SEATTLE — The human trafficking industry exploits millions of people every year, creating billions of dollars in revenue. While this is a major worldwide issue, increased awareness has started to inspire people to work against it on a larger scale. For years, Russia has been a hotbed for traffickers, with thousands of prostitution and labor slaves trafficked in and out of the country. Human rights supporters around the world are working to fight human trafficking in Russia, and in turn, reduce the number of slaves illegally moved around the globe.
While human trafficking and slavery have always been an issue in most areas of the globe, human trafficking in Russia became exacerbated with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Employment decreased and travel restrictions increased.
As of 2016, the Global Slavery Index estimated that over a million people were victims of human trafficking in Russia. Their definition of slavery includes forced prostitution, labor and marriage. The enslaved include Russians as well as people, especially women and children, from many other areas of the world. Workers from as far away as southeast Asia are trafficked from Hong Kong to Russia by “recruitment agencies” who lure their victims with promises of employment.
St. Petersburg also serves as a hub for human trafficking in Russia, especially the trafficking of children. While creating child pornography is illegal in Russia, the possession of it is not. This lures child predators to cities like St. Petersburg and orphans and children who live on the street are specifically targeted.
In late 2003, President Putin and the Russian government declared human trafficking illegal and updated the Criminal Code to list prison as a consequence of trafficking or enslavement. While this was a positive first step towards ending human trafficking in Russia, there is still much to be done.
In Russia, the politics surrounding human trafficking can complicate action on the issue. Since 2003, there have not been any additional laws passed surrounding human trafficking in Russia. As a result of tension between the United States and Russia, many politicians view supporting legislation on human trafficking as catering to the wishes of the United States and relinquishing total control of their country.
So what can be done to fight human trafficking in Russia? While pressure from the United States has not had the desired effect of curbing enslavement, the U.N Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons sets goals for each country to reduce the prevalence of human trafficking. With the U.N. monitoring human trafficking in Russia, the Russian government will have the motivation to improve their policy surrounding trafficking.
There are also many non-government organizations that are working to extinguish human trafficking in Russia. The Youth Human Rights Movement, the Eurasia Foundation, IREX and many other organizations are working towards preventing trafficking within Russia.
There are also several organizations that provide aid to victims of human trafficking, something that the Russian government has yet to do. The Independent Charity Center of Assistance to Victims of Sexual Violence, based in Moscow, provides aid to people who have suffered sexual violence, including human trafficking. The Center for Assistance to Victims of Violence and Human Trafficking has bases throughout Russia and focuses on rehabilitating the formerly trafficked.
Although human trafficking in Russia is a massive problem, there are tangible steps that can be taken to relieve the extent of this issue. With continued external and internal pressure, we can work towards a world where slavery in Russia does not exist.
– Julia McCartney