Criminal prostitution networks and individual abusers are looking for Ukrainian women to exploit them, but European authorities remain silent.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, researcher in Social Sciences at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; geopolitical consultant.
According to recent reports, Ukrainian refugee women are being sought for sexual exploitation in Western countries. Data collected by police officers, private investigators and journalists show that there is a growing demand for Ukrainian women from anonymous sexual predators, who seek to take advantage of refugees in clandestine prostitution networks. But, despite the information, the authorities of these countries have not yet presented any effective plan to combat this type of crime.
In Sweden, where paying for sex is a crime, thirty-eight men were arrested searching for this service in March, thirty of them related to refugee Ukrainian prostitutes. In Ireland, a sexual services website specifically of Ukrainian women was created. In the UK and Poland, Google searches for “Ukrainian escorts” tripled in just the first week after the Russian special military operation began. In Spain, the search for “Ukrainian porn” increased by 600% since February. In general, this has been the treatment received by Ukrainian female refugees in the West: being exposed to the action of sexual predators.
These women arrive in the West in an extremely vulnerable situation, unable to afford life abroad and looking for all kinds of help. Many of them are deceived by job offers and high fees, when they are then directed to the black market of sexual services, where they are subjected to degrading “work” conditions, offering their own bodies so that payers provide profits for the human traffickers who put them there.
In a interview published on Monday, June 27, Reuters’ senior human rights advisor Heather Fischer, who is investigating the case, said: “European women, Eastern European woman, Ukrainian women, are already at risk, and often are lured and groomed and recruited into sex trafficking (…) So you put crisis on top of that, and now you have a recipe for increased spikes of demand for human trafficking (…) This might seem innocuous at first to the outside observer, but these trends can actually provide sort of an impetus for traffickers to capitalize the demand (…) It’s just really unfortunate as globally people are wondering how they can rush headlong to supporting some of the most vulnerable people, there was a pocket of society who are asking the opposite question, which is, ‘How can I exploit women and children coming from Ukraine?’ So that’s very alarming for us.”
This type of situation, despite shocking, is nothing new. In large migratory waves, sex trafficking tends to grow, as do other forms of illegal labor exploitation. There are many research works relating the large waves of migration with the rise in the incidence of slave or underpaid labor, for example. The growth in prostitution is also part of this reality: clandestine profiteers take advantage of the vulnerability of refugee women, placing them in a degrading market that they would not want to enter, if they had the economic and social conditions necessary to guarantee their rights and interests.
In addition to this illegal labor issue, however, there are also individual exploiters, who do not look for Ukrainian women in prostitution networks, but who abuse refugees by receiving them at home. Many families in the West have offered shelter to Ukrainian refugees in their homes, welcoming them as new “relatives”. Despite the apparently good intention on the part of people offering this type of help, there are also sexual predators and pedophiles interested in receiving Ukrainian women and children to sexually abuse them. In an investigation conducted by The Times in April, it was possible to observe several sexual predators offering shelter and Ukrainian refugees in Facebook groups. Some openly demanded sexual favors while others spoke more moderately but using suggestive vocabulary.
However, although investigations about this type of exploratory activity have been taking place since February, nothing has been done to protect these women so far. State authorities have blamed sexual predation on digital platforms that are unable to control such criminals’ access to refugee assistance networks. But digital companies respond by saying that such control is the responsibility of the state and not theirs. Meanwhile, more and more Ukrainian women are being abused and the hegemonic media is trying to block the repercussion of the investigations, camouflaging Europe as a “paradise for refugees”.
It is time for European states to act incisively and prevent a new humanitarian calamity. There needs to be a critical reflection by state agencies on how to deal with this situation because it is the responsibility of the local authorities to prevent these women from being victimized by the citizens of the receiving countries.
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