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Sunday, October 03, 2004

Rupture in U.S. Episcopal Church

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - Since its founding in this affluent town 55 years ago, St. James Church has turned to the Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles 50 miles north to confirm its worshipers, ordain its priests and give it guidance. Now, St. James has decided to follow a bishop in Uganda, more than 9,000 miles away.

St. James and two other churches in the Diocese of Los Angeles announced in mid-August that they were leaving the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and aligning themselves with the Anglican Church of Uganda. The rupture occurred over the Episcopal Church's decision last year to permit the blessing of same-sex unions and to consecrate an openly gay man as bishop. Conservatives here and abroad have warned that the Americans' decisions set the stage for possible schism in the worldwide communion. The American church and the Ugandan church are part of the larger Anglican communion, whose 38 provinces trace a common lineage to the Church of England.

To address the problem, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has appointed a commission to make recommendations, which are expected on Oct. 18.

Few priests and scholars expect a split in the Episcopal Church. But there are signs of fraying in a community that has dwindled sharply over the last 35 years to 2.3 million members now. Donations have fallen in some places, individuals have left the church and angry congregations have disavowed bishops whose views differ from their own.

"There could be a range of particular explosions," in various regions of the United States, said Timothy F. Sedgwick, professor of Christian ethics at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, an Episcopal institution. "I think all hell could break loose, and there could be a host of legal actions."

The dispute has become most bitter in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, the country's fourth largest. The diocese is suing the three churches for control of the property. Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles has suspended the priests and assigned the congregations to new ones. The priests have six months to reconsider or risk being defrocked.

Yet at St. James, life continues as usual, except that a gleaming golden sign with the word "Anglican" has replaced "Episcopal" at its entrance.

"We're not part of the American church anymore,'' said Jim Dale, the top lay member at St. James. "We're part of Uganda."

Congregations have broken from the Episcopal Church before over issues like its involvement in the civil rights movement and its ordination of women. The difference this time is that congregations have found a safe harbor with bishops abroad, said the Rev. Jan Nunley, a church spokeswoman.

That kind of shopping for bishops threatens the polity of the Episcopal Church, say church officials. Bishop Bruno said, "The churches' leaving is similar to, say, the U.S. making a decision on desegregation, and states that don't like it, like Alabama or Mississippi, leaving to join South Africa."

But conservatives argue that the American church has flouted scriptural teachings on human sexuality and that aligning with a foreign bishop allows dissidents to remain in the Anglican communion. "Look at it this way: If a child is running away from home, the first question that must be asked is, why is he running away?" said Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda, a vocal critic of the Episcopal Church, in a telephone interview. "We didn't look for them or hunt for them. We are responding to a need."

St. James and the other two breakaway congregations, All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. David's in North Hollywood, are known for their conservatism. Bishop Bruno, who describes himself as a liberal, met with the parishes in a conciliatory gesture after the consecration last year of a gay man as bishop of New Hampshire, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson. But in May, Bishop Bruno blessed the same-sex union of a retired priest, further angering the conservative congregations.

"In all the reconciliation efforts, what has come to light is that on the basic tenets, there is no room for reconciliation," said the Rev. Praveen Bunyan, rector of St. James.

Disagreements within the church over what the Bible says about sexuality have flared in different forms. Recently, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, held confirmation ceremonies at Truro Church in Fairfax, Va., after some churches objected to their own bishop because he had voted for last year's measures.

In Atlanta, large parts of two congregations left their churches and property to establish new parishes, this time under the oversight of the Bishop of Bolivia. In the diocese of western Tennessee, two congregations have sought to affiliate themselves with a diocese in Kenya. Still, it appears most Episcopalians do not want to leave the church. A recent survey of congregations by the Episcopal Church Foundation showed about 60 percent "neither uncritically endorse or oppose" the decisions on homosexuality, said the Rev. William L. Sachs, director of research at the foundation. The foundation, an independent organization, follows grass-roots trends in the church.

About 15 percent to 20 percent of parishioners applaud the church's decisions on homosexuality, the Rev. Sachs said, and a slightly smaller percentage are affronted. The Lambeth commission, which was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and led by Archbishop Robin Eames, primate of the Church of Ireland, is not supposed to rule on the morality of homosexuality. Rather, its task is to develop recommendations that would allow people on opposing sides of the debate over scripture and sexuality to remain in communion with one another. Other Anglican commissions would have to vote on the recommendations next year.

