Trafficking Women after Socialism: From, To, and Through Eastern Europe
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Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society 12.1 (2005) 118-140



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Trafficking Women after Socialism:

To, Through, and From Eastern Europe

The second period of Chinese prostitution in CA (ca. 1854-1925) was characterized by a widespread organization of the trade. . . . Luring and kidnapping were the more frequent methods of procurement, particularly after 1870. The baits used included promises of gold, marriage, jobs, or education. (Hirata 1979, 9)

Most of the prostitutes in Kosovo have been trafficked illegally from the poorest parts of the ruined Soviet state. They are lured by the promise of a good job, usually in Italy or Germany, their passports are confiscated, and they generally wind up sold to Albanian pimps, who force them to work in brothels to pay off their "debt."

(Junger 2000)

The traffic in women and girls for prostitution has recently commanded the attention of state authorities, activists, journalists, and academics the world over, although it is hardly a new phenomenon.1 While the extent of trafficking in women and its geographic routes have changed in the past hundred years, its structural causes and organization remain remarkably stable.2 In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, China, Japan, and many European countries supplied prostitutes to other countries. The first wave of globalization, accompanied by population increases, urbanization, international migration, colonization, and political change contributed [End Page 118] importantly to the growth of prostitution and the traffic in women and girls around the world. French, Polish, Russian, and Italian women were sent to brothels primarily in other European countries, Argentina, and Brazil. In the East, Chinese women went to brothels in British Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies, Indo-China, the Malay States, Singapore, and Shanghai. Japanese women, including those of Korean ethnicity, went to Japanese holdings in Chosen (Korea), Kwantung (Manchuria), Tientsin, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies (see Limoncelli forthcoming).

These women were transported primarilyóalthough not exclusivelyó to service men of their own nationality and/or ethnicity; laborers, military men, merchants, and administrators located abroad were their customers. What we now think of as sex tourism was a thriving business in Egypt and Algeria during the interwar period when the winter months attracted European men to brothels in warm climates. Over time and with the growing commercialization of sex, a tacit proscription against interethnic sexual encounters faded. Today, women are advertised as "exotic" to local men and tourists alike (Bishop 1998; Fusco 1998; Cabezas 2004; Wilson 2004). For example, Thai women are trafficked to Japan to service Japanese men (Human Rights Watch 2000), but they are also the objects of Western men's fantasies that may be fulfilled through sex tours to Thailand promoted by organizers and agencies in the United States, Germany, and other countries.

The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 has since provided new resourcesógeographical and humanófor the sex trade and traffic. Indeed, one of the most striking images of the changes in Eastern Europe soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall was that of women lining the highways across the region, offering sex for sale. Political and economic liberalization as well as internal and international militarism created new opportunity structures and daunting economic uncertainties that have produced both a demand for and a supply of sex workers in and from Eastern Europe. The majority of these sex workers have been and are women and girls. Recent reports consistently note the increased number of women and children trafficked to, through, and from Central and Eastern Europe.3 Whether working part-time to supplement income, full-time voluntarily in sex clubs, or forced in the context of trafficking, prostitution is a stable, ever-expanding feature of the global service economy.

Furthermore, as the epigraphs attest, the methods used to traffic women have stood the test of time; traffickers still use variants of them today. Then, as now, some used marriage or promises of marriage to recruit women and girls; others assured them of domestic service...