"E' difficile che le vittime del trafficking riescano a reintegrarsi nella società bulgara, ancora chiusa e patriarcale". E' la denuncia di chi, in questi anni, si sta occupando in Bulgaria delle donne obbligate a prostituirsi in tutta Europa.
La Bulgaria è terra d'origine di molte delle donne obbligate poi a prostituirsi lungo le strade di tutta Europa. La nostra corrispondente descrive il lavoro di chi si occupa del loro rimpatrio e reinserimento. Testo in inglese.
2,100 Bulgarian women are involved in prostitution abroad, Colonel Rumen Milanov, Director of the National Service for Combat against Organised Crime informed journalists in Sofia on 1, October 2002. Bulgarian policemen together with counterparts from South Eastern Europe, participated in the Mirage Operation, aimed at seizing persons involved in prostitution and sexual exploitation. Attracted by various job offers, nearly all of the women leave Bulgaria on valid documents, said Col. Valeri Grigorov of the National Border Police Service. Operation Mirage involved a check of 2079 clubs, massage parlours, chalets and bars under suspicions that prostitution is practised there. The police services found 1063 women involved in prostitution, of whom 67 were forced into prostitution or had sought protection from law-enforcers or international organisations, Col. Milanov said.
A special Working Group for Combat and Actions against Trafficking with Humans with the Ministry of the Interior and with the participation of the National Service for Combat against Organised Crime, the National Border Police Service and experts from Interpol is operating in Bulgaria.
Prostitution is illegal in Bulgaria. It is considered a criminal act. It is those who instigate and organised prostitution that bear criminal liability. The prostitutes themselves do not bear criminal liability. In reality, however, pimps also remain unpunished. If they get arrested, they are released in 24 hours' time. This is due to various reasons such as corruption existing in the judicial system or skilful interpretation of the law. There is a joke saying that a defendant would better find a prosecutor than a lawyer. In Bulgaria prostitution is linked to organised crime. Prostitution in Bulgaria is stigmatised by the prejudice inherent in a society that still bears a patriarchal pattern. The victims of trafficking are often subjected to humiliation because of having been forced into prostitution. The victims' families and relatives are not ready to accept them back.
Being at the crossways between Europe and the Orient, Bulgaria has become attractive regarding women trafficking. Channels start from Bulgaria and are directed to the countries in Western Europe and the former Yugoslavia. From 2001 Bulgarians do not need visas to travel to EU countries and so Bulgarian girls are easily trafficked. A three-month stay can be made for the purpose of tourism or for business.
Nadia Kozhuharova is a psychotherapist and coordinator of the La Strada Program of the Animus Association Foundation. Since 1998 it has been the Bulgarian counterpart in the La Strada international program addressing the issue of trafficking of women in Central and Eastern Europe. She explains why women that have been victims of trafficking reintegrate with difficulty into mainstream Bulgarian society after being repatriated, "A small proportion of these women have recovered and stabilised their position; the majority of them join again the trafficking. One of the reasons for this is the fact that mainstream society can not accept them, they are stigmatised. Due to prejudice people believe that this is prostitution and some kind of vice. The patriarchal model of the small town condemns such women and their family is ashamed of them".
Women that have been victims of trafficking will be taught how to do business
Women that have been victims of trafficking or forced to prostitute will be taught how to do business in Bulgaria. Several months ago the Animus Association Foundations launched a program aimed at training with the assistance of the US Labor Department and IRES Association. Women in Sofia and Aytos will be trained. The first group comprises of 45 ladies. After the training the women are expected to come up with small business initiatives of their own and the best of them will receive a support of USD 2,000. Over 10,000 Bulgarian women have become victims of trafficking over the last years, indicate Animus records. 314 victims of trafficking have sought assistance from the Association during the last year and 117 of these have been involved in Animus' programs, says Ms. Lora Belcheva, a project coordinator.
The Animus Association takes care of the rehabilitation, copying of psychological traumas and recovery of the stability of women that have been the victims of trafficking. There is a 24-hour telephone number that can be reached not only by women who have been victims of trafficking but also parents of missing girls. A non-stop crisis centre that offers not only emotional but also social assistance is operating. With the help of this centre after these women have been repatriated to Bulgaria, they have the chance to obtain shelter, food, clothes and medical care. Animus consultants also offer psychological therapy to the victims of trafficking and forced prostitution.
