Croatia: A Human Trafficking Victim Speaks With RFE/RL

The extent of human trafficking, for prostitution mainly, but also for indentured servitude has increased dramatically since the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. A more interdependent and globalized world leads to opportunities for many, but also to horror and destitution for an increasing number of the world’s most vulnerable. Here is an account of a Croatian victim from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL–an excellent website for information on the former communist world, the Middle East, and parts of western Asia).

ZAGREB, June 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) — Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is becoming increasingly widespread in countries undergoing transition. Many young women seeking better jobs and better lives find themselves against their will in secret brothels of Western countries. Such is the warning of nongovernmental women’s unions in Croatia, where 45 victims of trafficking have been identified in the last four years. Unofficial numbers are many times greater.

“It happened abroad,” says Martina, a 29-year-old trafficking victim from Zagreb. “I was sold for 3,500 euros [$4,400]. I was beaten, raped, forced against my will. They would put out cigarette butts on me and cut me with razors.

It was like a horror movie, she says. Martina was 19 years old at that time, trained as a cook. She lived in the suburbs of Zagreb and desired a better job and a better life. She met a young man who told her about his brother who had a restaurant in Italy, but who had a hard time finding good employees.

‘It Sounded Rather Convincing’

“He told me that if I really wanted to work I could come with him, but that if I did not intend to pursue work there I could be back in Croatia in three days,” Martina said. “It sounded rather convincing. Given that my life had been miserable since I was born — my father was an alcoholic and my mother ill — I went there without a second thought.”

“As soon as I arrived and as soon as he brought me to his apartment, everything started. He told me there was no work and that I had crossed the border in order to work as a prostitute, that he had paid a ton of money for me and that he will come for me in three days, and that I had to be ready by then,” she continued. “I told him to get his mother ready instead, and then he hit me on the head with his fist. Since we were in the kitchen I turned around and struck him with a pot. Naturally, I was no match for him physically. He beat and raped me constantly for three days, to the point where I was lying in blood and urine while tied to a bed. He then brought two of his friends who raped me, put out cigarette butts on me, and cut me with razors.”

Martina was locked in a Rome apartment for two months. Instead of working in a restaurant, she was beaten and raped daily until she was “broken” and had become a sexual slave. Then, she says, the man who bought her took her out to the street.

Four Passports

“That man was from Bosnia,” she said. “We found in his apartment four passports and another girl from Croatia who was also a mother of three. That was a complete horror. They beat me endlessly. A girl of 16 from Albania almost bled to death in my arms because they had pushed a car antenna into her vagina. A girl from Bosnia was found dead. That is when I completely broke down.”

Two prostitutes appearing in a World Cup-related advertisement in Halle, Germany (epa)She said she had been completely dulled, as if separated from her own body. Even when there was a chance of escape she remained a prostitute.

“There was no way for me to be freed from what had happened to me,” Martina said. “I endured this for six years. I went to the street with prostitutes, not in order to work, but to see the people who come to them and who force them to do this. Then I would throw a bottle of gasoline on their car or puncture their tires. I didn’t care what would happen. I did one or three customers — I didn’t care. I didn’t look at those people.”

Martina was a typical, vulnerable young woman without steady employment or family support. Nobody wondered about her disappearance. After all, even her own father beat her from a very young age. Sadly, that experience prepared her for what she endured in Rome.

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