Bodies Across Borders

NIKK Magazine, 2002/01, Written by Ulrikke Moustgaard

Young women from the Baltic countries increasingly come to the Nordic countries to find jobs in the sex business – at the same time, there is an increasing number of hairdressers, house wives, managing directors and other “ordinary” people who have seen the financial opportunities offered by the business and therefore establish themselves as agents for sexual services.

“Girls wanted for work in Denmark” On a morning in July 2000 in the Latvian capital Riga, 25-year-old Aija sees a job advert on a Latvian website specialised in contacts between people who offer jobs and people who are look-ing for work.

Aija quickly replies. “I have seen your advert and I am a 25-year-old woman, tall and slim. I have experience as a dancer.” Aija is a beautiful, red-haired Latvian woman looking for work, preferably in Scandinavia. She, along with hundreds of her fellow Latvians, would like to go abroad to a rich country for a couple of months to earn good money. There are plenty of opportuni-ties for this, Aija knows. For a long time, many Danish, Swedish and Norwegian clubs, bars and private indi-viduals have been advertising on the internet, in newspapers and through Latvian agencies for young women who are willing to leave Latvia for a few months for a job that will give them far more money than it is possible to earn at home.

The Danish advert on the Latvian site looks for young women who can dance. And Aija knows how to dance. She immediately gets a reply. “You can come at any time”, replies a woman who calls herself Luna. Luna asks Aija to call her on a mobile number in order to get detailed information.

Club 8

Luna manages a club in a suburb of Copenhagen. Club 8 is “a place where many different forms of entertainment are offered for the customers to enjoy in a pleasant environment”, as it says on the club’s website. Cars roar past on a four-lane road outside the club. Every now and then one of them will slow down on sighting the simple wooden sign saying “club” and then turn down the gravel drive to the red brick villa that houses it. Here, a small white arrow points the way to the club’s main entrance with shaded windows. Inside, in what once was the living room of the house, red bulbs and mirrors create a sleazy atmosphere appropriate for the club’s daily striptease show. There is also a sex cinema, a live sex show, a lesbian show and a weekly sex party. But the most important feature of the club is “the girls”. They usually come from Eastern Europe. They are available every day between 9 in the morning and 11 in the evening, providing, for a fee, various forms of sex in the double beds on the top floor of the house.

But Latvian Aija gets no informa-tion about all this. “What exactly will I be doing?” she asks Luna when she calls on the mobile number Luna has sent her. “Actually, nothing in particular,” Luna answers. “Just socialising with the customers, dancing and taking part in the live show and so on, that sort of thing. And a lit-tle bit of dancing” Luna also tells Aija that she can look forward to living in an area, which is “very, very rich”. Aija will be able to “buy everything”, since there are a lot of good shops. In reality, the only shops in the area around Club 8 are some sec-ond-hand car dealers, two petrol sta-tions, one of which is unmanned, a kiosk, a veterinary clinic and a hair-dresser for dogs.

Main Destinations

What Luna does not know when speak-ing to Aija, is that the mobile phone calls are being taped. The fact is that Aija has applied for the job in Denmark as part of an agreement with the Danish newspaper Information and the BBC, who together want to reveal how the traffic in women from the Baltic counto which nobody can give exact numbers for, but which experts say, is growing drastically.

According to a report published by the Danish police last year – after a fact-finding mission in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – Denmark and Sweden are the main destinations among the Nordic countries for organised prostitu-tion from the Baltic countries. The police describe the scope of the traffic as “considerable”.

This is confirmed by the latest cases that have come to light in Denmark. In the summer 2001 the Danish police carried out the country’s largest raid so far of places where Baltic women work as prostitutes. The police found an organised network of 40 agents in the whole country, which since 1999 has transported 78 women – mainly from Latvia and Estonia – into Denmark and then around the country for organised and controlled prostitution.

The network had connections to agents in the Baltic countries and traded sex to a total value of two million Danish crowns in two years. The Latvian and Estonian women were mainly supposed to be available around the clock as escort girls. They were moved between different Danish cities according to demand and customers.

The police monitored around 20.000 telephone calls, which showed that the women were referred to by the agents as goods with individual product codes. “These girls can be moved around as we like, and go back home when we like. If all goes well, we make money”, was the description of the busi-ness between two Danish agents according to the taping of phone calls by the police.


It is these agents, and their methods, that Information and the BBC want to know more about. How they target the women who are suitable for their trade, how they organize the travel across borders, and how they manage to get the women into the country without attracting the attention of the authorities.