Ten of the 38 provinces of the communion, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, have restricted their ties to the Episcopal Church, or are in "impaired communion" with their American counterparts, said Ms. Nunley, the spokeswoman. Some are turning down money from the Episcopal Church.

The furor over homosexuality arises in part from deeper issues that may roil the communion for years, scholars and priests said. The growth of the Anglican Church in the developing world has generally brought different mores and interpretations of the Bible.

"People have different world views, and they're trying to live in one church together,'' said the Rev. Brian Cox, rector of Christ the King parish in Santa Barbara, Calif., and the leader of an effort to reconcile people in the Los Angeles diocese. "And this issue has surfaced as the line in the sand."

L.A. Times

Homeland Security: A Bad Joke

Any doubt that the Department of Homeland Security is a joke should be put to rest by its recent detainment and deportation of the pop singer Cat Stevens, who now calls himself Yusuf Islam.

The entertainer has mysteriously made it to one of the watch lists that the government so famously failed to consult prior to the attack of Sept. 11, 2001. Nevertheless, he was allowed to board a plane with his daughter in London for a trip to Washington, D.C.

When our sterling bureaucratic protectors discovered the singer's presence about mid-Atlantic, they diverted the airplane and all of its passengers and crew, of course, to Bangor, Maine, where one of the world's most famous peace advocates was taken away by the FBI and interrogated for about six hours. He was separated from his daughter and naturally never told why he was on a watch list. Then he was put on another plane back to England, where he is a citizen.

This shabby treatment of a man known around the world not only for his music but for his charitable endeavors, advocacy of peace and forthright denunciations of terrorism is stupid and an embarrassment for the United States. Even the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, protested.

How stupid? Well, within the recent past, Yusuf Islam has made two trips to the United States to meet with high-ranking government officials, including officials from the Bush White House concerning charitable projects. After the attacks against the United States, the singer not only condemned them, but forked over a good amount of money for the survivors. And at about the same time that our bureaucratic protectors were focusing on an innocent man, a report comes out that guns and explosives are still easily being smuggled past the U.S. security people at airports. Maybe their priorities are messed up.

More importantly to Americans, this incident shows you the danger of government lists. To this day, the singer does not know why he was put on the list, and the only thing the U.S. bureaucrats will say is, "Yusuf Islam has been placed on the watch lists because of activities that could potentially be related to terrorism."

Now, let's decode this bureaucratese. What activities? If you are going to publicly embarrass a person, you should say frankly what activities you are talking about. And who says he's engaged in them? And what in the heck does it mean that they could "potentially be related to terrorism"? Notice they do not say these mysterious activities are related to terrorism. They say they "could potentially be" related. Our government so loves guilt by association that these activities could be nothing more than donating to a legal charity that uses a bank somebody thinks is owned by a terrorist organization. That's guilt by association twice removed.

I make charitable donations, small ones, and I have no idea which banks the Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army use, much less who owns the banks. I kid you not that in this present state of hysteria and semi-police-state tactics administered by morons, good people's reputations have been smeared by just such a ridiculous claim.

The government should not be allowed to put anybody's name on a terrorist watch list without notifying that person, presenting its evidence before a judicial officer and giving the person a chance to rebut it. As it is now, anybody can end up being called a terrorist and never know why. As Sen. Ted Kennedy has pointed out, he's been stopped numerous times for additional searches because apparently some name is similar to his on one of these dumb watch lists.
Computerized lists can be dangerous. In my city, an innocent businessman, asleep in his car, was shot to death by a police officer because the man's car had been mistakenly listed as stolen.

What this administration has done is revive McCarthyism, something that has no place in a free society. As for Yusuf Islam, I'm sorry, from a personally selfish point of view, that he converted to Islam. I greatly miss Cat Stevens' music.

Charley Reese

Streets of Despair

Majlinda was just 13 when she was snatched from her Albanian village and sold into the sex industry. Ed Vulliamy meets some of the thousands of children trafficked to the West every month

On the day her life changed, when she was 13 years old, Majlinda was on the way to help her aunt with the ironing of clothes in preparation for her cousin's wedding in their village in northern Albania. She was a little short of reaching the house when three strange men stopped her. They grabbed her, bundled her into a car, blindfolded, bound and gagged her; she was then driven to the southern town of Gjirokastra. Not until the men and Majlinda had crossed the border with Greece and reached Corinth was she told: 'Now you are going to work.'
'At first I did not know what they were talking about,' recalls Majlinda, 'until they took me to a flat where there were other women and told me: "You work here now." When I refused, they said they knew my family, and if I made trouble they would kill them. I thought of the possibilities. I was afraid to stay, I was afraid to leave, so I started to work - they forced me to, with violence.'

