N.B. For safety and privacy reasons all names have been changed.
Yulia grew up in a village in Ukraine. One day, a friend invited her to hang out with her brother, Vladimir, visiting from Moscow. Yulia was surprised to find that Vladimir was Armenian, despite calling himself by a Russian name, but he seemed friendly and they spent a long evening drinking alcohol and hanging out. Yulia doesn’t remember where she fell asleep, but she woke up in Vladimir’s car, close to the Russian border. She asked where they were going, and Vladimir said, ‘Don’t you remember? You said you really needed a job and I invited you to work in my café in Moscow’. Excited at the prospect of a job in Moscow, Yulia relaxed. Though she’s not sure how it got there, she had her passport with her, and they crossed into Russia. Vladimir then took her passport ‘to make the employment arrangements’.
When they arrived in Moscow, Yulia was taken to an apartment where there was another girl, Veronica. Vladimir and Veronica asked lots of questions: ‘Do you know anyone in Moscow? Do you have any relatives here?’ Once they’d established that she had no local connections, they told her that there was no café and that they had more interesting work for her. That night they took her out on the streets and made her have sex with five men.
The next day, Yulia told Veronica she did not want to do this work. Veronica told her that she was free to leave and go home, but not until she’d paid off her debt to Vladimir – that is, the cost of transport to get her to Moscow, and the price of the alcohol he’d bought for her. Vladimir later came over, and was no longer friendly: he demanded the money back, threatened to kill Yulia’s family, warned her that the police were on his side and there was no point going to them, and then punched her in the head. Yulia was distraught and cried for hours. But she was so afraid for her family that she decided to stay and work off the debt. However, it became harder and harder to pay it off – Vladimir kept imposing fines on her, for ‘not going along with the plan’, increasing the debt. He also beat her regularly. She became more and more hopeless and just wanted to die, but she was afraid that if she killed herself, Vladimir would hurt her family. Every day she’d cover up her bruises with make-up and go out to work.
Yulia was in a terrible state when we met her. But she was very brave, and with our help, she escaped her captors. We gave her food and a place to stay in Moscow for a short time, then sent her to a shelter in Ukraine where she received medical and psychological help, and was able to start a new life.
Kristina came from Moldova to work in a small grocery store in Noyabrsk, Siberia. Her employer took her passport for 'safety reasons'. However, when she arrived, she discovered that there was no job for her in the shop. She was kept in an apartment down the street from the shop which her employer owned. Instead she was made to work in the street sex industry from 9pm. All through the daytime she was forced to stay in the apartment.
Kristina managed to call her boyfriend from a mobile phone and he contacted the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Moldova. IOM contacted our team. The situation was critical as Kristina’s captor’s birthday was coming up and his friends were expected to come over for a 'treat'. Kristina was panicking. Our team found reliable contacts and organised a rescue mission. It was almost 9pm, the time when Kristina’s ‘employer’ was about to come back as usually to take for a night shift on the street. Our partners got her out of the apartment and she has even managed to find her passport. We brought her to a safe house where she stayed for several days until her scheduled flight to Moscow. There we met her and took her to a safe house to stay the night before the next flight back home to Moldova. She came home to her boyfriend and three-year-old son.
Diana is a 32-year-old nurse from Nigeria. She earned very little in her nursing job, and desperately wanted to find a way to make more money for her family. In February 2013, she was told by some recruiters that they could get her a good nursing job in Moscow. The recruiters visited her family, assured them she would be in good hands, and helped her apply for a passport – although changed her date of birth to make her look nine years younger. Diana packed her nurse’s certificate and some medical equipment and set off for Moscow. When she arrived, her new boss (another Nigerian woman) threw her certificate in a cupboard, and told her she would have to do sex work. She forced her to take her clothes off and pose for some photos to put on their website. She said that Diana needed to pay back $45,000 to cover ‘expenses’. The woman took her passport and said she couldn’t have it back until she’d worked off the ‘debt’.
Diana’s boss took all the money she made from her clients, fed her only once a day, beat her when she ‘misbehaved’ and didn’t allow her out of their apartment without permission. She lived in a three room apartment with 12 other girls and three bosses: all the girls slept on the floor. Every night she had to serve 5-10 men, sometimes more. Once, a man pushed her out of a third storey window because she refused to take cocaine with him. Another time, a man refused to return her after the night: he kept her as a slave for three days, without food. After a year and a half, she was still nowhere near paying back her ‘debt’.
By building up a relationship with Diana over several months, we were able to gain her trust enough to get her out. After working with the International Organization for Migration to get her emergency travel documents, we bought her a ticket and sent her back home to her mother, twin sister and fiancé.
Natalia is 26 and from Russia. When she was 19, her mother ordered her to get a job, so she started looking. After a few days, her mother said she’d found a job for her and gave her the address of an apartment in Moscow. She was kept as a slave in that apartment for five years, receiving clients there, never allowed to leave. It turned our her mother had sold her for 100,000 roubles (£1300). After five years, she became pregnant and was considered no longer suitable for the apartment brothel. They resold her on to a street pimp, and she was forced to work the streets.
We met Natalia when she was desperate and heavily pregnant. We managed to get her out, and she gave birth to healthy baby. She now lives in Moscow with her baby and her boyfriend, who gave the child his own surname.