Sunday, June 24, 2012

Finland: 16-year-old girl trafficked and forced into prostitution

Human trafficking and modern-day slavery are daily realities in many countries. Around the world, people are trafficked and forced to endure indignities and untold human rights violations far away from their home countries. Some cases such as what has been dubbed the "Nigerian connection" and West African girls enslaved in New Jersey attract wide media coverage, while others like the case of a 16-year-old girl trafficked from Romania and forced into prostitution in Finland do not get enough coverage.

Last week, Helsinki's District Court found a man guilty in a case in which a 16-year-old Romanian girl was tricked to Finland and forced into prostitution. The perpetrator, identified as Tudor Stamatie, was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison for human trafficking. 

The 16-year-old was pressured to work as a prostitute in Aleksis Kivin Katu, a street in Helsinki, Finland. She could not stop work and return to her home country. She worked as a prostitute on the street everyday (except for one day when her stomach was aching) for a period of two months. She met 5-6 clients a day in a car.

The minor could not talk to the police because her "master" threatened her with violence. He sometimes hit her. The 16-year-old girl and her friend received only 10 euros a day for food. The perpetrator sent a large part of the money made from the illicit business to his family in Romania while the victim's family was sent only a small fraction.

The court ordered the perpetrator to pay the victim 29,000 euros in compensation. The court judgement allows the girl to return home and be reunited with her family.

I welcome the decision of the District Court. Human trafficking is inhumane and degrading. It has disturbing similarities to slavery and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Traffickers and patronizers of the abhorrent business should bear the full weight of the law. 

Before the far-right in Finland and elsewhere high jack this case and try to use it against immigration and immigrants from Romania and elsewhere, it is worth highlighting that the society as a whole and all men who buy sex contribute to a lesser or greater extent to forced prostitution. The fact that a 16-year-old girl could be forced into prostitution in Finland means there is a market for forced prostitution in the Nordic country. There is no supply without demand. 

All those who benefit from forced prostitution - both clients and traffickers, Finns and foreigners - share responsibility for human trafficking and should be punished accordingly. The 16-year-old girl reportedly met with two hundred men during the period when she was forced to work as a prostitute. All the men she met with exploited a minor and should be ashamed of themselves. 

Tudor Stamatie, the trafficker in this case, has been imprisoned. This is good news. But other predators who benefited from his crime are still on the streets and perhaps continue to exploit minor girls and vulnerable women.

In November 2011, police uncovered a case of human trafficking and organized prostitution in Lahti, a small town about 100km north-east of Helsinki. It is plausible to conclude that there are more victims of forced prostitution and human trafficking out there waiting to be rescued. People of good conscience and the authorities should be vigilant. Human trafficking, forced prostitution and  modern-day slavery could be happening in plain sight.

Finland is a transit and destination country for trafficking victims. The majority of victims come from Russia, the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe. Estonians are among the most common nationalities in the Finnish sex trade. Adult men in Helsinki have been caught paying for sex with teenagers with gifts and alcohol. [Source].

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