Beaten and raped into submission by her traffickers, Majlinda began work, confined to a flat, from 8pm until 5am, obliged to meet a monetary quota entailing some 20 clients a night. 'And even if I made enough money,' she says, 'they usually found a reason to beat me when the clients had finished for the night.'

Majlinda is scarred around the eyes and forehead. She talks at a shelter, back in Albania, to which she has escaped and at which she is hiding from her traffickers, trying to recover. Her expression is subdued, dead-pan. Outside the sun shines, but the room is leaden with her grief, and her story.

She was in Greece for a year, until 'the police started catching up with them. So we came back to Albania and took a speedboat to Italy.' Majlinda was sold on to Florence for a price she doesn't know. By now, 'there were two new Albanians in the group running me, also one remained from Greece.' She was forced to work the streets on the scrappy edges of the city, well hidden from the beauty of its renaissance centre. After dealing with her clients, Majlinda handed over the proceeds, upon which 'all three would violate me at the end of my work. They would get high on drugs - marijuana and cocaine - and come at me. And every night they beat me - even if I made the ? 1,000 [?685] they insisted on, they always found an excuse.'
Majlinda's captors were part of a syndicate - it was clear to her that 'they exploited many other women as well as me, and had a number of houses, but would not let us meet.' There were 'good clients and bad clients,' she says. Good clients? 'I mean the ones who just wanted to have sex; the bad ones were the ones who beat me, or beat me and stole my money, so I had to work harder to earn it again.' The traffickers, she says, would 'compete against one another with the money they made out of me and the other women. They would compete for who could buy the flashiest car, or the best clothes.'

After a year in Florence, Majlinda was moved by car to Amsterdam. In the bustle, she says, 'I was surrounded by people, but completely alone. I could speak to no one. I lost all hope. I thought there was no way out. I was afraid that if I talked to anyone, the traffickers would do something to my family.'

Finally, a 'good client' from Afghanistan 'told me not to be afraid, and encouraged me to escape with him. I did, I trusted him, and became pregnant by him.' For a moment it seems that Majlinda's story will achieve some perverse redemption. 'But I was wrong,' she says, her hands kneading one another as she speaks. 'He wanted me to work for him instead, and he also beat me all the time. I gave birth to my child, and when that happened, I decided...

'I told my story to a woman who used to come and see my husband [which is how Majlinda describes the Afghan] and she in turn told me about some Catholic nuns at Utrecht who rescued prostitutes. And I went to them. They helped me register my child and get a ticket back to Albania.' But still Majlinda stares down at the table, and at her hands, as she speaks.

'I finally contacted my family and asked them to keep my son, but they didn't even want to see me, they were ashamed of me. My father said: "So far as we're concerned, you are dead." Thus rejected, Majlinda and her baby took refuge at a shelter in Albania's capital, Tirana, but she was obliged to leave her child at a place she will not discuss, and move on alone, after the Afghan came looking for his quarry and his son. 'This place is my last chance,' she says of the second shelter to which she came. 'But I am terrified he will come. And that I will see the Albanian men before my eyes once more.'

Majlinda's enslavement lasted four years. 'Men?' she ponders, 'I don't know what to say. All I know now is that I don't ever want to see another man in my life. All I want now is to be with my child, and to work. There were moments,' says Majlinda, now 17, 'when I thought I should not be alive, that I should be dead. But then I thought: why not? You have to be brave to survive. I have to be strong, otherwise I cannot get out of this.' And with that she smiles - the faint, hollow smile of the survivor.

Majlinda is but one - bold and fortunate enough to have escaped - among hundreds of thousands enslaved and entrapped by a depraved and burgeoning crime, one of the most lucrative and fastest-growing: trafficking in young women and children for enforced prostitution. In terms of the income it nets, trafficking is believed to lie in third place behind drugs and arms. There is evidence that criminal syndicates are switching from drugs to women and girls, finding them easier to transport than an assignment of cocaine or heroin. Moreover, a woman can be sold and resold over and over, while drugs can only be sold once.