Ms. Nadya Kozhuharova is happy that after 5-6 years of work the Bulgarian institutions have started to address this issue. "We work intensively with the institutions so that the trafficking is recognised as a crime and the state becomes engaged not only with its criminal aspect but also with the assistance to be offered to the victims. Currently, a draft law against illegal trafficking of humans is being submitted to the Parliament. Two weeks ago changes in the Penal Code were adopted and the crime trafficking of humans was defined in the chapter addressing crime against the personality. When years ago we started to work on these issues there was no mention that these women are victims; they were called 'love goddesses' or 'white slaves' ".
One of the biggest prostitution channels passes through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania and it arrives till to Italy. Prostitution in Bulgaria is controlled by organised crime. Ms. Nadya Kozhuharova believes that once become a prostitute a woman can hardly break free from the vicious circle. The reasons underlying this are complex, "A great role is attributed to the fact that we, the Bulgarians, stayed for a long period of time isolated from the West and had no chances to travel abroad. Every Bulgarian gives everything to travel in the West. The mythology about the brilliant life in the West is alive. Although counterintuitive, most victims of trafficking occur through relatives and people you know, through misuse of trust by a neighbour or a friend of friends".
The activity of International Organization for Migration
The Bulgarian office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was set up two years ago and has helped 200 victims of prostitution, including 40 women from Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. Mr. Nikolai Nenkov, a counter-trafficking operator from the Bulgarian office of IOM is sceptical about the success of the reintegration of the victims of trafficking repatriated to Bulgaria, "Mainstream society finds it hard to accept these girls. In Bulgaria there is no distinction between prostitution and trafficking of women and these girls are considered guilty, despite the fact that they are victims. Most girls who have been victims of trafficking have a low educational status. We set up individual programs, requalification and training courses. We try to arrange the completion of the secondary education for some of the girls".
A success story of reintegration
Yet, there are stories with a happy end. Ms. G. was a married and a mother of three children. She is 32 years old and lived in a small Bulgarian town. Her daughter was in need of an eye surgery that had to be paid. She saw an advertisement in a newspaper for baby sitters in Spain. The company organised her leave in 2001. In Spain she was met by two Bulgarian men who took her to a house, locked her, beat her, threatened her an attempted to force her into prostitution. She refused adamantly but was raped, abused and sold to another Bulgarian. She lost her liberty, passport and personal identity and was forced to sell her body. Ms. G. managed to escape and was sent by the local police to an NGO. She was returned back to Bulgaria. IOM Sofia covered the cost of the return. Her family received threats, the whole family needed protection. IOM Sofia arranged for the whole family to be resettled to a different town through the help of the local police and municipality, and the witness protection program, and helped to provide job orientation for both the husband and the wife. The family successfully overcame the trauma.
Profile Of Victims Who Have Been Assisted
IOM has researched the profile of the victims. Nationality - 52 % Bulgarian, 38 % Ukrainian, 3 % Georgian, 5 % Moldavian, 1 % Russian, 1 % Macedonian, Age Breakdown - 49 % - 18-14 years, 26 % - 25-30 years, 8 % - 15-17 years, 27 % - over 30 years, residence type - 75 % Urban, 16 % - Rural, 4 % - Capital city, family economic status - 44 % - standard, 39 % - poor, 5 % - very poor, 4 % - well off. Level of education - 30 % - high, 20 % - middle, 13 % - primary, 13 % professional school, 7 % university, 7 % N/A. How recruited - 60 % False job promise, 23 % kidnapping, 9 % N/A, 1 % False marriage promise, 4 % other. How freed - 54 % police, 26 % - N/A, 19 % - herself, 1 % other.
Debate on prostitution
Ms. Nadya Kozhuharova from the Animus Association believes that we need to decriminalise prostitution, "During my contacts with prostitutes many of them have stated that they need a brothel. The legalisation of the prostitution will lower the risks that women face, no matter how cynical this may sound". There are extravagant ideas to fight prostitution in the Bulgarian public life as well. To give an example with the idea of the leader of the Union for Rights and Freedoms (the Turkish party in the Parliament), Mr. Ahmet Dogan, to legalise the brothels in Bulgaria. While many Bulgarian oppose the legalisation of brothels, many believe that in this way the oldest profession will creep out of the grips of the organised crime. The debate on prostitution is still on the public agenda.