The agent Luna already has a long experience of trafficking in women when she gets in touch with Aija. Her club has existed for two years and has had a constant flow of women from Eastern Europe – lately especially from Hungary. Now Luna wants to get women from Latvia.

“I might get some girls from there next month” she says on the phone to Aija. “I have a good contact.” In this way, Luna has invited women to her club in Copenhagen several times. She knows exactly how to avoid the Danish authorities. The first obsta- 7 cle is the Danish police at Kastrup airport.

Here, two things are absolutely necessary. Firstly, Aija must have a credit card to document that she has enough money to live on in Denmark. Secondly, Aija must not say one word about her plans to work in Denmark. “When you arrive at the airport, and they ask about money, you show them the credit card… If they ask you what you plan to do in Copenhagen, you say ‘I’m here on a camping holiday’, just say ‘I’m going to travel around the country, camping, I’m here as a tourist’. And if they ask whether you know anybody in Denmark, you answer ‘No, I’m here as a tourist, on a camping holiday’”.

Luna also tells Aija that she must not carry Luna’s address with her. She is to take a taxi and ask the driver to call Luna’s mobile number. Luna herself will then tell the driver where to take Aija.


Aija gets in touch with Luna on the internet. And Luna is by no means the only one who uses the net to recruit women for sexual labor. The internet has become a Mecca for agents, as was recently documented by the British intelligence agency. Direct recruitment of women takes place on the internet, often under the cover of jobs as au pairs, models, waitresses or dancers. “Hi, I’m looking for a cute and attractive girl for au pair work and possibly to be a “play mate”. Your salary depends on your flexibility,” writes a Danish woman who looks for girls from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

Others openly admit that the work involves professional sexual services. This is the case with the Danish pimp, Spike, who on a Latvian website adver-tises for women between the age of 18 and 30 for work in his Danish escort agency.

“The reason why I resort to advertising on the net is to avoid all the greedy Eastern European agents,” Spike says. Women who are interested in working for him can send a letter with pictures to a post box address. Spike then assesses whether he wants to employ them for three months – the length of a tourist visa in Denmark. He pays for the flight tickets, salary and a flat. Others try personal advertisements in local newspapers, where they offer a job – or marriage. Many of these offers of marriage are completely genuine. But for some women who are looking for happiness abroad through marriage, this is their first step on the road to a life as a prostitute. Crisis centres both in Denmark and Norway report that an increasing number of women who have married in good faith but have been forced into prostitution once they have arrived in Norway or Denmark turn to them. An employee at a Danish crisis centre describes the experience of a Polish woman.

“He had a special room in the house. When she was to enter this room, she would be called something else than her real name. Then a number of men would arrive. And that’s where her vocabulary ended.” However, the experience of this Polish woman is far from a typical example of a woman who enters the Danish sex industry. A great majority of the women who come to Denmark know very well that they are going to work in sexual services.

A day in June 1999 Yveta from the Czech republic for the first time stepped into a car in Denmark to a man who wanted to buy sex from her. He was “old, dirty and ugly” and it was her very first sex job.

“I have a second-hand shop and there were simply so many things that had to be paid,” explains Yveta two years later in her cosy flat in the Czech republic. “I was desperate. I didn’t know what to do. And then one day I went down to a café near my shop, where a lot of girls were sitting and talking about how they had been in Denmark and made money.”

Yveta got in touch with the man who had organised the trips for the girls. And then she took off for Copenhagen. “I got used to it. Of the perhaps 12 customers you have, 10 will sometimes take only a few minutes each,” she says.


Several of Yveta’s friends have since gone to Norway, Sweden and Denmark by means of “good contacts”. And every-where in Denmark these good contacts can be seen in action. New offers for sexual experiences with foreign women appear constantly – in closed-down farms in the countryside, in flats and basement rooms in the cities, and in villas that have been converted into sex clubs, such as Luna’s house on the out-skirts of Copenhagen. The people behind the sexual enterprises are typically organised in international, criminal networks. Europol, who for several years has worked with studying the criminal networks trading in women, groups the networks into three categories: large-scale, medium-scale and small-scale.The large-scale networks are the most ‘mafia-like’ and today control about 60 per cent of prostitution in Western Europe. They belong to the Russian and Albanian mafia and trade many women at a time. The large networks typically have a history in drugs trafficking, but have chosen to also trade women as goods since the profit margins are high – there is a great demand and supply, and the risk for being sentenced is small. In addition, the mafia groups are very brutal in their ways of doing business. There have, for example, been reports and eyewitness testimonials of prostitution concentration camps in Poland, Albania and Italy among other places, where women from Eastern Europe, the Baltic countries and Russia have been kept imprisoned behind barbed wire, raped, starved and even branded by the mafia, until they either have got a chance to flee or have been resold at an auction to local brothels.