The scale of the crime is impossible to quantify. The US State Department this year said it believed between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year; profits are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. And of those hundreds of thousands, an inestimable but high proportion are, under international law, children - under 18 years of age, and therefore entitled to special protection under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Documents produced by Unicef and Save the Children have found up to 80 per cent of those trafficked from some corners of Albania and Moldova to be children, with reports showing 'a decline in the average age of children/women being trafficked for prostitution'.

Trafficking is, crucially, distinct from people-smuggling or migration, with which it is often, erroneously - and disastrously - confused by policy makers. The pitiful business of smuggling occurs when a syndicate is paid to take a group of people across borders illegally but willingly, in search of work or asylum. And although some people may elect to be taken by their traffickers, a trafficked person does not sign up for the purposes to which they are put. Trafficking was defined by a UN convention in 2000 as meaning to recruit and transport people 'by means of threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion', such as abduction, fraud or deception, or, indeed, 'abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability'.

'We would all like specific numbers,' says Steve Ashby, programme director for Save the Children in Albania. 'But they are simply not available. What we can safely assume is that the numbers are high enough to warrant very serious concern. It is impossible to over-stress the level of oppression and brutality - the vicious abuse of human rights being inflicted by these traffickers. And the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

'The trafficker,' says Ashby, 'is invariably ahead of the authorities. They are always finding alternative means to carry on. The phenomenon is shifting all the time. The trafficking problem outstrips all the efforts being made to control it.'

'This has become,' says Giovanna Barberis, Unicef's representative in Moldova - the main source of trafficking for sexual exploitation in Europe - 'a matter for dramatic concern'.

So far as Europe is concerned, the countries in which communism collapsed tend to provide both traffickers and trafficked. Moldova, Albania, Ukraine and Romania are the main source countries from which women are abducted. They are countries where social structures have imploded, where large sections of the economy are controlled by criminal syndicates and where communist regimes have been replaced by corruption as a means of political power. Trafficking has become integral to the economies of these countries - it is the source for fortunes, for cash to buy champagne and luxury cars, for profits laundered into resorts and hotels. The misery of women and children like Majlinda is a foundation stone for many a new concrete tower in Tirana or Chisinau. 'All along the line,' says Ashby, 'there is a chain of people involved in this trade, if you can call it that. The traffickers themselves, transporters, forgers of documents, safe houses, speedboats that take them from Albania to Italy - a great network of commercial interests engaged in the business.'

There are so-called 'destination' countries in Eastern Europe, too, but the vast, hidden and terrifying 'markets' are wider and elsewhere - across Western Europe and, ever more, into Russia, Turkey, Israel, the Middle East and the Gulf states. The victims, invariably, are drafted from the vulnerable and subjugated quarters of East European society - from desperately poor villages, from rugged mountains, from shanty slums. This is the new criminal power play in the new Europe.

Albania is a land of dire poverty, fierce patriotism, rugged mountains in the north, olive groves and vines to the south - for decades cut off from the rest of Europe and now opened up to a Western dream world with which it is bombarded on television, to which its youth aspires. It is a country whence tens of thousands of girls are trafficked and through which women are brought from other parts of Eastern Europe to Greece or Italy, and thence across Europe. The same syndicates are opening up new channels, after a clampdown on the Adriatic sea route, through Serbia and the former Yugoslav countries into the West.

'It is estimated,' says a report commissioned by Unicef, 'that over the past 10 years, 100,000 Albanian women and girls have been trafficked to Western Europe and other Balkan countries. Albania is also one of the main transit countries for the trafficking of women and girls from central and Eastern Europe.' In Albania, fear of abduction by traffickers is so great that the numbers of teenaged girls attending high school in rural areas has fallen dramatically. In remote areas, 'as many as 90 per cent of girls no longer receive a high-school education,' says a report by Save the Children. 'Even here in Tirana, they are afraid,' warns Svetlana Roko, who runs a day centre for trafficked children and children at risk in the capital. 'The Albanian pimp,' says the report, 'has a reputation for extreme ruthlessness, and murder is not uncommon.' In one case in which a woman agreed to testify to the police in Italy, her father returned home to find the mutilated remains of his other daughter splattered around the house.

