Despite having the lowest regional prevalence of modern slavery in the world, Europe remains a destination, and to a lesser extent, a source region for the exploitation of men, women and children in forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. According to the most recent Eurostat findings, European Union (EU) citizens account for 65 percent of identified trafficked victims within Europe. These individuals mostly originate from Eastern Europe, including Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia. In Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Parliament has identified corruption and the judicial system as reform challenges towards accession talks within the EU. In Greece, the turbulent economic situation has increased vulnerability for populations seeking employment and livelihood opportunities.
Sofia describes being coerced into working abroad as a prostitute by her boyfriend, to help him buy drugs. She was later forced to work as a beggar and to steal, as well as sex work at different times.
My boyfriend sent me to [an EU country] to make money as a prostitute. So one day, together with another girl, we travelled by plane with a false passport to [the EU country]. At the train station [in the capital] some guys were waiting for us. They took us to another city. There, I started working as a prostitute, I had to make money: I owed my boyfriend 3,500 of our local currency because he paid my journey. And I had to make 8,500 Euro in order to help him to buy drugs. After I made 12,000 Euro, he came to meet me and together we travelled to another country. He was a drug dealer and I helped him. One night, when I was out to have a drink by myself, a group of four guys from my country who were trafficking drugs, kidnapped me. They had beaten and threatened me. They had drugs and weapons inside the car. They said to me: “you will work for us”.
At the beginning I begged and stole from shops. Afterwards, the trafficker put me out to make money in the street [commercial sexual exploitation] because I couldn’t steal any longer because the entire police knew me. Because I made only small amounts of money the trafficker sold me to another trafficker. I began to know [the city]. I was repeatedly picked up by the police and learned how to get myself out of jail. I learned [the language] and I learned who the trafficker’s friends were, who to beware of, and my network of steady clients expanded. After all this, I managed to escape. I found a ‘sponsor’ [a married man who paid for her hotel] and started on my own.... There were better periods and worse periods, arguments and fights with the girls on the street. For various periods I had to work for other traffickers because they were threatening me. I had no papers. I was countless times picked up by the police for theft or for lack of documents. I was kidnapped by a network of traffickers who drugged me, raped me and locked me up, from where I managed to escape following a police intervention in force. I gave lots of statements, lots that I don’t know how many and I helped in the arrest of this network. [After about one year] Since the traffickers had their eye on me again – they had heard that I was making more than 500 Euro a night and they wanted me back – I left everything I had made in the hotel in [the city] ... and I left with my best girlfriends [both over 20 years old] to another Western country.
As told to UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre