Russia's Illicit Exports

Prince Alexander zu Schaumburg Lippe and Nadja Anna Zsoeks kiss after their wedding ceremony at the city church in Bueckeburg, Germany, on June 30, 2007. GETTY IMAGES/ Thomas Starke

Some of modern Russia's most valuable, if illicit, exports are women.

The CIA estimates that thousands of Russian women a year are lured to the U.S. with offers of good jobs as models, housekeepers or waitresses.

Once there though, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, they are trapped as sex slaves.

"The women who are victims of trafficking are absolutely right to be in fear of their lives," said Gillian Caldwell, the executive director of the Witness and Global Survival Network. She has spent two years investigating the trafficking of women.

"They're often offered dramatic sums of money compared to what they're able to earn at home and they have visions of a better life," said Caldwell.

But instead, there's the sleazy reality they face.

Using hidden cameras, representatives of Witness and Global Survival Network posed as traffickers — in Russia, they found plenty of willing accomplices.

One pimp, for example, said that for $5,000 each, he could easily entice victims with phony classified ads.

Once abroad, the pimps strip the women of their wages and their passports and force them to work as prostitutes.

If they don't cooperate, the pimps threaten to hurt them or members of their families.

Olga was only 17 when she signed a contract to work, she thought, as a waitress. "They locked us up and we were powerless because the local police were in on the game," recalled Olga.

These women may be naïve, but they are also victims of ruthless criminal organizations who use them to rake in millions of dollars. Most them of them are too terrified to ask for help or run away.

So a coalition of Russian women's groups is trying to get the word out to beware of cushy foreign job offers.

But the real challenge is to jail the pimps and that's what a new U.S. law is designed to do.

It increases the maximum sentence for some trafficking offences to life, allows victims to remain in the U.S. to testify against traffickers and provides for sanctions against countries which don't move to control the problem.

But tough as the new law is, Russia's economic reality is even tougher. The fact is, as long as Russian criminals have poor young women to prey on, the stream of trafficked victims from here is not likely to dry up.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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