Some women are simply kidnapped, others are lured by promises of work. 'It depends,' says Vera Lesko, who runs a shelter for trafficked women in Vlora, in the Albanian south. 'They could be promised a modelling career, work in shops, serving in bars and, more recently, they have been enticed by promises of academic scholarships. However, when they come to me they are totally destroyed, physically and psychologically. What we try to do is give them back their lives, tell them that their suffering is past, that they should focus on their own value, on what they have. We try to re-integrate them, to teach them vocational skills. We send them to schools in Vlora, with other women who do not know their background.'

But in spite of all this, says Lesko, 'The majority are simply re-trafficked when they return. They have nothing; they are annihilated. I had a woman who had been trafficked and re-trafficked for 10 years. She did not know how to live in a different way. Something inside her had changed forever.'

Traffickers, says Lesko, hang around police stations waiting to pick up their prey as soon as they are released. In many cases, there is collusion between police and traffickers. However - in defence of her work and in praise of those who come to her - 'a not insignificant number make it. They re-integrate, they remake themselves, and that is when all this work seems worthwhile.'

Streets of despair part 2

Katalina swaddles the baby she says gives meaning to her life, once shattered. She is staying with a family - which knows nothing of her past - in a rain-swept village in the north of Moldova, but will soon have a place of her own, she hopes.

At the beginning of this year, Katalina - who had grown up in an orphanage - was abandoned by her boyfriend after telling him she was pregnant. Soon afterwards, she was invited by a Russian woman to a birthday party in a local bar in her village near Moldova's second city, Balti. There, Katalina was offered a future in Moscow, with an option to work as a house painter or line worker at a pasta factory. Katalina opted to give it a try - why not? There was nothing for her in Moldova. But events twisted strangely when she and her Russian minder reached the Ukrainian border.

'A policeman met us and drove us across the frontier, avoiding the crossings. The Russian paid the policeman and we went to get false papers made.' They then proceeded by train to Moscow, where Katalina met another girl from near Balti, who told her what was expected. 'You can't get away from here,' said the girl. 'They will break your legs.'

So began Katalina's life as an enslaved prostitute, working a beat beneath a railway bridge, for which her traffickers paid local police. 'I was told never to say that I was pregnant, else the clients would not want me, and I would be beaten to pieces,' recalls Katalina. Some clients, she says, 'kept me for a number of days, and invited their friends. One man kept me for three or four days in a basement and invited 20 men. When I objected they told me I was a bitch. They had bought me and could do whatever they liked to me. Another time, I was on the 11th floor of a building with seven Moldovans, all of them taking drugs. After they had had their way, they insisted I smoke some drugs, too. When I refused, they became violent, and one of them opened a window and threatened to throw me out. But there was one man less stoned than the rest, who said, "You are just a dirty whore," and sent me from the room.'

Time passed in this way, until Katalina's pregnancy could no longer be hidden. Clients, their sensibilities offended, would beat and insult her, demanding their money back. The Russian traffickers beat her, too, saying they would lock Katalina away until she was due, 'and that they would sell my baby, when it came'.

Katalina has an expression full of guile; it comes as no surprise when she says that she elected to escape. The flat in which she was kept by day was watched by police officers on the pimp's behalf, to prevent the girls from leaving. But Katalina noted when the police watch went for its daily lunch break. That was when she, and the other girl from her area, made a run for it.

Laughter comes hard while talking about these things, but now the artful Katalina has her company in unlikely stitches. 'We did a funny thing,' she says. 'After running away from the flat, we took a trolleybus to Red Square, thinking this is where the train to Chisinau would go from. Just imagine, two escaped Moldovan prostitutes lost in a tourist trap, asking smart people how to get the train back to their little village.' Having found the station, they were picked up by the railway police and sent home.

Moldova is Europe's poorest country and, says Unicef's representative there, Giovanna Barberis, 'one of the main, if not the main source country for the trafficking of women and children'.

This is how a briefing paper drawn up by the Swedish Foreign Ministry's aid wing Sida - which is active in counter-trafficking projects in Eastern Europe - describes the country: 'Moldova has probably suffered the most devastating peacetime decline in economic performance and living standards of any country in modern times. From a situation of relative prosperity, GDP in this country has fallen by more than 70 per cent within a decade - placing Moldova on a par with the poorest countries in Asia and Africa. For most Moldovans, life has become a daily struggle to satisfy the most basic needs against increasingly uneven odds.'

