Authoritarianism, Cinderella Syndrome, Commodities, Domestic Servitude, Employment, Enslavement, Enticement, Filial Duty, Forced Labor, Foundation Against Trafficking, Global Economy, Global Survival Network, Global Trends, Globalization, Go-Go Dancer, Government Corruption, Human Capital, Human Trafficking, Humanitarian Protection, Inequality, IOM, Leo Keidel, Louise Shelley, Modern Day Slavery, Nanny, Organized Crime, Personal Services, Population, Poverty, Prostitutes, Russia, Sexual Exploitation, Slavery, Slavic Children, Slavic Women, Solntsevskaya Bratva, The Internet, The KGB, The Russian Federation, The Russian Mob, The Soviet Union, The Tamang, The Underworld, Unemployment, Women's Issues
The trafficking of men, women and children from their home countries abroad for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor is growing at an alarming rate. Some estimates put the number of women and children alone transported from their homes and sold into slavery throughout the world at roughly one million per year, with the total number of all persons enslaved at any given time as high as 30 million.
At least four factors are facilitating the growth of this phenomenon: the globalization of the economy, the increased demand for personal services in the developed world, the continuing rise in unemployment, and the rapid and unregulated enticement and movement of human capital via the Internet.
It is a sad commentary on the state of the global economy at the end of the twentieth century that human beings are being traded as quickly as commodities, stocks and bonds without adequate legal and humanitarian protection. This phenomenon could easily be referred to as “the commodification of persons”.
Unfortunately, this rapidly proliferating global trend is gaining even greater traction in the Russian Federation. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending seventy years of centralized political and economic controls and at least fifty years of a comfortable social contract that guaranteed employment and social security for all, unemployment in Russia has hit the entire population extremely hard. Half of Russian adults are out of work and only a quarter of those employed are getting paid on a regular basis, according to some estimates.
The population that is hardest hit by unemployment and poverty is women and the children they support. These bleak labor trends have flowed nicely into the hands and coffers of criminal organizations seeking to exploit the largely chaotic situation by luring desperate, jobless women and their children — in many cases unknowingly — into forced prostitution, sweatshop labor, and domestic servitude.
In the wake of globalization and weakening of the state, criminal organizations have assumed the roles that the state previously played and, as Louise Shelley points out, have asserted their own form of authoritarianism. Not only do the criminal organizations exploit the chaos and high unemployment in Russia, they actively intimidate the populace in a manner not unlike the coercive KGB informants and operatives of the Soviet era. Criminal organizations have penetrated the financial structures and political circles and block efforts to foster the growth of civil society.
At present, Russia appears to be not only penetrated, but ruled, by corrupt officials and financial oligarchs and involved in crime and corruption at all levels of society. This corrupt environment, combined with a still nascent sense of legal consciousness and high levels of unemployment and poverty, is literally inviting criminal organizations to rule the country and cripple efforts to create economic and political institutions capable of serving the Russian citizenry.
By most accounts, human trafficking is a highly attractive business for criminal groups because it is low in risk and high in payoffs. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that perhaps 3,000 Russian mobsters control gangs in
American cities that involve the forced prostitution of more than 8,000 women, many of whom are of Slavic origin. As German investigator Leo Keidel puts it: “Human trafficking is, without a doubt, a major branch of organized crime..”
Keidel notes that human trafficking is a highly organized activity that ranks fifth in the hierarchy of organized criminal activities in Germany. In 1995, there were twenty-one cases of human trafficking in Baden-Wúrttemburg alone tied to organized crime, as reported by the Landeskriminalamt. According to a UN estimate, transnational criminal organizations generate up to $32 billion per year in profits from human trafficking alone. As the head of operations for a UN crime prevention center remarked bluntly, regarding trafficking in women from the former Soviet Union, “The earnings are incredible. The overhead is low — you don’t have to buy cars and guns. Drugs you sell once and they are gone. Women can earn money for a long time ”
Market Drives Demand for Slavic Women and Children
Currently, the market for Slavic women and children in the “developed” countries of North America, Europe, and North Asia is among the hottest and largest and is drawing on a vast supply of impoverished and vulnerable citizens of the former Soviet Union.
The International Organization of Migration (IOM) calls this rise in demand for Slavic women the “fourth wave” of victims of trafficking in women and children from Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia and Ukraine, which began in the early 1990s and continues to the present time.
The first wave was of Thai and Filipino women; the second, Dominicans and Colombians; and the third, Ghanaians and Nigerians. The fourth wave of victims from Central and Eastern Europe more than doubled in Belgium and tripled in the Netherlands between 1992 and 1995.
German crime statistics also show that there were more female victims of trafficking into Germany from the countries of the former Soviet Union than from anywhere else, with Poland coming in second and Thailand dropping to seventh place.
