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Harsh reality for returning sex slaves

Tatyana Voytalyuk, Project Kesher's regional representative in western Ukraine, discusses efforts to combat domestic violence and sex trafficking at the group's international conference in Kiev in May. (Judy Sirota Rosenthal)

Tatyana Voytalyuk, Project Kesher’s regional representative in western Ukraine, discusses efforts to combat domestic violence and sex trafficking at the group’s international conference in Kiev in May. (Judy Sirota Rosenthal)

KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) – Tatyana Tatureevych, a social worker
here, is all too familiar with the problems facing women who make it back home
after having been trafficked as sex slaves.

“Most who return from Israel have a lot of problems
beyond what they suffered from trafficking,” Tatureevych says.
“They’re often addicted to drugs and alcohol. Many suffer from post-traumatic
stress or depression.”

Although most women from the former Soviet Union who are
trafficked as sex slaves work in Eastern Europe and Arab countries, many also
end up in Israel. According to the Israel Task Force on Human Trafficking, 80
percent of the prostitutes in Israel were brought there against their will.

Most enter on foot via Egypt, in secret nighttime border
crossings, and are kept in urban brothels without papers as virtual slaves to
their handlers.

The Israeli media is full of stories about “Russian
prostitutes,” part of the unsavory element brought into the country since
the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Those who return home, either on their own or through deportation, face
tremendous practical and emotional difficulties.

Tatureevych manages the social programs at the Kiev office of La Strada, an
international anti-trafficking association with branches in Ukraine, Moldova and
Belarus. She works closely with the Israeli women’s group Isha L’Isha to keep
track of sex slaves that return from Israel to Ukraine.

After her office is alerted that a woman is being deported,
a representative meets the woman at the Kiev airport to make sure she doesn’t
fall into the hands of traffickers again. The victim is taken to a shelter and
given emergency cash and psychological help as needed.

As elsewhere in the
former Soviet Union, this work is all done by non-governmental organizations.

In 2006, La Strada helped five trafficked women returning to Ukraine from Israel.
In 2005 they helped 15.

Two were sisters from Donetsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine. They were
18 and 23 when they went to Egypt for jobs promised them by a man they met in a
bar. Instead they were smuggled across the border into Israel and forced into
prostitution.

“They were sold from one brothel to another,”
Tatureevych relates.

The older sister ran away and was deported back to Ukraine
after Israeli police stopped her for a routine document check. The younger
sister was picked up in a brothel raid in Haifa and also deported. One returned
with a drug habit; the other is now an alcoholic.

“Their family met them when they returned and was
supportive,” Tatureevych says. “Sometimes these women come home and
people avoid them.”

Israel is trying to combat its growing human trafficking
problem. The U.S. State Department’s 2007 Human Trafficking Report noted that
Israel has been “making significant efforts” since being placed on
the Tier 2 “watch list,” just short of the level that would trigger
sanctions.

Last October, Israel passed an anti-trafficking law
prohibiting all forms of human trafficking, involuntary servitude and slavery.
But the State Department report criticized Israel for not providing adequate
protection services for those affected by these crimes.

A partial solution is to make it harder to get a visa for entering
Israel.

Udi Ben-Ami, head of the Israeli embassy’s consular office in Kiev, says he’s made it
a “personal battle” to fight the trafficking problem in his four
years as head of the department that grants Israeli visas to Ukrainian and
Moldovan citizens. He has imposed stringent checks on the application process,
and also initiated a program to train security staff at Ben Gurion Airport to recognize
fake documents.

“People know now that it is not easy to get an Israeli
visa,” Ben-Ami says, adding that he has received “tremendous
cooperation” from local non-governmental organizations, as well as from
Ukrainian first lady Katerina Yushchenko.

But he admits his efforts only affect those seeking to enter Israel legally. As
economic troubles continue in Ukraine and throughout the region, young women continue
to believe they can better their situation abroad. And traffickers are always
on the lookout for such prey.

Tatureevych tells of a young woman she helped who had been
trafficked to Israel when she was 20. When she finally made her way home, she
found her relatives had commandeered her apartment and wouldn’t let her back
in.

Penniless and without a nuclear family – her parents died
when she was a child, and her only sister had been put in foster care while she
was in Israel – the woman recently told Tatureevych she wants to go back to
Israel.

“She wants to make money,” Tatureevych says
in exasperation. “She thinks that now that she knows the country, she’ll
be able to find a real job. I told her she can be trafficked again, but she
says she has a friend there, a man who will help her.”

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