While scrolling through the internet it’s impossible to not come across ads. One particular message that consistently appears, and is joked about, is the concept of a “Russian Mail-Order Bride.” Even when googling Russian phrases the ads that appear read along the lines of, “Beautiful Russian Brides”, “Find Russian Brides”, “Buy your Russian Wife Here.” Whether it be through a spam email, an over-heard green card joke, or just conversation, everyone has heard of the “Russian Mail Order Bride.” This phrasing clouds the true horror that is the Russia’s “shadow economy.” Following the collapse of the Soviet Empire the nation of Russian alongside all post-communist states were faced with this growing second economy. Those who were Soviet prisoners had networks, mafias were given the chance to make huge profits through the interdiction of a capitalism based market, and the newly opened border depleted the need for checkpoints and the observation of migrating.
The newly opened globalized world of interconnection, technology, travel, and lack of restriction gave Russia the opening to join the massive market of modern day slavery known as human trafficking. Although not all systems that match abroad males with women from Russia are instances of Human Trafficking, the underlying horrors of the market make up a great majority. The 1990s marked Russia as an origin, transit, and destination country for human trafficking, particularly focused on the sexual trafficking of women and minors. The exact number of Russian women who have been trafficked or sold is unknown. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) estimates between 1992 and 2002, about 500,000 women and girls were trafficked from the former Soviet Union, mostly from Russia. The disintegration of the USSR in 1991 resulted in extreme transfers in the region’s economic system from which rose an increased level in unemployment and poverty, especially for women. This widespread change in governmental structure, employment and investment patterns allows for many to exploit individuals in need, without the fear of the law.
Profit drove the market to exploit women of all ages, particularly those under the legal age, and sell them into illegal prostitution through Europe, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Scandinavia, China and North America. Companies began to invite women to become waitresses, dancers, nannies, nurses, office workers and travel agents. Immediately, their passports would be taken, and they were sold to different brothels. Unwilling to comply more often than not resulted in rape, control and extreme violence.
Progress has been made.
In 2003, President Vladimir Putin spoke out in favor of making human trafficking illegal in Russia. Although this was not made a reality, until the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation was amended and Article 127.1 declared human trafficking punishable by prison terms. This small victory as well as the combating methods of the Russian government are not enough. The punishment for Bride-kidnapping, or forced marriage, involving the abduction and sometimes rape of a woman or a girl, can be exonerated from all criminal liability if the individual voluntarily releases his victim under Article 126.
In 2013 the US State Departments annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report downgraded Russia from its Tier 2 “Watch List” to its lowest classification of Tier-3, meaning Russia is not sufficiently meeting anti-trafficking standards. Because of the tense relationship between the US and Russia, Konstantin Dolgov responded to the downgrade by stating the authors used an “unacceptable ideological approach that divides nations into rating groups depending on the US State Department’s political sympathies or antipathies.” The women caught in the sex trade in Russia not only lack the support of their government but a great deal of their peers. In June 2007 over 43 percent of male respondents and 38 percent of females blamed the women and girls themselves for ending up in the sex trade. Over a majority of those polled believed that their institutions of government would not be able to combat human trafficking, while 23 percent also believed no one could effectively solve the problem.
Strong political will is needed to stop human trafficking across Russia and its borders. Through the cooperation of NGOs, governmental resources, and bilateral discussion more can be effectively done to support the prevention, rescue, and repatriation of trafficked persons. Sadly, the fight to end human trafficking, particularly sexual trafficking, is a long one and requires the cooperation of multiple entities. With Russia’s political focus being anywhere but human trafficking, the fight will be a difficult one.
Cover Photo Credit, celynek, Flickr Creative Commons