The Natashas

The New Global Sex Trade from Eastern Europe
(Arcade Publishing (September 15, 2004), Hardcover: 320 pages, ISBN: 1559707356)

Victor Malarek’s The Natashas exposes the newest trend in the global sexual slave trade: the sale, rape and sexual servitude of young women from the Former Soviet Union. Approximately 1 million young women are trafficked annually.

Sex trafficking is not new and victims come from all over the world. But what is new is the strength with which the trade has taken hold of Former Soviet countries while they undergo trying socio-economic transitions.

I spent the summer of 2003 in Kiev, training social workers working in rape crisis counseling at a women’s organization combating sex trafficking. Getting victims to understand it is not their fault that they are kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery is one of the most difficult tasks. Some women who managed to return to Ukraine – usually through deportation or escape – sought our help while remaining silent for the most part about their experiences.

Although Ukraine is one of the largest source countries for sex trafficking, government complacency and corruption, the prevalence of violence against women, and taboos associated with sex and sexual violence make it a topic that few will speak about, and fewer will confront. Even referring to these women as ìsurvivors,î the prevailing term we use in English to refer to victims of sexual violence, was a challenging concept to communicate. Despite the torture that these women endure and overcome, they are reproached and condemned by society, and blamed for their ordeals. It is little wonder that few women ever speak of what happened to them.

Malarek’s powerful book is a straightforward presentation of the issue. It brings us face to face with trafficking and its victims, allowing us as readers to understand the issue on a human, personal, and emotional level. One of the many personal stories he recounts is that of a Romanian girl who was kidnapped at knife – point, then driven into Serbia to join a house of abducted girls. He quotes from her:

‘There were so many young girls in there…We were told not to speak to each other. Not to tell each other our names or where we were from. All the time, very mean and ugly men came in and dragged girls into rooms…Those who resisted were beaten…One girl refused to submit to anal sex, and that night the owner brought in five men.’

This woman goes on to explain how some were beaten to death during the sexual abuse, and that she and the others were forced to watch. Malarek also writes about the governmental, societal, and criminal dynamics driving the proliferation and success of the global sex trade.

‘I was told by this officer that he couldn’t help me. He said, ‘You can√ɬ≠t come here and tell us this.’

Also, how members of high profile groups such as UN Peacekeepers are participating in the trade. According to Malarek, a report reached the U.S. Congress House Committee on Foreign Relations: ‘UN Peacekeepers’ participation in the sex slave trade in Bosnia is a significant, widespread problem…Without the peacekeeping presence, there would’ve been little or no forced prostitution in Bosnia.’

The extent of the problem, and the terrifying consequences for those who are victimized by the trade, still remain unknown to most in the world. Meanwhile, the traffickers are reaping enormous profits with the help of new technologies, transnational crime networks, government complacency, and the insatiable demand for the sexual slaves. Malarek explains that one girl in just four months can make 60,000 dollars for her pimp. A favorite market place is the ‘Arizona highway’ in Bosnia:

‘For hundreds of √ɬ¨broken in√É¬Æ women trafficked in Eastern Europe, the next stop on the road is the infamous Arizona Market…in northwest Bosnia, there lies a stretch of road. At the entrance a large sign pays homage to the Americans: Our thanks to the U.S. Army for supposing the development of this market…Constructed in 1996 after the Balkan civil war…when the sun goes does a more pernicious trade kicks into gear…the most valuable goods are the ones with a pulse… They order the girls to take off their clothes and they are standing in the road naked. They are exposed to be purchased like cattle.’

Malarek spent two years conducting field research and coming into contact with government officials, traffickers, and the victims themselves. Seeing the consequences of trafficking on its victims in person inflamed him to write this compassionate, often angry, but also very detailed and accurate account of the trade. In doing so, he exposes horrific situations that hundreds of thousands of young women are encountering every day.

‘In the month she was held captive, Olenka figures she was raped more than 1800 times. The men each paid the owner $50.’

The problem seems daunting and overwhelming. Malarek explains, ‘For trafficked women and girls, there are few roads to freedom. There is rescue and there is escape. The first requires luck – where in the form of a caring john wiling to stick his neck out or as the result of a police raid. The second road – escape – demands incredible daring and encourage.’

But in a recent conversation I had with Malarek, he encouraged me that ‘everyone can contribute’ to stopping this slave trade. By passing the book around to friends, families and co-workers to spread awareness, by writing to senators and congressmen, by going to seminars, and joining anti-violence and women’s organizations, everyone who is concerned about this issue can be a part of the effort to combat trafficking. Malarek’s tireless efforts to raise awareness are inspiring. The author gave up the international rights to his book in order to have it translated into Ukrainian, with 5,000 copies to be distributed for free throughout Ukraine.

The topic makes us uncomfortable because it is bound up in sexual taboos and stereotypes. The stories of the victims seem too horrible to be real, and too difficult to believe. That is why Malarek’s efforts are so important, and why I urge everyone to read this book. The stories are real, they are difficult, but the victims of sex trafficking deserve, at the very least, the chance to have the stories heard.

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January 6th, 2005 by