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
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
Traffickers transport women from post-Soviet states to brothels and
apartment lock-ups in Europe, the Middle East, even the Far East and
- The Russian mafia controls much of Israel's sex trade with up to 90
percent of trafficked women coming from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
"Police officials estimate that there are 25,000 paid sexual
transactions [in Israel] every day."11
- Women from former Soviet Bloc nations also work in brothels in Thailand, Japan, and South Korea.12
- Anywhere from 14,500 to 50,000 women are trafficked into the United
States annually,13 including from Eastern Europe, often via Mexico. As
an example, the Kyiv Post reported the case of a Ukrainian woman working in prostitution in a Silver Spring, Maryland, massage parlor owned by a Russian.14
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
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
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 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
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
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.
- Ambassador John R. Miller, "Remarks at Swearing-in Ceremony," U.S. State Department, 7 September 2004.
- 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.
- 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,
- .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.
- Salvation Army Conference, 29 April-7 May 2004.
- 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,
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.
- Angel Coalition, "Trafficking from Russia and the CIS" (http://www.angelcoalition.org/trafficking.html), 8 May 2004.
- 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.
- LaStrada Foundation, http://free.ngo.pl/lastrada, p. 2; Malarek, Natashas, 6.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "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,
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,
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Bill,"Moscow Times, 19 February 2003.
- Kristin Wiebe, "Human Trafficking in Macedonia," Institute for Sustainable Communities, December 2002.
- Specter, "Traffickers' New Cargo," 5.
- 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.
- IOM, "Trafficking and Prostitution," 1995, 11.
- Wiebe, "Human Trafficking," 23; Malarek, Natashas, 135-56; Skrobanek, "Trafficking of Women," 28.
- Wiebe, "Human Trafficking," 11.
- Hertzke, Freeing God's Children, 330; e-mail from Janice Crouse to author, 28 October 2004.
- Jane Jordan, Josephine Butler (London: John Murray, 2001); "What Is the Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking?" (http://www.iast.net), 24 February 2004.
- 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,
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.
- Salvation Army Conference, 29 April-7 May 2004.
- "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.
- 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.
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 2005 East-West Church and Ministry Report
EWC&M Report | Contents | Search Back Issues | From Our Readers | Subscribe