Research conducted by IOM and other nongovernmental organizations, such as the Global Survival Network and the Foundation against Trafficking, identified the sources and flows of women trafficked from European Russia into Western Europe.
One report documented the extent to which the trafficking of Slavic women to Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland had overtaken the traditional predominant mixture of African, South American, and Asian women.
The underworld has enticed numerous Slavic and Baltic women from Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, as well as women from the former East Bloc countries of Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.
These women are seen as exotic and desirable in the “developed” industrial countries of Europe, North America, Asia, and the Middle East. According to some reports, there are more than 5,000 Russian prostitutes in Thailand, recruited in the Russian Far East for job opportunities there.
Slavic women are in great demand by Asian businessmen from Japan and China who work in Thailand, in addition to wealthy Thai men. Russian women are considered throughout Southeast Asia to be “a symbol of social prestige.”
The rise in human trafficking is disturbing especially because as women are increasingly trafficked abroad, the Russian Federation is losing valuable human capital. Many of the Russian women exported and enslaved tend to be well educated and are answering advertisements for positions in the service sectors for which they are frequently overqualified. This appears somewhat counter-intuitive, because most of the international development literature has shown education as a means of liberating women from enslavement and abuse. If anything, education should enhance their status in society.
The common profile of a woman trafficked from the less-developed countries of South Asia or Africa, for example, is a woman who lives in poverty, is uneducated, and who is discriminated against for reasons of gender or ethnicity. For impoverished peoples such as the Tamang in Nepal, becoming a prostitute is deemed socially acceptable and a means of providing for one’s family. Indeed, the family often promotes this line of work for its daughters.
In Russia, the woman’s filial duty of providing for her family seems to be influencing her willingness to take jobs in other countries as dancer, clerk, or chef, as a means of earning money that can put food on the table. But many other influences are also at work: the breakdown in traditional social mores and resulting promiscuity; materialism; the “myth” of migration, or the “Cinderella syndrome,” which boils down to a belief that life will be better in another country — preferably an industrialized and developed one.
Typically, the women are recruited using appealing advertisements in newspapers and magazines. The advertisements promise big money and free housing for employment as a nanny, go-go dancer, or waitress in the United States or elsewhere. Many victims are assured they will meet rich men in the big city eager for marriage.
Victims are provided transportation and travel papers but are quickly stripped of identification once they arrive at their destination. Once the women realize they have been tricked into what some call modern-day slavery, they often fight or attempt to escape. Mafia thugs subdue the women with violence and isolation.
Narcotics such as heroin and methamphetamine are given to the women routinely to get them hooked and dependent on the gang members to feed their habit. In typical mafia fashion, the mob photographs the sex slaves with clients and threatens to send the photographs to their family members if they step out of line.
A Brief History of Soviet Organized Crime
Russia is one of those unfortunate countries that has the receptive environment in which organized crime thrives. Organized crime is deeply rooted in the 400-year history of Russia’s peculiar administrative bureaucracy, but it was especially shaped into its current form during the seven decades of Soviet hegemony that ended in 1991. This ancestry helps to explain the pervasiveness of organized crime in today’s Russia and its close merger with the political system.
Organized crime in Russia is an institutionalized part of the political and economic environment. It cannot, therefore, be fully understood without first understanding its place in the context of the Russian political and economic system.
Unlike Colombian, Italian, Mexican, or other well-known forms of organized crime, Soviet organized crime was not primarily based on ethnic or family structures. To help understand the difference, we can look to the history of organized crime in the United States for a contrasting portrait.
As a number of scholars have pointed out, organized crime provided a “crooked ladder of upward mobility” for some immigrants to the United States. Certain immigrants — sharing a common ethnicity, culture, and language, and, being on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, either having legitimate opportunities for advancement closed to them or rejecting the opportunities that were available — have turned to crime, and specifically organized crime, to get ahead.
Because organized crime is made up of criminals who conspire to carry out illegal acts, a degree of trust is necessary among those criminals. Co-conspirators must be able to trust that their collaborators will not talk to the police or to anyone who might talk to the police, and that they will not cheat them out of their money. A shared ethnicity, with its common language, background, and culture, has historically been a foundation for trust among organized crime figures.
Yet ethnicity did not play the significant role in Soviet organized crime that it played in the United States. Instead, the Soviet prison system, in many ways, fulfilled functions that were satisfied by shared ethnicity in the United States. In the Soviet Union, a professional criminal class developed in Soviet prisons during the Stalinist period that began in 1924 — the era of the gulag.
These criminals adopted behaviors, rules, values, and sanctions that bound them together in what was called the thieves’ world, led by the elite criminals who lived according to the “thieves’ law.” This thieves’ world created and maintained the bonds and climate of trust necessary for carrying out organized crime.
