Friday 29 June, 21st Century Sex Slaves One of the unexpected aspects of the fall of Communism has been a new slave trade from East to West - thousands of desperate young women from Eastern Europe smuggled to the brothels and clubs of cities like Rome, Antwerp and London. The trade has been rising inexorably for the past decade, bringing big profits to organised crime, and untold misery to the women and their families, particularly their children. But now this obscene trade is increasingly being confronted by the authorities and special charities set up to rescue the girls.
A report on the problem of sex slavery in Antwerp recently featured on Outlook. To listen to the programme, please click here. Penniless young mothers from Eastern Europe are a valuable commodity in the clubs and brothels of Belgium. Albania and Moldova are two of the poorest countries in Europe, and many desperate girls - often trying to earn money for their young children - are tricked into being smuggled to the West by the lure of lucrative jobs as a waitress or a nanny.
When they arrive in the European Union, they often find they cannot escape their exploiters and are beaten and raped. Charities working closely with the victims of the traffickers say that, because they are illegal immigrants, the women are doubly trapped. In an effort to alert vulnerable women at home to the risks they face abroad, BBC World Service Trust has been gathering the stories of women trafficked to the Belgian port of Antwerp.
At a safe house run by the charity Payoke, Tim Grout-Smith spoke to Egla, a year-old Albanian woman, who escaped slavery two weeks before. She lived in a remote village, was engaged at years-old and married at 17 to an older traditionalist husband who kept her locked up at home. Over several years, a local criminal set out to compromise her and bring her under his power. He broke into her home when she was alone, and threatened to tell everyone she had invited him in.
The child was sent back, and gossip spread that Egla had gone voluntarily. At this point her eyes fill with tears. Escape To Freedom Escape came by accident when the two brothers were arrested for burglary, and failed to collect her from her place of work.
A Belgian family took her in, but fearing she would get them into trouble with the Albanian gangsters, she made her way to the Payoke shelter, an anonymous house on the edge of the red-light district. The house may be safe, but Egla is well aware that the area is not.
Only days before Egla spoke to the Trust, two Albanians and a Belgian client had been killed in a turf-war over prostitutes in a nearby street. She explains her perception of Antwerp: She shares a room with three other girls, and is gradually recovering from her ordeal. She is already learning Flemish and if she testifies against the men who enslaved her, Payoke will help her to gain Belgian citizenship. Even though her daughter is still in Albania, Egla realises that she can never go back to her home.
She is looking forward to learning to be a hairdresser, and starting a normal life but at the same time she is fearful of leaving the safety of the hostel: The charity says that there are Albanian prostitutes in Italy alone and that urgent action is required to combat poverty and poor education in rural Albania.