RIGA - The State Police of Latvia have identified, accused and closed down two modeling agencies found to have been involved in a human sex trafficking racket.
The two agencies, "Modeles lv" and "WWWmanagement" offered modeling jobs to minors and women from Latvia who were sent to several countries in Europe and forced into prostitution.
"Human trafficking rings linked to modeling agencies are the classic form of trafficking for women and girls from Eastern Europe because women from this region are known for their beauty. The trafficking rings monopolize on this and use these agencies to recruit new victims," said Laura Dean, a researcher specializing in human trafficking in the Baltics.
Several people, including the heads of the modeling agencies, have been detained, as Arturs Vaisla, Chief of the State Police's Vice Squad, told reporters. The head of
"Modeles lv" agency is known as Ruslans, a Latvian citizen born in 1974 who trafficked women to the U.K., France, Italy as well as the United Arab Emirates.
Together with Ruslans, a court case against an unnamed Russian citizen has begun regarding the selection of women to be sent abroad from the modeling agency. This citizen was detained in the U.K.
"WWWmanagement" is headed by Olga Mauri (formerly Kosikevica) also a Latvian resident with her Croatian boyfriend.
Though human trafficking is not an entirely rare occurrence in Latvia, the trafficking and prostitution of minors is.
"These cases are especially egregious because they involved the trafficking of minors," said Dean.
The hunt for these prostitution rings began in 2008, when two underage girls 16 and 17, were questioned in the Southampton airport in the U.K. The two underage Latvian citizens told police that they were told to head to a hotel and wait for someone after their arrival.
One of the girls only found out that prostitution was involved from the other girl in the airplane. The price for each girl was 710 lats (1000 euros).
In a related case, Latvian Police explained that WWWmanagment offered girls the chance to work in Italy and that the girls would only have to pay when they start working. The agency covered the cost of airfare and living. Before the girls left Latvia, the director, Mauri would sign a contract with the girls' parents for their permission to travel to Italy where they would be met by Mauri's Croatian partner.
The Croatian partner reportedly used psychological methods to coax the girls into sexual relations. If the methods failed he would say that the girls were in debt to the company and had to work it off. Other girls would also be used to convince the newcomers to perform sexual acts.
Latvian Police went on to explain that after sexual contact was made, the girls would be allowed to pursue modeling contracts and casting calls.
Police records also state that the Croatian regularly contacted the girls before leaving Latvia, telling them plainly that they may have to engage in sexual acts to further their modeling career. Approximately 10-15 girls were found in the Italian modeling agency, all from Latvia.
The case was jointly investigated by the Latvian police and the British police since Sept. 2008.
"One way to effectively combat this phenomenon is through international and regional law enforcement networks aimed at fighting this problem together," said Dean.
The joint effort of Latvian and British police forces points to increased cooperation in helping stop human trafficking, something the European Union is bringing to increasing awareness.
"These cases are excellent examples of what can happen when law enforcement officials work together across borders to combat trafficking. Based on the locations Latvian girls are trafficked to, we can see how developed the trafficking networks are in these rings," said Dean.