human trafficking in europe

Why Athens?

Every day in Athens, hundreds of women are sold over and over for sex. It happens discreetly behind closed doors and openly on street corners. Some women are visibly terrified and unhappy; others seem confident and flirtatious. Passers-by view them with disgust or prurient fascination – few seem to realize that almost none of them are there by choice – they are there because they have been put there by someone else who is using them as a commodity.

While the elusive nature of this “industry” makes it difficult to fully reveal, in the early 2000s it was estimated that there were around 600,000 undocumented migrant workers in Greece – today estimates are closer to 1 million. More than half of these workers are women and a majority of them absorbed into the service sector and various forms of sex-related entertainment.

Every woman has her own story, but there are certain patterns that emerge in their stories after you hear a few. There’s the young Eastern European from an unhappy home, sold by a relative to an abusive man who sells her on; the orphan with no future prospects, offered a job opportunity in a restaurant or a rich home abroad, who travels to her destination only to be betrayed and put in a brothel; the naive girl whose boyfriend insists he’s in deep trouble and asks her to help him financially just for a while, and then refuses to let her stop when she realizes she is unhappy; the girl who is the oldest of five or six siblings, encouraged to sacrifice herself for their sake and made to feel like a traitor if she resists; the lady from Africa who is forced to take part in voodoo rituals that are then held over her head to make her comply with her traffickers; the quiet girl who smiles all the time, who has learned that it is better to please her ‘customers’ than to face the beating she’ll receive if she does not.

There are estimates of numbers of women in prostitution in Athens, but none are entirely accurate. Prostitution is legal for unmarried, health checked, legally resident women who are working in registered establishments of their own choice. Brothels must be registered, and a certain distance from any Orthodox Church or school.

In Athens there are upwards of 500 brothels, open 24 hours a day. In 2013, a TV report could only discover three brothels in the city which fulfilled these requirements. There are also bars with private rooms upstairs, studios, and uncounted women on street corners. Few people pay attention – unless they are interested in the ladies’ services. They are statistically and culturally invisible, and when they are acknowledged, they are perceived as immoral or providing a service like any other business.

These women learn fast that there are few ways out of prostitution, no matter how they were brought into it. For starters, a vast majority are not legal residents of the country they work and live in, which makes it difficult to leave or find another means of income. Many have cultural and familial stigmas as well—they are seen as ruined women and are not accepted by their families or friends. It is safer not to hope for change. They simply focus on surviving.

For those who do manage to escape, their experiences make it very hard to readjust to normal life; their self-esteem, body image, and ability to trust and deal with stressful situations have all been damaged. Paranoia, nightmares, depression, PTSD – these are all very common effects of prostitution, as well as all the physical dangers of HIV, various STDs, and physical violence from customers.
Threads of Hope Hellas seeks to see the invisible women and help them find restoration. We teach them trade skills they can take with them wherever they go, help them attain legal status, provide them with employment, and point them to our Wonderful Counsellor, the Lord our God. It is only God who can mend the broken-hearted; He alone can give them a future.

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