Turkey one of largest markets for trafficking of women


TURKEY: Turkey is fast becoming one of the largest markets for the trafficking of women from nearby former Soviet states who are brought into the country and forced into prostitution, an international agency said in a report released this week.

Profits from the illicit sex trade in Turkey were estimated to be about $3.6 billion (€3 billion) last year and growing, the report said.

About 5,000 women, more than half from Moldova and Ukraine, are believed to be working as sex slaves across Turkey, said an agency official. The prostitution networks made about $150 (€124) from each customer, with each woman serving as many as 15 clients a day.

"If they work 340 days a year, it's a multibillion-dollar business just in Turkey alone," said Marielle Lindstrom, country director for IOM, the International Organisation for Migration, "and the women don't get a penny."

The report was timed to coincide with an awareness campaign by the agency and the Turkish government. Most of the women identified last year as victims of human trafficking were between 18 and 24. One out of every three were mothers, and many were either divorced or married to abusive spouses. They were brought to Turkey with promises of jobs as waitresses or dancers which would help them to support their children.

"The minute they set foot in Turkey, their passports are taken away and they are raped and beaten," said Allan Freedman, who co-ordinates counter-trafficking programmes at the Ankara bureau of the IOM.

The campaign is designed in part to tap into to the Turks' adulation of children. In a TV commercial that will be aired nationwide, four children left behind in a village in Moldova ask for their mothers in broken Turkish.

"This is a country where family is the foremost value, so that is what we are appealing to," Mr Freedman said.

Prostitution is legal under Turkey's strictly secular system. Prostitutes issued identity cards by the authorities operate out of brothels that are guarded by metropolitan police, and the women have mandatory health checks once a week.

The influx of women from the former Soviet states, known in Turkey as Natashas, reportedly has cut into the profits of legalised prostitution.

Their plight was graphically exposed last summer when five Ukrainian women were found by security forces in a windowless, 3.7sq m (40sq ft) underground cell in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya. The women had been imprisoned for 10 months by a father and son who forced them into prostitution after luring them to Turkey with promises of legitimate jobs.

In her statement to police, one of the women said the father had poured boiling oil over her legs and genitals when she refused to have sex with a client. The women were rescued after a client called a free telephone helpline launched by the authorities last year.

Thanks to such phone calls, more than two-thirds of them by clients, 52 trafficked women were rescued last year. - (Los Angeles Times-Washington Post service)