Trafficked Women Back from Israel Face Harsh Reality Upon Arrival Home

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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