (2004), 227; .8 to .9 million: Christopher Smith, "Trafficking in Women," Helsinki Commission News, 2 March 2004, http://www.csce.gov; .7 million across borders/1 to 2 million overall: "Sexual Trafficking on the Rise," Christian Century 117 (2 September 2004), 449; .7 to 2 million: State, Trafficking, 2003, 1; .8 to .9 million: Miko, "Trafficking," 1; 1 million: Hughes and Denisova, "Transnational," 9; Allen Hertzke, Freeing God's Children; The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), 317.
  5. Salvation Army Conference, 29 April-7 May 2004.
  6. 175,000: Victor Malarek, The Natashas: The New Global Sex Trade (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003), 10-11; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, "Trafficking in Human Beings: Implications for the OSCE," Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Background Paper, September 1999, http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/1999/09/1503_en.html; 200,000: Heikki Mattila, "Combating Human Trafficking," INTERSEC Journal of International Security 14 (February 2004); 250,000: "Sexual Trafficking," Christian Century, 449. A 2004 USAID-funded report cites a Swedish NGO's estimate of 500,000 trafficked persons in Europe annually, which includes men and boys and calculates that the majority of trafficked persons are from the former Soviet Union.
  7. Angel Coalition, "Trafficking from Russia and the CIS" (http://www.angelcoalition.org/trafficking.html), 8 May 2004.
  8. Leyla Gülcür and Pinar Ilkkaracan, "The 'Natasha' Experience: Migrant Sex Workers from the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in Turkey," Women's Studies International Forum 45 (no. 4, 2002), 414, 416; Hughes and Denisova, "Transnational," 10; Malarek, Natashas, xvi.
  9. LaStrada Foundation, http://free.ngo.pl/lastrada, p. 2; Malarek, Natashas, 6.
  10. Miko, "Trafficking in Women," n.p.; "The Trafficking of NIS Women Abroad: An International Conference in Moscow 3-5 November 1997 Conference Report," International League for Human Rights, http://www.ilhr.org/ilhr/reports/traffic/index.html, pp. 8-10, 27; Malarek, Natashas, 3.
  11. Specter, "Traffickers' New Cargo," 2. See also Amnesty International, "Human Rights Abuses of Women Trafficked from the Commonwealth of Independent States into Israel's Sex Industry," cited in Malarek, Natashas, 195.
  12. Malarek, Natashas, 226. See also Specter, "Traffickers' New Cargo," 1; "Trafficking of NIS Women," 35; The Factbook on Global Exploitation: Eastern Europe, 23 February 2004, http://www.catwinternational.org/fb/EUeast.html. In 2004 a U.S. House Armed Services Committee/Helsinki Commission hearing highlighted the demand generated by military bases abroad. Recently the Pentagon adopted a "zero tolerance" policy for U.S. troops frequenting brothels. E-mail from Eleanor Nagy to author, 9 November 2004.
  13. "President George W. Bush Delivers Keynote Address at First National Human Trafficking Conference," U.S. Department of State Anti-Trafficking News Bulletin 1 (July 2004), 3; Miko, "Trafficking in Women," n.p.; "Of Human Bondage," National Review, 11 March 2002, http://www.humantrafficking.com/humantrafficking/client/view.aspx?ResourceID=2115; Christine Dolan, "Terrorism and Trafficking: Finding the Nexus" (http://www.iast.net/reports.htm); Lisa Thompson, "Trafficking," 24 February 2004, http://www.1800salarmy.org. See also Zalisko, Russian Organized Crime, 5; Nancy Frazier O'Brien, "Conference Aims to Make Face of Human Trafficking More Visible," Catholic News Service, 22 October 2004, http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0405744.htm; Peter Landesman, "The Girls Next Door," New York Times Magazine, 25 January 2004, 32. Journalist Peter Landesman believes published estimates are too low and that the actual number of women trafficked into the U.S. annually "is probably in the six figures." "Fresh Air," National Public Radio interview, 26 January 2004.
  14. Hughes and Denisova, "Transnational," 13; Donna M. Hughes, "The 'Natasha' Trade: The Transnational Shadow Market of Trafficking in Women," Journal of International Affairs 53 ( Spring 2000), 640.
  15. Estimates range from six to nineteen billion. Six billion: Zalisko, Russian Organized Crime, 1; seven billion: Hughes and Denisova, "Transnational," 9; "Who Are Victims," Pravda.ru, 5 August 2004; 9.5 billion: State, Trafficking, 2004, 14; seven to ten billion: Miko,"Trafficking in Women," n.p.; seven to nineteen billion: Christine Dolan, "A Shattered Innocence: The Millennium Holocaust," A Report to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, April 2001, 10; ten billion: Salvation Army Conference, 29 April-7 May 2004.
  16. "Bill,"Moscow Times, 19 February 2003.
  17. Kristin Wiebe, "Human Trafficking in Macedonia," Institute for Sustainable Communities, December 2002.
  18. Specter, "Traffickers' New Cargo," 5.
  19. Jane Johnson Struck, "Agent of Change: Why Former U.S. Congresswoman Linda Smith is Compelled to Combat Sexual Slavery-One Young Woman's Life at a Time," Today's Christian Woman (January-February 2004), 33. See also Miko, "Trafficking in Women," n.p.
  20. IOM, "Trafficking and Prostitution," 1995, 11.
  21. Wiebe, "Human Trafficking," 23; Malarek, Natashas, 135-56; Skrobanek, "Trafficking of Women," 28.
  22. Wiebe, "Human Trafficking," 11.
  23. Hertzke, Freeing God's Children, 330; e-mail from Janice Crouse to author, 28 October 2004.
  24. Jane Jordan, Josephine Butler (London: John Murray, 2001); "What Is the Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking?" (http://www.iast.net), 24 February 2004.
  25. Malarek, Natashas, 202; Protection Project, 16 June 1999, http://www.protectionproject.org/vt/tpc.htm; "Prostitution in Russia-Does the U.S. State Department Back the Legalization of Prostitution?," 21 November 2002, http://www.humantrafficking.com/humantrafficking/client/view.aspx?ResourceID=1300; letter to Colin Powell, 29 April 2002, http://www.macom.org.il/todaa-colinpowell.asp; letter to Vladimir Putin, 23 September 2002; letter to John Paul II, 10 January 2003; letter to Colin Powell, 23 December 2003; interview with Lisa Thompson, 18 August 2004; interview with Barrett Duke, 18 August 2004; interview with Janice Crouse, 19 August 2004; Donna Hughes, "Dignity" anti-trafficking listserv, 18 November 2004.
  26. Salvation Army Conference, 29 April-7 May 2004.
  27. "Female Victims of Trafficking: A Challenge for the Church and Social Welfare Work," February 2004, EKD Bulletin http://www.ekd.de/bulletin/bulletin_bulletin2_2004_12.html.
  28. Phone interview with Lauran Bethell, 26 August 2004.

Mark R. Elliott, "Christian Responses to Trafficking in Women from Eastern Europe," East-West Church & Ministry Report 13 (Spring 2005), 1-4.

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