The bus station in Chisinau, Moldova's care-worn capital, is a monument to the nation's reaction to its fate - mass emigration. The population is officially set at 4.5m, after a census in 1989, but, says Barberis, 'the reality is probably nearer 3.5m. Hundreds of thousands have simply left, to find work, legally or illegally, in the West.' Every week, fleets of heaving coaches leave this bus station - with its mosaic showing a happy socialist life in factory and field - bound for Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal. As a result, thousands of children are left abandoned by their parents, becoming prey to the trafficker's eye.

Under communism, Moldova, with its fertile black soil, was the orchard of the USSR, and its industry was locked into the trans-Soviet infrastructure. Now, Moldovan society has been ravaged by a corrupt neo-communist political class and an economy beholden to the profits of crime. The price of agricultural produce is so low that much of it withers - literally - on the vine. The average wage is $50 (?28) per month. And the generation now growing up with no memory of communism or relative prosperity is prey to those engaged in Moldova's rapidly growing and infamous export - human beings.

'There are about 1m Moldovans living abroad,' says Barberis, 'and among that 1m, a great many have left illegally and are exposed to trafficking. They go in different ways. The traffickers are getting more and more sophisticated. There can be direct contact with a relative, friend, or friend of a friend. There are advertisements in the newspapers for fake jobs as waitresses, babysitters or cooks. They are invariably jobs advertised for women and it becomes an attractive offer, given the fact that unemployment is extremely high, given the fact that access to health care and education is extremely low, given the fact that domestic violence is deeply rooted.'

There is a correlation between the subjugation of women and children in Moldovan society and their vulnerability to trafficking, says Daniela Popescu, who runs the Amicul centre for 'at risk' children in Chisinau. Some 80 per cent of trafficking victims, she says, have also been victims of domestic violence. 'There are old sayings passed on from grandparents,' she says: 'they say an unbeaten woman is like an untidy house, or beating his woman is a man's divine right.' Women are held in low esteem, have low self-esteem and tend to accept things as they are, not to denounce their men. They are accustomed to hard physical work, so it is often the best and strongest of them who decide they can be free from emotional and physical abuse, and can handle hard work abroad.

'The traffickers are very much aware of these subjugated conditions,' she continues, 'and, ironically, will make promises such as, "You are working at home and being beaten - why not work away from the beating, and get good money?"'

The village of Biesti, an hour north of the capital, is typical - the effect is unmistakable and striking. This is a community where there are no adults; a place where only children and old people walk the main street and muddy tracks. The children have for the most part been abandoned by their parents, and are thus vulnerable to the traffickers. Angelina, aged 13, just about manages on what her mother and father send back - she explains that her parents left for Orvieto in Italy, leaving her to look after her 10-year-old brother.

But unlike most villages of its kind, there is a quiet revolution under way in Biesti - proving that where there is initiative, the traffickers will not have it all their own way. That with the right resources and the will to battle the traffickers with knowledge, there is reason for faint hope in this woebegone landscape. For here is one of a network of day centres funded by Unicef, devoted almost entirely to raising awareness of trafficking and 'life skills' in a world without adults, or where adults do not care. Every child in Biesti has, as a result, seen a film called Lilja 4-ever by the director Lukas Moodysson, about a Russian girl trafficked to Stockholm. 'We all cried when we saw it,' says Veronica, aged 16. 'We talked about it, and wondered, what would we do?'

Veronica and her friend Aksenia are prime targets for any trafficker, but both girls talk with disarming maturity about the dangers, the film and its message. 'It is not enough just to have the information to be on the lookout,' says Aksenia, 'it is a matter of having the skills to act when and if you find that you are in trouble.' Everyone, however, wants to leave the village, adds Veronica.

There are 63 'residential schools' for what are called the 'social orphans' of Moldova, where discarded children learn and live. These are places like that in which Katalina was raised, and in all, they hold some 13,000 children, any one of whom could be said to be 'at risk' to trafficking. In these places, too, Unicef is working against the peril that awaits these children once they try - as they will - to leave. At the orphanage in Orhei, a group of 14-year-olds has also seen Lilja 4-ever and rehearse a play they will perform to the school and around town about social exclusion, with its obvious message about the return of trafficked victims. 'We are learning that we must have them back,' says Svetlana, 'even if they have HIV and Aids.'

'It is amazing to me,' says Barberis, 'that this issue of trafficking is simply not a matter for the government in this country. Similarly, not only is there no support for the victims of trafficking when they return, but there is no effort to re-integrate them, to rescue them from their non-future.'

