Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sliven

Ze zijn nog altijd zo lief meneer (Canvas, 2009)

This is an interesting Belgian television program about Bulgarian prostitutes who come mainly from Sliven who work as prostitutes in the Aarschotstraat in Brussels in Belgium. There are many Bulgarian prostitutes in the Netherlands nowadays, also from Sliven and controlled by the same gangs as in Belgium. So we get to know much more about Bulgarian prostitutes through this program, also in the Netherlands.

The general picture brought forward in this program is that human traffickers use less violence nowadays and rely more and more on the cooperativeness of the women, which causes the line between perpetrator and victim to blur.

The Aarschotstraat is well-known to foreign prostitutes who want to work there and make a lot of money. The Aarschotstraat consists of 57 windows with a total turnover of more than 100 million euro per year. 70 percent of the women are from Bulgaria of whom half are supposedly controlled by criminals. Many of the Bulgarian prostitutes come from Sliven, a city with 100.000 inhabitants.

The program interviews many people, among them people from the Belgian judiciary, Payoke and het Centrum voor gelijke Kansen en voor Racismebestrijding [Centre for equal opportunities and the fight against racism]. They give their imagination the free hand. Others interviewed are people from the Bulgarian judiciary who also give their imagination the free hand but what they tell is the more interesting. The most important is what some prostitutes tell in the program.

Nikolay Dimitrov (attorney/sollicitor of Sliven): “Our biggest problem is this: 95% of the victims of human trafficking do this voluntarily. There are even cases of victims who go to human traffickers to be able to go abroad for prostitution. In that case they obviously don’t cooperate with us, but they effectively work for the human traffickers. In their world view and in their moral they see that as normal. They see it as something good.

(...)

The question emerges what is happening in our society. What is seen as model behaviour. Children, young girls dream of becoming a prostitute in Belgium or in the Netherlands and to make a lot of money there. We can’t act against that as a judicial apparatus. That’s the worst.”

An anonymous police investigator talks in the program about the Mandev case in Bulgaria, a notorious pimp who was also prosecuted in Belgium. “He is leader of an organized criminal organisation. Each member of this organization has a specific task. Some engage in human trafficking with sexual exploitation as target, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands.” According to this man, a lot of gypsy women are recruited.

The Mandev case is handled by the court in Sliven. It’s not the only human trafficking case. Martin Dantsjev who is a judge in Sliven says: “Since early 2007, when Bulgaria became member of the European Union, there are 25 cases running at the court of Sliven about human trafficking. 90% of these come from Belgium.”

Mandev is a rich men who also owns the city park in Sliven. Mandev simply is on house-arrest which suggests that he is protected like other many big criminals. There’s lots of corruption in Bulgaria.

Another trafficking case in Belgium is the Dimov case. He was committed to trial in the fall in Brussels. [the text quoted from here is probably quoted from the judicial files but this is not clear from the program] “From the documents of the courts it emerges that this criminal organization recruited young women from disadvantaged milieus, to exploit them through seduction, pursuit of profit, threat or even violence. A thorough investigation of the file proves that the suspect, who has an enormous capital at his disposal, was the chief of this mafia organization.

(...)

Finally Dimov had connections with the authorities at the Bulgarian police and judiciary, as a result of which he wasn’t prosecuted. He was forewarned of house-searches or raids in his establishments in Varna. He is rumoured to have bribed policemen and judges by presenting prostitutes for free and to invite them to parties where large quantities of cocaine was used.”

Dimov was sentenced to eight years in absentia in Belgium. He used the trick to give himself up to the police in Bulgaria and then expect to have a much lower sentence because the punishments for human trafficking in Bulgaria are usually much lower, and because there’s a law in Bulgaria which determines that people aren’t handed over to other countries if they are prosecuted there for crimes for which they already have been sentenced in Bulgaria.

What’s interesting is that the pimps use lady-helps in the Aarschotstraat to keep themselves informed about the prostitutes. This way they don’t have to show themselves there. Originally these lady-helps were Belgian women but later they were replaced by Bulgarian women.

