Pornography demand explodes: Human traffickers abuse Ukrainian refugees as sex slaves

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After the Russian invasion, many Ukrainians flee. However, instead of protection, many Ukrainian women experience sexual exploitation. The culprit is not least a sharp increase in demand for pornography with alleged refugees.

Millions of Ukrainians have been fleeing death, destruction and abuse at the hands of Russian troops since the war began. 90 percent of them are women and children. However, what they find on their escape is not always the safety they had hoped for. Studies show that Ukrainian women and girls in particular are increasingly becoming victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Europe.

“There are a lot of men whose first reaction to the war was how to approach these women sexually,” says Valiant Richey, special representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Online searches such as “Ukrainian escorts” or “Ukrainian refugee porn” increased a hundredfold after the start of the war. Researchers analyzed Internet search trends worldwide. The increased demand could quickly lead to real exploitation as human traffickers and sex website operators try to make money from it.

Views of pornographic videos allegedly depicting Ukrainian refugees have skyrocketed over the past six months. In January alone, 13 such videos were viewed around 275,000 times, it is said. The search term “Ukrainian refugee porn” increased by 300 percent globally in March 2022. In Spain, search queries increased by 600 percent, in Poland by 130 percent. The term “Ukrainian escorts” has increased by 200 percent in the UK compared to six months before the war broke out. Searches for these terms were also increasing in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France and Switzerland.

Berlin has five times as many Ukrainian prostitutes

“The high demand by men for sexual access to Ukrainian women and girls creates a tremendous incentive for traffickers to recruit vulnerable people to meet and profit from this demand,” says Richey. “We found direct evidence of recruitment attempts in chats used by Ukrainians and an increase in online advertising by Ukrainians.”

Also in Berlin, where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian women arrived at the main train station last year, there is an alarming increase in Ukrainian prostitution. Shortly before the outbreak of war, in early February 2022, 24 people with Ukrainian nationality were registered in Berlin in accordance with the Prostitute Protection Act. The number has now risen to 139 people (as of February 3, 2023), according to figures from the official Berlin registration office.

However, these are only the registered prostitutes, the number of unreported cases is, as is so often the case, much higher, says the chairman of the alliance against human trafficking eV, Frank Heinrich, to ntv.de. “We also know from many other cities that the number of undeclared women is much higher.” It is therefore also not possible to check whether the women engage in prostitution voluntarily. “But we know of many people who pursued completely different professions in Ukraine. There they were hairdressers, hotel managers or something similar.” Here you are then a prostitute, which suggests that many do not do it voluntarily. “The probability is very small.” Out of shame, however, most women would hardly admit it.

“Finally new fresh meat”

A corresponding demand was already clearly evident in German freelance forums in March 2022. In these forums, men share their experiences and desires about prostitutes. According to the GGMH, statements can be found there, such as: “Could be good. Finally new fresh meat. We’ve been ***ing these women from Romania and Bulgaria for years now. It’s slowly enough. And women from the Ukraine are much prettier and hornier.” Or also: “I looked around at the main train station to see who was arriving there. Some of them were really hot women. We can be happy if some of them would soon like to earn something extra.”

From these chat messages, it quickly becomes clear that men see women as commodities. A “piece of meat” that belongs to them – because the men are convinced of that, according to Heinrich. The men don’t have to fear the consequences either – buying sex is not punishable by law and even fantasies of rape are legal as long as they can’t be proven to be crimes. “More is happening there than five or eight years ago. The police have learned a lot, but so has the Internet.”

Insidious tactics secure the business

In order to sexually exploit the women, human traffickers sometimes use different methods. Refugees, for example, are offered tenancies where the price is then increased so drastically that they can no longer afford it. The payment should then be made with physical labor, explains Heinrich. This is often also called poverty prostitution. “But it’s actually debt bondage. A guilt is produced, ‘I’ll take you in, now you have something to do’.”

Another tactic is also the so-called “loverboy method”. Men specifically go to countries like the Ukraine and start affairs with women in order to make them emotionally dependent on them, says Heinrich. Debt problems suddenly arise later in the relationship, and the woman is supposed to help collect money quickly. “These men often have several such relationships at the same time.” The consent to prostitution then usually happens out of an emotional dependency. Statistically, this is the most common form of sexual exploitation.

Even before the war, young women were lured to Germany via supposed au pair programs, who then ended up in prostitution. Many Ukrainian parents would therefore no longer send their children to Germany as au pairs, as Heinrich knows. However, most cases of prostitution remain undetected because women are so ashamed. A criminal situation is often created in that false papers mean that women do not go to the police. “There are very different approaches to it.”

Lax legislation makes things easy

The human traffickers, on the other hand, have an easy time of it for the most part. “In Germany it’s easier to run a brothel than to bill for a Tupperware party,” says Heinrich. The legislation gives a lot of freedom. The so-called Prostitution Protection Act came into force in 2017, which at least requires women to be registered as prostitutes. This applies nationally, but the handling is up to the respective interior ministries of the federal states. “The control of brothels varies greatly from state to state,” says Heinrich.

It even goes so far that citizens find offers of sex with Ukrainian women in their e-mail inboxes. Also from Russian women. That too has increased significantly over the past year.

Therefore, only enlightenment can help. A TikTok campaign by the human rights organization International Justice Mission (IJM) warned in Ukrainian about the tricks used by human traffickers and explained the legal situation. In this way, several hundred thousand Ukrainian women could be reached. “The response has been overwhelming. Dozens of women have come forward and said they didn’t know and narrowly escaped sexual exploitation.”



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