Marginalization of Feminist Discourses
That Russians tend to think more broadly about trafficking than Americans illustrates that Russians have appropriated and translated the concept of trafficking in persons into the Russian vernacular, but in contrast to domestic violence, the translated concept is so resonant to various national concerns that the transformative feminism is missing. Partially, their conceptualization reflects a legacy of Soviet concerns about economic exploitation that leads them to be more concerned with surrogacy and adoption in ways unimaginable to American feminists^ More significantly, the Russian notion stems from demographic concerns about the decreasing population in Russia, especially among ethnic Russians. Trafficking in persons is cast as the economic exploitation of the Russian national body, the stealing of Russian women, Russian children, and Russian body matter. Trafficking in women can easily be blamed on foreign demand and foreign exploiters (even if Russian nationals must recruit and transport women and Russian officials must be bribed). In light of these understandings, Russian women trafficked abroad become another purloined natural resource. These claims about national exploitation could then be linked to justifications for Putin’s war on Chechnya. Feminists and feminism have no role.
A 2004 article from the Moscow weekly Literaturnaia Gazeta [Literary newspaper] illustrates this antifeminist dominant discourse about sex trafficking— both similar to and different from the U. S. conceptualization^5 Subtitled “Fate Didn’t Protect Them, but ‘Angel’ Heals,” the article dramatizes the story of Tatiana, who was “lured from Russia” with the promise of a career as a dancer in a bar in Israel. She was coerced into sex slavery after her traffickers set fire to her parent’s home back in Russia. Escaping through the desert to Egypt with a Bedouin guide, she has been placed in a psychiatric hospital, where she “periodically cries out in pain the names of foreign men” and suffers from “not only psychological problems but problems with her reproductive health.” Based on information from the Angel Coalition, the article places this story within the context of some forty thousand persons who have fallen into “sex slavery” from Russia, lured by job ads for work as nannies, dancers, or models and the promise of learning a foreign language.
Not unlike the U. S. archetype and then mixed with Russian nationalism, the article highlights the naivete of Russian young women and their love of Russia. “Our girls,” the article asserts, “naively believe in the kindness of the ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’” who recruit them. Once they realize their situation, they of course “search for any way to return to their homeland. . . . Even the desert is no obstacle to them.” Detailing some of the Angel Coalition’s activities, the article also plays on the word “angel,” casting the police raids and forceful deportation of women as “one of a few ways to be extracted from sex slavery in a civilized manner. . . . All [recently deported women] cried out of happiness when they found themselves in Russia.”46 In contrast to the Angel Coalition’s reasonable suggestions about how to travel abroad more safely, the article ends with a call to “close the travel agencies. . . which can formalize foreign passports and legal visas in two days. . . . In truth, they work as part of the sex slave-holding mafia.”
In contrast to the sympathy for Russian women trafficked abroad, the author reserves no concern for those women who work in a range of sex services, such as massage parlors and prostitution, in Moscow. He argues that these women are mostly “provincial,” part of an unruly mass who have stormed into Moscow. Some of these “enraged young girls,” ignoring the police patrols, who were only “trying to get in touch with them, . . . pounced on the police with their fists, once even overturning a police car.” For these native prostitutes, some of whom may have also been trafficked, there is no exploration of the question of coercion or consent. As with sexual assault, prostitution and sex trafficking stories can titillate, but Russians tend to see the violence as real only when there is a clear foreign enemy.
In a country with established rule of law, the new antitrafficking law would likely lead to some meaningful changes in behavior of state actors. In countries such as Russia where legislation can be completely ignored by state agents (while touted in international venues), foreign pressure may be necessary to persuade states to put their policies into practice.