Surveying Public Awareness
Unlike the case for the other forms of violence against women, there are absolutely no systematic public opinion surveys of the public’s awareness of trafficking in women. Even with surveys repeated over time, it would be tough to sort out whether awareness was due to increased attention or to the increase in the actual problem of trafficking, which has also happened over the period since the end of the USSR.
Instead, survey data reveal much more about how some segments of the population are coming to understand trafficking. One 2000 study among workers in Moscow suggests that there was a great awareness of potential dangers of working abroad (Tiuriukanova 2005a, 105—106): one in four women workers believed that all jobs abroad were high-risk, and 40 percent believed that many immigrant Russian women found themselves in slavery-like conditions. But among those women actually seeking work abroad, there was much naivete about their own prospects and the probability of facing coercion to work in the sex industry (Tiuriukanova 2005a, 100—102). Few of the women, especially those over twenty- five, wanted jobs that would require them to use sexuality (such as a stripper or bar waitress intended to flirt with customers to sell drinks), and almost none to sell sex. Nonetheless, most respondents were seeking jobs in service industries, such as in restaurants or hotels, or in domestic services (such as caregivers or maids), which have proven to be high-risk, and almost all thought it would be possible—or even easy—to find acceptable jobs. By 2000, sensationalized stories had evoked fear among Russians, but not a clear sense of how trafficking typically occurs or to whom. Some experts in Russia’s regions also worry that information campaigns can have the perverse consequence of arousing more interest in traveling abroad (Tiuriukanova 2006, 73).
In Siberia and the Far East, almost all opinion leaders were quite aware of the problem. A 2000 survey in a number of cities in Siberia and the Far East found that only 7 percent of citizens had never heard of Russian citizens being transported abroad to be criminally exploited (Kleimenov and Shamkov 2005, 34—37). Almost one-half knew of similar cases, while more than one-third thought it was a widespread phenomenon. Respondents were most aware of the criminal transport of persons for exploitation in the sex industry, followed closely by labor exploitation, organ donations, and being kidnapped for ransom.
The evidence suggests that awareness comes from the media, personal experience, or crisis center activism. For example, a 1999 Angel Coalition survey, among those who had signaled interest in learning about trafficking by attending an Angel event, found that one-third of those who were aware of the problem gained this awareness because they had a close friend or family member who had been a
victim of sex trafficking.42 A few years later, an official from the Saratov Ministry of Health and Social Development, who spoke in detail about the complexities of the problem of trafficking at a 2004 women’s crisis center conference, argued that the cooperation between her ministry and the Saratov women’s crisis center (funded by USAID) had had a huge impact on the shaping of public opinion on the issue of illegal transportation of women abroad for sexual exploitation^3