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Russian Organized Crime: The Foundation for Trafficking

May 01, 2000  |  by Walter Zalisko

Highway to Despair

The road of Russian, Ukrainian, or Belarussian woman into the sex industry is fairly typical. It begins with an ad in the newspaper, or an unexpected meeting on the street with a proposition to work abroad as a maid, secretary, showgirl, nanny or waitress. An ad that appears in a Ukrainian newspaper usually read, "Seek pretty woman, under age 40, slender, educated, to work in modern office setting; $600/month; documents and transportation provided."

The women are frequently lured with promises of high-paying jobs and marriage. Although the concept of trafficking is rather straightforward, the methods employed by traffickers are varied and reflect ingenuity in attempting to thwart detection by law enforcement.

The women are often provided with fraudulent visas and passports and taken to another country. Upon their arrival they are informed that the job no longer exists, but they are still indebted to the agent for the trip, which usually costs them between $5,000 and $20,000.

Since many countries have imposed stricter border controls and entry requirements the possibilities for legal migration have decreased.  Therefore, many women, eager to escape poverty or political and social insecurity, and not aware of the dangers of illegal migration, find it worth paying this hefty fee to try their luck, only to find themselves exploited by traffickers.

Because of the government's stricter entry controls or requirements, the traffickers exploit the potential for profit in l=illegal migration. They can supply the victims with services such as fraudulent travel documents, transportation, guided border crossings, accommodation and job brokering.

Nina Karpacheva, deputy of the Ukrainian Parliament's Commission on Human Rights, reports that up to 85 percent of Ukrainian women involved in prostitution abroad are forced into this business against their will. She said that thousands of Ukrainian women have been turned into "white slaves" in many countries, particularly in Greece, Turkey, the United States, Israel, Germany and the Netherlands.

Because sex trafficking is now a recognized criminal problem in the United States, a bill was recently introduced which is the United State's first step toward dealing directly with the victims of traffickers as well as providing government-level support.

Law Enforcement's Challenge

Although police agencies throughout the United States have been investigating these criminal acts over the last few years, one of the difficulties they encounter in investigating and prosecuting these types of cases is that informant development and investigation of crimes within any immigrant community is extremely difficult.

Having lived in a society ruled by an oppressive government, Russian and Ukrainian émigrés tend to be inherently distrustful of government and are more generally reluctant than most other émigré groups to speak with or seek assistance from law enforcement. The voluntary cooperation from these émigré communities is frequently minimal.

Another problem that is often encountered is that when law enforcement officials have made an arrest and have the cooperation of a victim, the case will usually take six months, if not longer, to go to trial. By this time, the victim has either been deported or cannot be located. Therefore, traffickers go free.

During the course of our investigations in the Northeastern United States, we have located a number of go-go bars, massage parlors and escort services that "employ" Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian women. We also found that New Jersey has more go-go bars and "juice bars" than any other state. Many of these bars actually engage in promoting prostitution on premises. It is not uncommon for go-go bar owners to offer the services of a girl, or two, to politicians or city officials in exchange for future considerations.

Government's Response

The trafficking in women and children is a problem of corruption, organized crime and law enforcement. Because trafficking in women brings huge profits but carries little risk for those who organize it, the rewards are great. This encourages criminal groups to expand their business. Their sophistication has posed grave challenges to legislative and law enforcement authorities, and their violent nature has rendered their victims extremely vulnerable.

Trafficking in women and children is a global human rights issue that requires a comprehensive response from government and non-government organizations around the world. These organizations have to work on a parallel level to develop anti-trafficking programs.

As one of the leading law enforcement consulting groups, our goal at PMC International is to assist law enforcement, victims, and organizations in fighting trafficking.

In order for our efforts to be successful, law enforcement officers should become familiar with this type of victimization, and investigate suspected abuses. If they are unsure of what steps to follow, they should contact the nearest Immigration and Naturalization Service Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or a state investigative body dealing in organized crime.

If an arrest is made of a suspected prostitute, they should interview her to determine if she is a victim of trafficking.

It remains apparent that the investigation of Russian organized crime and trafficking in women is a critical component of a law enforcement strategy.

Any law enforcement response must include civil sanctions, which allows prosecutors to seize and forfeit illegal proceeds generated or assets used by an enterprise in their criminal activity, and criminal punishment.

Sgt. Walter Zalisko is a former Monmouth County (N.J.) undersheriff and founder of PMC International, a police consulting firm. He serves as a member of the Governor's Advisory Council. Zalisko is fluent in Ukrainian and Russian and is an authority on Russian Organized Crime, having investigated Russian crime syndicates throughout New Jersey and New York.

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Tags: Sex Crimes, Organized Crime, Smuggling, Transnational Gangs


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