Viorica, a child of 17 from southern Moldova, cannot finish her story. She wanted, she says, to go to music school and improve her singing voice, 'to learn to sing and play'. But life had other plans for her. Instead, she was lured from her village by a distant cousin, to Turkey, with a promise of work. When she arrived at the coastal resort of Antalya, she 'was told to put on some clothes and get ready. "It's time for you to work," they said. I asked what work? They said I was going to a hotel to be with men. When I objected,' she continues, 'they said I would have to do this thing if I ever wanted to see Moldova again. They threatened me with a gun and made me get into a car. We got to the hotel. The thing is, I'd never been with a man before. I was a virgin, and that night, they made me go with 11 men.' At this point, Viorica stops in the tracks of her tears and her words. It is a terrible moment.

The psychologist treating Viorica, Ana Chirsanov, tells me that the girl has tried to commit suicide. 'Her soul was destroyed that first night, with those 11 men,' explains Dr Chirsanov. 'She used to resist, spitting and pulling the clients' hair, but they thought it was all part of some erotic game. She was crying out, "I don't want to do this", and they just laughed at her, amusing themselves. After which she got into thinking that she was the one who was insane and that this was what the world is like. That the people doing this to her were normal and she was insane to be unhappy about it.' Most of the girls, when they return, says Dr Chirsanov, 'speak of their desire to die. We had a case of one minor who had jumped from a sixth-floor window... she survived, after six surgical operations.'

There is a glaring problem in calling what happened to Viorica, or any trafficked woman or girl, 'prostitution', since the word can imply a degree of consent. 'Here, there is absolutely no meaningful consent at all,' says Sian Jones, co-ordinator for the Balkans at Amnesty International. 'It is clear that if you knowingly have sex with a woman who has been trafficked, that is rape.'

'There is no consent in sex with a trafficked woman,' says Denise Marshall, who runs the Poppy Project in south London, Britain's only shelter for trafficked women. 'If a trafficked woman is forced to see 30 clients a day, so far as I am concerned, that is 30 rapes a day. The impact on the body and on the psyche is the same as rape. It is the same level of violence against that woman.'

A website called www.punternet.com offers an insight into these clients' heads. It invites entries from men comparing notes on prostitutes. On occasions, there is every indication that the woman visited is trafficked and that the client knows this. 'Worst shag of my life,' laments one entry, 'the girl was a robot - felt sorry for her - kept thinking why is she doing this? - she said only a couple of words to me - gave me 10 mins of hand job while looking the other way and jumping when I tried to touch her - she lay down trying to cover her tits - 15 mins with me trying to grab her ... Why does she do it? I probably can guess.'

When politicians turn their attention to trafficking and prostitution - as the British Home Office is now doing - little attention is paid to the 'demand' side, to the punters.

The debate is most advanced in Sweden, from where money has been pumped into counter-trafficking abroad and legislation enacted at home, in 1999, attempting to fight trafficking by tackling all use of prostitutes. 'The problem of demand has been engaged here by criminalising the buying of sexual services,' says Nina Strandberg, East Europe area manager for Sida. 'Basically, that means it is not illegal for a woman to sell sex, but it is illegal for a man to buy it. It's an interesting position, introduced as something we regard as integral to the battle against trafficking.' According to Stockholm police, the measure has cut by more than two-thirds the number of prostitutes being operated in the city, with 754 convictions from 1999 until this summer, and fines imposed.

'The Swedish law is controversial, but until countries of destination for these women and girls have some kind of legislation in place, we cannot begin to address the matter of trafficking,' says Steve Ashby. 'Prosecution of traffickers is not enough - another will always take his place. But if there were tighter laws on demand, then a lot of the so-called punters would think twice before they accepted the risk.'

'The Swedish measure would make a great difference if it was more widespread,' says Lesko. 'It targets the right people - not the girls who come back damaged, but the people who damage them.'

'This matter of trafficking,' says Giovanna Barberis, 'is becoming of dramatic concern. And yet I do not see governments in Western Europe wanting to address and find solutions to this issue. In some places, there does not appear to be any political will at all. There are many countries in Europe which have not even thought to undertake a serious assessment or analysis.'

The 45 member states of the Council of Europe are currently drafting a convention on trafficking, providing an opportunity for binding minimum standards for the protection of and support for trafficked people. Most governments - including Britain's - tip-toe, however, confusing the issue with smuggling and migration, and are wary of the political liability in any discourse on arrivals from Eastern Europe. Within the Home Office, there are conflicting interests, between immigration services, which put a priority on removing people without proper documentation, and law enforcement, which requires willing witnesses and intelligence to prosecute traffickers.

