Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The "Natasha" Trade: The Transnational Shadow Market of Trafficking in Women

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The "Natasha" Trade: The Transnational Shadow Market of Trafficking in Women

Article excerpt

"Can people really buy and sell women and get away with it? Sometimes I sit here and ask myself if that really happened to me, if it can really happen at all. "--A Ukrainian woman who was trafficked, beaten, and raped in the sex industry in Israel. After a police raid, she was put in prison, awaiting deportation.(1)

Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a multi-billion dollar shadow market.(2) Women are trafficked to, from and through every region in the world using methods that have become new forms of slavery.(3) The value of the global trade in women as commodities for sex industries is estimated to be between US$7 and $12 billion annually.(4) This trade in women is a highly profitable enterprise with relatively low risk compared to trade in drugs or arms. The money-makers are transnational networks of traffickers and pimps that prey on the dreams of women seeking employment and opportunities for the future. The activities of these networks threaten the well-being and status of women as well as the social, political and economic well-being and stability of nations where they operate.

The transnational trade in women is driven by supply and demand. Countries with large sex industries create the demand and are the receiving countries, while countries where traffickers easily recruit women are the sending countries. For decades the primary sending countries were Asian countries, such as Thailand and the Philippines. The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up a pool of millions of women from which traffickers can recruit. Now, former Soviet republics, such as Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Russia, have become major sending countries for women trafficked into sex industries all over the world. In the sex industry markets today, the most popular and valuable women are from Ukraine and Russia.(5)

This paper focuses primarily on the sending country of Ukraine, now the second largest country in Europe, and currently, one of the largest suppliers of women for prostitution. Although a comprehensive understanding of trafficking from the former Soviet republics is lacking, more research on trafficking in women and advocacy has been done by non-governmental organizations in Ukraine than in the other primary sending countries from that region.

At the beginning of this paper, the scope of the problem of trafficking is discussed and the definition of the term trafficking is reviewed. Next, the international gray market for women is located in the globalization process and characterized as a modern day slave trade. The role of transnational crime networks in the trafficking of women is examined with a few illustrative cases. A section on the methods of recruitment and trafficking describes how women are recruited from their hometowns and transported to sex industries in other countries. Although there are a number of ways that women are trafficked, their ultimate circumstance is entrapment in prostitution. How women are controlled and why it is so difficult for them to escape is described. The next section focuses on who is profiting from this slave trade and how official corruption and collaboration with organized crime networks facilitates and protects the traffickers. Some people suggest that prostitution and trafficking are informal economies that enable unemployed women to earn a living. The idea that women and communities may benefit from the shadow market of trafficking in women is examined. This section describes those who profit from trafficking in women. Although the problem of trafficking in women is gaining more attention, when the causes of trafficking are examined, the gendered dimension of supply and, especially, demand are frequently left out of the analysis. The section on the gendered supply and demand challenges a frequent assumption that poverty is the most important factor in determining which countries will become sending countries. The last section takes a closer look at the demand side of the dynamics of supply and demand from sending and `receiving countries. …

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