Olga was lured to Israel from Russia by a female acquaintance in 1998. After socialism was dismantled in the USSR in 1991, “transition countries”—nations that moved from socialism to capitalism—saw an explosion in the export of men, women and children as slaves. The US government believes that as many as 100,000 women are trafficked throughout the 15 former Soviet countries annually and sold into international prostitution. Russian women are trafficked to over 50 countries for commercial sexual exploitation, including countries in Central and Western Europe and the Middle East. In Israel, where Olga was trafficked into sex slavery, women are trafficked from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Uzbekistan, and Belarus. NGOs estimate that in 2005 between 1000 and 3000 women were trafficked into Israel for sexual servitude. Olga’s narrative recounts the experience of forced drug addition. This is one of several control mechanisms used by traffickers, along with intimidation and threats, violence, torture and rape, starvation, blackmail, debt bondage, and social isolation. Another control mechanism is identity control: victims of sex trafficking are often given new names and appearances to demonstrate that the traffickers not only own them but have created a new person for sexual exploitation. Olga’s narrative includes details of this particular control mechanism, describing the loss of her name. One final moment of identity loss then comes toward the end of her narrative, with her pretence of being Muslim in order to seek protection.
My name is Olga. I am from Siberia in Russia. In December of 1998, a female acquaintance of mine returned from a trip to Israel with a lot of money. She told me that she had worked as a housemaid, in shops and in bars, and that I could go and find a job, too. I asked her, how could she do this work without knowing the language? She told me that there were many Russian immigrants in Israel who wanted to hire Russian women so their children would not forget their heritage and original language.
I had no money for a ticket to Israel, but the woman said: “Don’t worry, I’ll buy your ticket. You’ll make so much money that you’ll be able to pay me back in no time.” I decided to go, and got a visa to travel. She went on to Israel before me, telling me she would meet me at the airport.
When I arrived, she was waiting with two big Israeli men. We went to a small city in Israel, where they showed me around, introducing me to many people but speaking in Hebrew so I could not understand. They told me they were people who might hire me. For a few days, it was as if I was a tourist just visiting. Then the men came back and told me that they had a job for me, but because I did not have a visa to work in Israel, I would have to give them my passport. A couple days later, they gave me a false passport, with my picture but the name of an Israeli woman.
Then another Israeli man came, and my friend told me to put my things in his car, that he would take care of everything. He took me to Tel Aviv. He told me then that I had been sold to him for $10,000, and that I would have to pay him back. He told me I would have to prostitute myself. I was angry and disruptive, screaming and fighting every time he tried to take me from the apartment where I stayed. Because of this, he separated me from the other Russian women he owned. Every day I was taken to a brothel where all the other women were Israeli.
I was still resistant, so I wasn’t making much money for my captor. He then told me that I had earned $8000 of my debt, and that he would find me another job to make the rest of it quickly. He promised I would not have to be a prostitute anymore. He took me to a hotel and told me to wait for my new employer. Two men came to meet me there. They gave me something to drink, which was drugged. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was locked in a dark room with no furniture. I could hear people speaking Arabic but I could not understand them.
I tried to escape, but the men there caught me quickly and again gave me some kind of drug to calm me. They told me just to sit down, that I had not been sold to them and that if I behaved well, everything would be okay. A Russian-speaking Arab told me that I had been kidnapped and was in Palestine. I began to fear that they would sell me to a harem in Iraq, or some place worse.
The men there didn’t tell me what I was to do. I told them that I was Muslim, hoping that would give me some kind of protection. Several days later, they sold me back to another brothel in Israel.
I told the brothel owners there that I would never work for them, so they locked me in an apartment and sent clients in anyway. If I refused to work, they would not feed me. They beat me, but only across the back near my kidneys, so it would not hurt my appearance. It was very painful. I saw only clients who spoke no Russian, so I couldn’t tell them my story. I saw 15-20 customers a day and the brothel owners gave me drugs so that I would work. I began to feel crazy and sick, so he gave me some kind of pills, which he told me were for headaches. I found out later that it was Ecstasy, a drug that makes you relax, and more willing to be intimate. After three weeks, I was dependent on the pills and asked for it every day. I began to try and learn some Hebrew from my clients, so I could explain what had happened to me. Those customers never came back. But finally I told a Polish Jew, who contacted the police. The brothel was raided in May of 1999, and I was deported back to Russia.
Narrative as told to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, session on Trafficking of Women and Children, April 4, 2000.