By Jim Kouri
A recent government report estimates that between 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are brought to the United States every year under false pretenses and are forced to work as prostitutes, abused laborers or servants.
According to analysts with the Government Accountability Office, a major purveyor of these de facto slaves is the Russian organized crime syndicate. Brutal, cunning and ruthless, these 21st Century mobsters present a new threat to US national security, according to law enforcement officials.
UNICEF estimates that more than 200,000 children are enslaved by cross-border smuggling in West and Central Africa. The children are often “sold” by unsuspecting parents who believe their children are going to be looked after, learn a trade or be educated.
According to experts on international organized crime, women and girls who are attracted by the prospect of a well-paid job as a domestic servant, waitress or factory worker too often find themselves trapped in an indentured servant existence.
Human traffickers recruit victims through fake advertisements, mail-order bride catalogues and casual acquaintances. Upon arrival at their destination, victims are placed in conditions controlled by traffickers while they are exploited to earn illicit revenues. Many are physically confined, their travel or identity documents are taken away and they or their families are threatened if they do not cooperate, experts have said.
Women and girls forced to work as prostitutes are blackmailed by the threat that traffickers will tell their families. Trafficked children are dependent on their traffickers for food, shelter and other basic necessities. Traffickers also play on victims’ fears that authorities in a strange country will prosecute or deport them if they ask for help, according to studies on human trafficking.
Over the past decade, trafficking in human beings has reached epidemic proportions. No country is immune. The search for work abroad has been fueled by economic disparity, high unemployment and the disruption of traditional livelihoods. Traffickers face few risks and can earn huge profits by taking advantage of large numbers of potential immigrants, according the government report.
Trafficking in human beings is a crime in which victims are moved from poor environments to more affluent ones, with the profits flowing in the opposite direction, a pattern often repeated at the domestic, regional and global levels. It is believed to be growing fastest in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
In Asia, girls from villages in Nepal and Bangladesh — the majority of whom are under 18 — are sold to brothels in India for $1000. Trafficked women from Thailand and the Philippines are increasingly being joined by women from other countries in Southeast Asia. Europe (European InterPol) estimates that the industry is now worth several billion dollars a year. Trafficking in human beings is not confined to the sex industry. Children are trafficked to work in sweatshops as bonded labor and men work illegally in the “three D-jobs” — dirty, difficult and dangerous.
In the decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has become the target of a new global crime threat from criminal organizations and criminal activities that have poured forth over the borders of Russia and other former Soviet republics such as Ukraine. The nature and variety of the crimes being committed seem unlimited — trafficking in women and children, drugs, arms trafficking, stolen automobiles, and money laundering are among the most prevalent.
The spillover is particularly troubling to Europe because of its geographical proximity to Russia, and to Israel, because of its large numbers of Russian immigrants. But no area of the world seems immune to this menace, especially not the United States. America is the land of opportunity for unloading criminal goods and laundering dirty money. For that reason — and because, unfortunately, much of the examination of Russian organized crime (the so-called “Russian Mafia”) to date has been rather hyperbolic and sketchy — many in law enforcement believe it is important to step back and take an objective look at this growing phenomenon.
As in the United States, there is no universally accepted definition of organized crime in Russia, in major part because Russian law provides no legal definition of organized crime. Analysis of criminological sources, however, enables one to identify some of its basic characteristics. These include organizational features that make Russian organized crime unique in the degree to which it is embedded in the post-Soviet political system, according to organized crime experts.
At the same time, however, it has certain features in common with such other well-known varieties of organized crime as the Italian Mafia. The latter has a complicated history that includes both cooperation and conflict with the Italian state. Much more than was ever the case with the Italian Mafia, however, Russian organized crime is uniquely a descendant of the Soviet state.
Russian organized crime has come to plague many areas of the globe since the demise of the Soviet Union just more than a decade ago. The transnational character of Russian organized crime, when coupled with its high degree of sophistication and ruthlessness, has attracted the world’s attention and concern to what has become known as a global Russian Mafia. Along with this concern, however, has come a fair amount of misunderstanding and stereotyping with respect to Russian organized crime.