Ukrainian city of Odessa has become a hub for the sex slave industry. Its strategic port location makes it a hot spot for human trafficking between the region and the rest of the world.
Hundreds of thousands come to Odessa during the high tourist season. Yet for many this harbor is a point of no return, as it is from here that most sex slaves are trafficked to other countries.
For one refugee from central Africa it became a living nightmare. With her identity concealed, “Natalie” told RT how she was turned into a sex slave.
“I met a man who told me he would marry me and take care of me. He brought me here. Then he locked me in a hotel room. Some men came there every day and raped me – at times there were three of them at once. Later that man said he would sell me to Turkey, but I managed to find help,” she said.
Natalie managed to escape from the men who had enslaved her; she now lives in Odessa under a protection program. However, many young girls here are not as lucky.
Turkey, Italy, United Arab Emirates – these are some of the most popular destinations for the sex slave trade. Odessa, with its strategic port, serves as the marketplace. Police talk of 50 cases solved over the last two years. In reality, the number of victims from all across the CIS could be a thousand times higher, and fighting organized sex trade gangs is very difficult, because it is thought that some are highly-connected with the authorities.
According to Aleksey Sementsov from Ukraine’s Interior Ministry’s Department of Human Traffic Crimes, it is girls from impoverished regions who suffer.
“Foreign sex traders use local men to find girls from deprived regions who are struggling to make a living, so they are easy prey. These men offer them a new life, they promise them jobs abroad – in hotels and restaurants. But eventually they end up as sex slaves and are stripped of their passports,” Sementsov says.
One organization, called “Faith Hope Love”, helps sex trade victims to rehabilitate from their terrifying past. In five years, they have offered assistance to more than a thousand women. Its deputy head Olga Kostyuk believes it is impossible to keep track of how many sex slaves are out there, as most of them are simply too afraid to call for help.
“Very often sex trade victims get psychological trauma just from thinking about what they went through. Sometimes they are afraid that their former sex masters will go after them. Several years ago, Ukraine’s legislation had loopholes on the sex trade, and when women turned to the authorities, law enforcers couldn’t do anything. Now, several laws have been passed to deal with the issue, but most sex slaves are still afraid to call the cops,” Kostyuk says.
Both social workers and authorities admit that Odessa’s sex trade has slightly diminished in the last several years. However, while Ukraine’s economy is in tatters, they say the sex industry will remain as one of the most burning problems for this resort city – regardless of the season.