A triumvirate of organisations - Unicef, Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International - campaign for three basic standards to be met by the European convention. They are: first, support, shelter and safety provision for women who emerge as having been trafficked. Second, a minimum period during which women can decide whether they want to co-operate with police investigations. (Protection at the Poppy Project, now funded by the Home Office, is conditional on agreeing to help the police. Italy has the most advanced legislation to date, with a 90-day allowance for reflection, and now suggests a six-month reflection period.) Third, resident permits - temporary or permanent - should be on offer in the country of destination 'whenever there is reasonable likelihood that a trafficked person will be subject to re-trafficking or other serious harm'. Italy already has such a system, which has proven effective not only in terms of protecting victims, but also in prosecuting traffickers.

Britain's record is different. In autumn 2003, London and Tirana signed a bilateral agreement on repatriation to Albania of girls or women found to have been trafficked. 'I cannot respect a policy of repatriation,' says Vera Lesko. 'Since that year, I've had 16 girls sent back from Britain, 14 of whom have since been re-trafficked back into the system. Is it really so hard for you to take 16 people?'

Mike Kaye of Anti-Slavery International argues that 'there is no conflict between protection and prosecution'. Quite apart from respect for the human rights of a person who has had them destroyed, he says, 'Protection of trafficked people three distinct advantages: it disrupts the trafficking system, because they do not get re-trafficked; it favours intelligence, because they are more likely to tell the support agency how they were trafficked; and in the long or medium term, it means that the trafficked person is more likely to co-operate with the police.'

'What really irritates me,' says Denise Marshallat the Poppy Project, 'is that governments - not just the UK - put the responsibility on to the country where these women originate. The fact is this: if British men were not wanting sex with trafficked women, then trafficked women would not be here. I had a woman who was raped 88 times - no, not 18, 88 - on Christmas Day 2002. She is completely annihilated. She is a religious woman who dares not go to church. She has a child but does not think she deserves to see that child. The men who did that to her were British, and I think Britain has a responsibility to provide her with at least sometime and proper resources. There are no quick-fix solutions for a woman like that.'

Eva, from southern Albania, fell in love with the man who took her to Naples, promising a wedding. But on arrival, her fiance demanded that Eva work for him as a prostitute. 'When I protested, he said he would kill my family and that his accomplices back home would do the same thing to my sister.' The trafficker worked alongside a 'group of his friends' while Eva and other girls enslaved into their operation walked the streets of Naples, taking up to 20 clients a night to meet her quota, and, if lucky, avoid a beating. Most nights, however, would end with her being violated and beaten by her trafficker and his accomplices.

'I could see people living their normal lives,' she says, her eyes staring into mid-distance - 'shopping, going about their business. They had their families and children with them, they had their lives, they had all the things I wanted but could never have. It made my heart cry to see them. Instead, I became accustomed to being a slave, crying all the time, but always afraid to leave him,because he knew my family, he knew my sister. I was alone, I had no one.'

Eva's trafficker was brother to one of Albania's biggest dealers in drugs and women, who was killed in a car crash. Eva duly managed to escape when her trafficker returned to Tirana for the funeral, successfully seeking out one of her brothers, living in Venice.

Eva, who wears a cross around her neck, has two distinct and different faces: the one she wears when telling her story hitherto - bounden, staring blankly - and another, which comes suddenly alive, effervescent, when she gets to this point in her narrative. In Savona, she met her sister-in-law, an evangelical Christian, who took Eva to church and to see a film about Mary Magdalene, the reformed prostitute. 'She saved my life,' says Eva, 'a certain peace came into me. I began to think differently and became a believer. My fear left me. I realised that people judge you, but God can forgive everything.'

Now living in hiding from reprisal, as does her sister, Eva is clearly the life force of the shelter in which she lives. 'For the moment, I have what I want. I have my sister with me, I tidy up, I plant flowers, I sew.' But Eva also urges her fellow victims and those still captive, out there in the hell of enslavement, whence she returned: 'I tell them, do not be afraid to do what is right. Go to the police. Testify against those who exploit you, for they deserve to be punished.'

All names of trafficked women and children in this article have been changed for their own safety.

Ed Vulliamy Sunday October 3, 2004
The Observer