LAST year Bryan Jenkins, an active detective chief inspector with the Welsh branch of the National Crime Squad, spent nine months tracking a Bulgarian mobster who trafficked at least 10 women into Britain, Christopher Sulavis reported in the latest issue of Newsweek magazine.
"The women were driven on forged Greek or Italian passports from Bulgaria through Germany to France, where a British national took them on to a massage parlour in Cardiff, Wales, run by an accomplice of the Bulgarian.
"He really didn't do much-just organised things and collected the money" that paid for luxury flats in Cardiff and London, and a new Audi A8, writes Jenkins. "The leader was caught and deported to Bulgaria for prosecution."
The Bulgarian police has been silent on this case. Instead, Bulgarian women have themselves had to take the initiative and report the horrible facts.
The fact is that every fifth woman in Bulgaria is either subjected to domestic abuse or becomes a victim of illegal trafficking. These statistics were reported by the Zonta Club, a Bulgarian non-governmental organisation working to protecting women's rights.
Zonta Club is an international organisation set up in 1919 to bring together executives in business and the professions to advance the status of women. Today, the group has a well-developed network of clubs worldwide. There are five clubs in Bulgaria alone: in Sofia, Blagoevgrad, Pleven, Varna and Veliko Turnovo.
In the past week, Zonta published the results of an independent survey of 1743 children, aged between 12 and 17, from seven elite Sofia schools and three orphanages.
The report states that schoolgirls trafficked abroad and forced to work as prostitutes bring their pimps an average profit of 30 000 to 50 000 leva each every three months.
Girls between 12 and 18 years of age are the most frequent victims. Pimps promise to find them work as governesses, waitresses or models, but about 18 per cent of those girls surveyed between 15 and 18 years old become prostitutes voluntarily because of poverty and the lack of any perceived opportunity in their lives.
Bulgaria is one of the centres through which the trafficking route of women in the Balkans passes, the Zonta survey established. A separate report, from the National Service for Combating Organised Crime (NSCOC), found that 400 women work as prostitutes in Bulgaria. About 2500 Bulgarian women have been trafficked abroad, this report said.
To date, two police operations aiming at abolishing sex slavery have been conducted in Bulgaria. The first, codenamed Mirage, took place in September 2002 and the second, Leda, in May 2003. Police arrested 515 women, including 52 girls under the age of 18.
In May, Parliament passed an act that is to come into force next year. This will establish asylums for the victims of trafficking.
Over the past weekend, the Zonta Club organised the first conference in the Balkans aimed specifically at fighting this problem. Entitled "Fighting Violence and Trafficking Women," it was held on Friday at the Boyana Residence, near Sofia.
Zorka Purvanova, the wife of Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov, was patron of honour at the event. Purvanov sent a greeting that was read to the delegates.
"The greater mobility of non-governmental organisations will lead to better results in international co-operation in fighting the traffic of humans," Purvanov's message said.
Senior police chiefs and representatives of the judiciary attended the conference to report on the measures already in place to combat trafficking in humans and domestic violence.
The NSCOC is working on 25 cases of trafficking humans, said Vassil Krustev, Interior Ministry expert at the NSCOC. These include cases of trafficking people to Paris, Strasbourg, Nice, and Marseille. The women come mainly from Varna, Turgovoshte, Razgrad, Dobrich, Plovdiv, Sliven and Bourgas, Krustev said.
Seven or eight investigative proceedings have been instituted over the past year against Bulgarian nationals residing in The Netherlands and the NSCOC has also been working successfully against the traffic of women with the police services of Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Macedonia, he said.
"There are legal instruments aimed at curbing domestic violence but they should be aimed at the factors that create it," Daniela Dokovska, a lawyer with experience of such cases, told the conference. It is impossible to settle the problem of domestic violence and the trafficking of women without social development, economic growth and changes in education and culture, she said.
The conference ended with the adoption of a declaration on measures against domestic violence and human trafficking. Afterwards the leaders of the Bulgarian Zonta division, headed by the Zonta president for Bulgaria, Dr Pavleta Tabakova, travelled through Bulgaria for several days to present their ideas and data to women in the country, Tabakova said.
Education is extremely important in combating trafficking in humans and violence against women, experts agree. Newsweek reported that nearly half of the women who are deported after being rescued from their pimps wind up back in the hands of the traffickers.
Authorities also assume that many trafficked women, particularly from new democracies, had freely chosen to be prostitutes before they left home, and often do not recognise the existence of a sex slave trade.
One key to beating the traffickers is to turn their victims against them, Newsweek said. The magazine gives as example the case in 1998, when Italy established a witness-protection program, a six-month-stay permit and support services for trafficked women. Since then prosecutions against pimps have increased four times.
However, this can have a negative effect too. There are alarming signs that traffickers may be finding their own ways to deal with eyewitnesses. Italy has seen a sharp increase in missing girls over the past 18 months.
"They've stopped phoning their families and have completely lost touch. Have they come to a violent end?" Newsweek asks. "We don't know. That's yet more reason for Europe to open its eyes." And for Bulgaria to do the same.
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