I will directly quote some testimonies of Bulgarian women in human traaficking cases in Belgium told by two actresses in the program; a blond-haired actress, and a dark-haired actress. It is always interesting to listen to what sex workers say themselves. It is not clear if the different sentences told by the same actress are related to the same woman. The texts are told in French by the actresses, a language I don’t speak, they are subtitled in Dutch and I translated them into English (by the way, the Bulgarian people in the program speak Bulgarian which is then subtitled in Dutch which I translated to English).

The dark-haired actress: “As a woman to give your body to men who are dirty and drunk and sometimes act very annoyingly, that is anything but pleasant. If you even do it for free for Ivo, the pimp, so that he receives all the profit, then you become scared of it.”
“I worried about my family in Bulgaria. I am in an alien country and my son and my family are over there. When I do something wrong, they can harm them. So I do what they ask me.”
“They haven’t threatened me directly. They did have me psychologically in their power. I knew that they were capable of anything. I especially worried about my family in Bulgaria.”
“The members of the group continuously controlled the girls. They changed their GSM-cards [mobile phone cards]. They kept an eye on them while they are working. They check if they are indeed in front of the window. They also look which contacts they have. They verify if they have contact with the police. I know that the prostitutes live in constant fear.”
“In October 2001 I got to know a man in Vratsa. Tosho was his name. He proposed that I could work for him in Zlatnite Piasatzi. That is a touristic centre. I had to work there as a prostitute. I was fifteen. He explained to me what kind of work it was and I agreed to it. After that I went to that complex in Varna.”
“I have asked Ivo, the actual boss, if I could work abroad. He said that it could, but that the circumstances differed. The girls over there sat in front of the window, in their underwear. The money was split in two. But I only then received my money when I returned to Bulgaria.”
“I ask 40 euro for fellatio and penetration. For cunnilingus I ask 60 euro. For a different position I ask 50. Half an hour costs 100 euro, one hour 200 euro. I had 30 to 35 clients in one day. That brought in 2.400 to 2.800 euro per day for me.”

The blond actress: “It is a small city. We knew each other by sight. In the discotheque he proposed to me to work as a prostitute. That way I could earn a lot of money, he said. I wouldn’t have sexual contacts the largest part of the time. I would try it for a week. If I didn’t like it, I could go home again. As if it was a short week vacation at sea.”
“I started to work in Brussels in the Aarschotstraat. In window numer 222. Ivo determined the work circumstances. Savina took care that there was no deviation from that. I sometimes worked twelve hours per day.”
“I had to wear evening wear, but then sexier. And it had to be bright colours, so that they could see us in the dark.”
“I was being obligated to work. I worked almost twelve hours per day. I started at six o’clock, I worked until 18:00. This way I realized that I was being exploited. I didn’t even receive 40% of what I really earned, while Ivo received 60%.”
“I started using drugs, XTC. Once I took fifteen xtc-pills. I wanted to die of an overdose. But my body was clearly used to it. The suicide failed. When I took drugs, I didn’t know anymore where I was.”
“I had an idea. When I broke an arm or leg, I perhaps could stop working and go back to Bulgaria. I asked Mahmoud to help me. He took a metal table-leg and hit me on my left arm.”

So what have we learned after viewing this program?:

Pimps are evil, clients are filthy, drunk and annoying and even the voluntary prostitutes have no complete sexual self-determination and are heavily exploited.

But we knew that already.

This is a good way for sex addicts to learn.

After thinking longer, I wonder what could help to improve the situation of the women. The Belgian government condones this situation with the argument that it keeps the women above ground and in sight. The women clearly seem to be choosing to do this job. But they somehow are still heavily exploited. Then you might wonder; perhaps the real problem lies in the recruitment-side of prostitution. But this is typically done by very evil gangsters. So perhaps in a regulated market this should be done by more bonafide people. In the case of Belgium; perhaps that the municipality of Brussels should set up shop in Sliven and start a prostitution recruitment centre in that city. But I believe that people who want to recruit people to work in the sex industry are typically regarded by the general public as very evil people!!!! For instance, what kind of brute will systematically visit gypsy camps to search for potential prostitutes???? So at the end I believe that the recruitement part will always be done by evil people so to speak.

Prostitution can never be regulated.

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