RIGA - The annual report on sex trafficking and prostitution by the Interior Ministry has revealed both positive and negative trends on the phenomena in Latvia. The report has led the police, spearheaded by a special 17 strong anti-trafficking division, to step up efforts in combating sex trafficking.
"This is one of the biggest problems that we have in Latvia," said Laura Karnite, head of the Interior Ministry's press division.
The report found that human trafficking is on the rise in Latvia and even predicted that it would continue to exacerbate in the coming years.
"After Latvia's accession to the European Union, the number of these women is increasing because as full-bodied citizens of a member country they can sell sexual services in the EU," the report said.
"The number of such crimes will grow even more after the opening of EU's internal borders, since as of 2007 Latvia's non-citizens do not need visas for going to other member states, except Ireland and the U.K.," the report said.
There are still some 400,000 non-citizens in Latvia, most of whom are ethnic Russian.
The report noted that sex trafficking has become a self-promoting cycle. Prostitutes returning to Latvia flaunt the money they made, encouraging other girls to take up the trade.
Another weakness of the Latvian system in dealing with sex trafficking is in state-sponsored rehabilitation and "safe asylum" programs aimed at helping those victims who return to Latvia to reintegrate back into society. This was listed as one of the top priorities.
On the positive side, the report found that the trafficking of children has been almost completely eliminated. It also noted that organized crime largely avoids sex trafficking, as it considers the possible consequences far worse than the possible benefits.
Additionally, the report found that cases of forced prostitution were down dramatically, along with violent crimes relating to human trafficking. "The present trend is that criminals agree with victims on the basis of the principle of mutual benefit," it noted.
Unemployed women from various walks of life, including some with higher educations, are increasingly considering resorting to prostitution abroad as a viable option.
Since 2000, when human trafficking was officially defined as a problem, there have been 110 criminal cases of women being sent abroad for sexual exploitation 's 24 of which (22 percent) occurred last year.
This year, the trend seems to be continuing. On June 25, a Riga court handed out sentences to a man and woman convicted of trafficking women abroad to become prostitutes. They were arrested as part of an undercover police operation.
The two traffickers had been recruiting women by posting ads on the Internet. The perpetrators would then traffic the women to Ireland where they would receive 500 euros for each recruit.
Karnite, citing the report, said there were difficulties in getting other European countries to cooperate in shutting down such set-ups.
Since the women are going of their own free will and are not forced to have sex, the destination countries lack the legal and political motivation to crack down on it, despite impassioned speeches in Brussels. Women are often told they would be offered a job at a strip club and then must choose between prostitution and a return ticket to Latvia.
The report predicted that in the coming years, the number of people trafficked from Latvia for the purposes of sex would decline, and Latvia would become more of a destination country.
"Due to the accession to the European Union and the consequent rise of living standards, this trend will change and Latvia will become the destination country and transit country for the victims of trafficking in persons, especially from the East: the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia," the report said.