Destination Israel for sex 'slaves'

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The Independent Online
THE young Lithuanian woman in the prison library has the narrow chest, hunched shoulders and wary eyes of someone who has known poverty and is not sure where the next blow is coming from. She talks to reporters to convince herself that she was not a prostitute, not one by choice anyway.

Her first name, which is all she will tell, is Giedre. She is 19, one of 38 illegal immigrants from the former Soviet Union awaiting deportation in Neve Tirtza women's prison near Ben-Gurion airport. Almost all of them, according to the governor, Betty Lahat, worked in Israeli brothels.

The prisoners are the tip of a multimillion-dollar racket, which recruits hundreds of women a year in Eastern Europe for what the Israel Women's Network brands "a modern slave trade". Criminologists estimate some 2,000 women from Russia, Lithuania and Ukraine work here in the sex industry. They are traded by pimps and traffickers for up to $20,000 (pounds 12,200).

Giedre says she came to Israel to stay with an aunt. After a family row, she moved into a cheap hotel near Tel-Aviv. One night she returned from a disco to find her room ransacked, her bag, passport and money gone.

When she went downstairs to report the theft, she was lured outside by a Russian girl who had befriended her. Two men grabbed her and bundled her into a van. She was kept for three days in a locked room of a two- storey house without food.

"On the third night I was desperate," she says. "I tried to break out. I shouted for help. But it was no use. Two men, who spoke Russian with a Georgian accent, carted me off to a massage parlour. When I refused to work there, they beat me up. They raped me, punched my body, slapped my face. I agreed."

Giedra was put in a room with another girl. She had sex with six clients a day. The two girls slept and worked in the same room. There were five other girls in the house. They told Giedre they had 15-20 men a day. They were paid $1,000 a month.

The teenager worked for a week, but didn't wait for acheque. One day, she climbed out of a laundry room. After finding her way back to her aunt's, she was arrested for overstaying her visa. When she has the money for a ticket, she'll be put on the next plane out.

Another prisoner, "Russita", was a prostitute in Lithuania. Mafia agents brought her to Israel on forged papers with tales of rich pickings. The agent took away her passport on arrival at Haifa port. In Israel, one pimp sold her to another.

"A pimp put me in a massage parlour, where I received up to 30 men a day," says Russita. "They paid him 150 shekels [about pounds 25] each." Russita was arrested.Prostitution is not a crime in Israel, but she will be expelled because she has no papers.

According to a report by the Israel Women's Network, most pimps are Israeli citizens. The network found pimps were prosecuted in only the most extreme cases. Even then, they usually received light sentences."The pimps go free," says Efraim Erlich, head of the Tel-Aviv vice squad. "The women go to prison."