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27 Jan, 2008 02:48

Russian girls trapped in sex-slave nightmare

Thousands of Russian girls living abroad are being forced to work as sex slaves. The United States says Russia is one of the world's main sources of trafficked women. Tough new laws are in place to tackle the problem, but for many the living hell of sex s

Despite living in the 21st century, many young women from Russia discover, usually too late, that the slave trade has yet to be abolished.

Nineteen-year-old Christina knows too well what the world of modern slavery is all about.  It's a world where women are just another commodity.

Two years ago, as an orphan from a poor Russian village, she was lured by the promise of big bucks in St Petersburg. She didn't realise she would end up in a brothel.

Eighteen months later the police raided the brothel. She was saved. Then in co-operation with the authorities, she helped uncover the trafficking ring. But this meant reliving her nightmare.

“The police gave me hidden cameras and bugs. I had to work in the brothel again for two weeks before the police helped me to escape. The worst thing was that there were so many children working there as slaves. I couldn't bear to see it all again,” Christina said.

But other girls aren't so lucky. Their pimps maintain a tight grip with blackmail and abuse.

Russia has long turned a blind eye to the trafficking of its women – prompting a barrage of international criticism.

Both the UN and the United States have called for action, saying that Russia is one the largest suppliers of sex slaves in the world. These women have been dubbed the 'Natashas' – a popular name in Russia, which has become a symbol of new kind of exploitation.

Russia also faces homegrown criticism as it continues to send its 'Natashas' abroad.

Newspaper reporter Yaroslava Tankova went undercover to expose the work of the trafficking mafia. She joined a group of Russian girls promised jobs as waitresses overseas. They were trafficked to Israel via Egypt and smuggled across the desert by Beduins.

“One of the girls nearly died from sunstroke. Another was raped by an Arab guard. He used a plastic bag instead of a condom. We were treated like meat. One man hit me but the other guards intervened. They didn't want the commodity spoilt before it was sold,” Yaroslava said.

In Israel the girls became the property of local pimps. Their passports were confiscated and they were forced into the sex trade. Yaroslava escaped but the others remain in sexual captivity.

However, Russia has begun to face up to the crisis.  It recently passed a new law on the protection of trafficked victims. Those who organise prostitution now face a prison term.

The government is also working with the International Organisation for Migration to rehabilitate former sex slaves.

The IOM runs a rehab centre which helps hundreds of victims recover from the traumas of exploitation. The organisation says there's still much work to be done in preventing human trafficking.