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Artillery Row

The cost of war

The EU and UK Government must act to protect Ukraine’s women and children

Much of the outpouring of grief in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has focused on the fact that there have already been thousands of deaths of soldiers, civilians and children. But one demographic at risk of falling under the radar are the women and children seen as “fair game” for exploitative pimps and traffickers looking to capitalise on the destruction and deprivation that so often results from war.

We only need to look to the actions of Brazilian politician Athur do Val — who stated that he wanted to partake in a “tour de blond” of Ukraine, where he would visit the war-torn country in search of what he describes as “a line of goddesses” to sexually exploit — to understand that morally bankrupt men are willing to capitalise on this crisis.

Sexual exploitation arising out of conflict zones is an all-too-common occurrence, with reports not only of soldiers sexually exploiting women and children, but also the very organisations sent to these areas to help the desperate and poor populations. However, Ukraine’s geography — namely the country’s proximity to the regime of legalised prostitution in Germany — exacerbates the threat of pimps and traffickers looking to exploit a vulnerable population.

To fully comprehend why this is a problem above and beyond “typical” exploitation in conflict zones, it’s important first to understand two things: why prostitution might take place in a country like Ukraine; secondly, how prostitution thrives within a legalised sex trade (as is the case in Germany).

Legalisation encourages the human trafficking of vulnerable women for sexual exploitation

Ukraine has a dark history when it comes to human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women and children, and the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report highlighted the country’s failure to combat both of these practises. There are several reasons for this: economic hardship resulting from Ukraine’s dissolution from the Soviet Union; subsequent unemployment arising from such hardship; and, more recently, the involvement of corrupt officials in failing to tackle a growing domestic sex trade.

It is almost accepted that a sex trade thrives when poverty is imposed upon a population; research demonstrates that, for over 50 per cent of women involved in Ukraine’s sex trade, it is the only adequate source of income available. As a result, the trade burgeons.

This suffering is aggravated by war; livelihoods are destroyed, unemployment booms and providing for one’s family becomes difficult. Traffickers and pimps view such situations as an opportunity to exploit, and so they pounce.

Up to 80 per cent of Ukrainian trafficking victims were unemployed prior to being trafficked into the wider global sex trade, and the traffickers used promises of gainful employment and economic opportunity to trick women and children into leaving their home country. These ruthless exploiters are aided by corrupt officials, who often provide falsified documents to facilitate and enable cross-border trafficking.

Women and children are then trafficked to many different countries across Europe and beyond, but there is one country that is particularly attractive to pimps.

Germany has a long history of regulating prostitution. Legalisation was implemented in 2002 by the Prostitutionsgesetz and can be best described as a form of State regulation; it requires that those involved directly in prostitution — and third parties such as brothel owners — must register with local authorities and be subject to mandatory health checks.

However, legalisation is generally considered an unmitigated disaster in Germany with respect to its goal of creating a “safer environment” for those within prostitution, with critics describing the country’s sex trade scene as “hell on Earth”.

Germany’s sex trade has also exploded in recent years, with authorities and researchers alike conceding that non-German nationals make up the majority of the near half a million individuals involved in the domestic sex trade, directly as a result of being trafficked from surrounding countries — including Ukraine.

Legalisation encourages the human trafficking of vulnerable women for sexual exploitation, and there are few effective safeguards in place to prevent this endless cycle of misery. No doubt that this will intensify as the Russo-Ukrainian war forces yet more women and children into poverty. This is already developing, with German authorities reporting men arriving at numerous Berlin train stations offering to “collect” women and children in return for payment.

It should be incumbent upon other European Union countries — including ones who, like Germany, have sanctioned the paid rape of poor, often migrant, women and children — to be aware of a rapidly escalating human rights crisis. Nor has the UK showered itself in glory with the recent Nationality and Borders Bill, a punitive and morally parsimonious Bill that seeks to strip away legal safeguards for victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. Given the worsening situation in Ukraine, the Government must recognise that this will likely result in an influx of refugees and trafficking victims, many of whom will be dependent upon the State to protect them.

Without recognising the harrowing reality of how prostitution functions, vulnerable women and children will slip through the cracks, left to be caught in a web of despair weaved by exploitative traffickers and pimps. It is our duty to act and prevent this from happening.

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