Organized crime in the Soviet era consists of illegal enterprises with both legal and black-market connections that were based on the misuse of state property and funds. It is most important to recognize that the blurring of the distinction between the licit and the illicit is also a trademark of post-Soviet organized crime that shows its ancestry with the old Soviet state and its command-economy system.
This, in turn, has direct political implications. The historical symbiosis with the state makes Russian organized crime virtually an inalienable part of the state. As this has continued into the present, some would say it has become an engine of the state that works at all levels of the Russian government.
Contemporary Russian organized crime grew out of the Soviet “nomenklatura” system (the government’s organizational structure and high-level officials) in which some individual “apparatchiks” (government bureaucrats) developed mutually beneficial personal relationships with the thieves’ world.
The top of the pyramid of organized crime during the Soviet period was made up of the Communist Party and state officials who abused their positions of power and authority. Economic activities ranged across a spectrum of markets — white, gray, black, and criminal. These markets were roughly defined by whether the goods and services being provided were legal, legal but regulated, or illegal, and by whether the system for providing them was likewise legal, legal but regulated, or illegal. The criminals operated on the illegal end of this spectrum.
Tribute gained from black markets and criminal activities was passed up a three-tiered pyramid to the nomenklatura, and the nomenklatura itself (some 1.5 million people) had a vast internal system of rewards and punishments. The giant state apparatus thus not only allowed criminal activity, but encouraged, facilitated, and protected it, because the apparatus itself benefited from crime.
These sorts of relationships provided the original nexus between organized crime and the government. From these beginnings, organized crime in Russia evolved to its present ambiguous position of being both in direct collaboration with the state and, at the same time, in conflict with it.
Activities of “Entrepreneurial” and “Criminal” Trafficking Systems
US human trafficking court cases reflect existence of both the “entrepreneurial” system (United States of America v. Roggerio Caden), as well as the “criminal” system (United States of America v. Ludwig Feinberg).
Experts evaluate human trafficking as an attractive business for criminal groups due to low risks and high returns. In the federal court case United States of America v. Alex Mishulovich, women brought from Latvia were kept in sexual slavery in Chicago, using the threat of the required payment of $4,000 for the return of their documents.
As outlined earlier, US FBI research reveals that approximately three thousand Russian-speaking criminals control criminal groups in American cities, with their activities forcing approximately eight thousand women into prostitution, many of whom are Slavic. FBI experts believe that the Russian organised crime gangs — Izmailovskaya, Dagestanskaya, Kazanskaya and Solntsevskaya – all operate within the United States.
At the end of the 1990s, a federal prosecutor from the southern district of Florida brought multiple charges against the Russian criminal Ludwig Feinberg for planning and transporting narcotics. In addition to charges of transportation of cocaine from South America into Florida using Russian submarines, Feinberg was also held for illegal transportation of women from Moscow to Miami for work as dancers and prostitutes, serving clients in his strip-club “Porky’s”.
Organizations engaged in the illegal export and trafficking of people may be quite small, comprising of two or three people or “entrepreneurs,” who are narrowly specialized in a particular type of human trafficking activity and on a particular country or region.
In contrast, large gangs, structured like traditional organized crime groups (or “criminals”), are also involved in human trafficking, often engaging at the same time in other forms of criminal activity such as trading in illicit goods, narcotics, or pornography.
Participants in trafficking activities can be divided into those who are the “core” leaders – recruiters, transporters and immediate owners- and those on the “periphery” – helpers: guards, those providing a legitimate “cover”, informers, essential document providers, and money launderers.
Viewed as a whole, the “Russian Mafia” today is typically referred to as Solntsevskaya Bratva, with an estimated annual revenue of $8.5 billion. Their structure, according to Frederico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford and an expert on international organized crime, is highly decentralized. The group is composed of 10 separate quasi-autonomous “brigades” that operate more or less independently of each other. The group does pool its resources, however, and the money is overseen by a 12-person council that “meets regularly in different parts of the world, often disguising their meetings as festive occasions,” Varesi says.
It’s estimated that the group claims upwards of 9,000 members, and that it’s bread and butter is the drug trade and human trafficking. Russian organized crime in general is heavily involved in the heroin trade that originates in Afghanistan: it’s estimated that Russia consumes about 12% of the world’s heroin, while it contains just 0.5% of the world’s population. According to Wikipedia, a full 50% of the Russian Federation’s current GDP is produced through organized criminal activity in one form or another.
Sources: Human Trafficking in the Russian Federation, UNICEF; The Russian Mob and Human Trafficking, Jim Kouri: and The Rise in Human Trafficking and the Role of Organized Crime, Sally Stoecker, American Military University, Dena Weiss