“The brutality used is something we in the Nordic countries would find difficult to conceive of” says Norwegian Jan Austad, who is expert on trafficking at Interpol.

The large-scale networks character-istically have solid political and financial contacts both in the countries where the women originate and the countries they are transported through, as well as those where they finally end up working. These contacts mean that they are able to falsify documents that make the transportation easier.

The medium-scale networks, on the other hand, specialise in trading women from a certain country, and they do not act as intermediaries. Instead, they take care of everything themselves: they recruit and transport women, and they have their own brothels where the women work.

But even if organised prostitution in the Nordic countries most probably can be ascribed to both large and medium-scale networks, the dominant ones are the small networks of agents. Typically, the small-scale networks are not run from the top. There is no big, autocratic mafia boss who sits in his chair pulling the strings. On the contrary, these networks consist of a myriad of individuals across country borders, who have mutual contacts and sell and buy women off each other. They are usually so-called ordinary people, who have seen the financial opportunities offered by a steadily growing sex market. The 40 people who were arrested last summer by the Danish police, were thus neither muscular mafia types nor known criminals. On the contrary, the hard core of the network consisted of a managing director and an IT expert, a married couple with a dog kennel, a bus driver and his wife, an artist and a hair-dresser.

Brothels in Denmark who need employees can thus also pay and use an increasing number of agencies and pri-vate persons in the Baltic and Eastern European countries who specialise in finding young women who want to go abroad. These local agents speak the women’s language; they find them in, for example, discos, or spread the word on the opportunity to work abroad in the local community, and then offer “help” in arranging the trip and in many cases also loans for paying the tickets etc. The next time the Danish brothel needs more women the contact is easily available. This is why the activities can be called trafficking: the organised shipment of women from one country to the sex industry in another.

Sold Several Times

The networks get in touch with each other, for example, via the internet. On several Baltic, Russian and Eastern European websites local agents offer to recruit local women to interested parties. “We are an agency in Moldova. We have girls who are interested in sex work,” writes an agent on one of these sites.

Later, in a private message, he says that he can get women in two weeks and is able to help transporting them to Denmark. Other networks are created on the basis of the criminal environment in the place where the women come from. Within these networks a woman can be “sold” several times, before she crosses the border and finds herself in a Danish, Swedish or Norwegian brothel. 19-year-old Marcela from the Czech republic came to Sweden through such a network. She had just met a new guy, Ivan, whom she was very much in love with. He invited her to stay in a hotel in the city of Teplice in the Czech republic, where he had some friends.

“One night Ivan took out a pistol and pointed it at me. Then he said that he owed some people money and that they would kill him, if he didn’t pay them. Then he suggested that I would prostitute myself,” says Marcela. She had never sold sex before, but agreed in order to help Ivan. Soon after this, Ivan persuaded Marcela to go to Sweden to continue working as a prostitute there.

Marcela was introduced to one of Ivan’s friends, Ota, who could help with the travel arrangements. “I saw Ivan give Ota 10.000 Czech crowns,” Marcela reports. Ota then introduced Marcela to a man, Milan, who lived in Sweden but was visiting the Czech republic. “Milan told me that he had bought me from Ota for 3.000 German marks,” she explains. Three days later Marcela was in Stockholm. “We had sex in the customers’ cars or in their homes. Afterwards we handed over all the money we had earned,” she says.

Marcela herself never got any money for her prostitution. Milan took everything. “But it was never said that I would not be able to keep the money myself,” she says.

Fifty, fifty

Aija from Latvia, on the other hand, will not be cheated of a good salary, Luna promises her on the phone. “In two weeks you can make per-haps 30.000 Danish crowns,” Luna says. She also explains to Aija that she will take half of Aija’s salary for board and lodging: “Let’s say fifty fifty… (…) … You get half and I get half.”

So a few weeks later Aija sits in the blue chair of Air Baltic’s flight BT 113 headed for Copenhagen. When she arrives at Kastrup airport she carefully follows Luna’s advice. She has a credit card, a hotel room and her good explanations at hand. Aija passes through the Danish passport control without any problems. She gets into a taxi, asks the driver to call Luna’s mobile number and 20 minutes later she is standing in Luna’s Club 8. It is completely empty. A few hours before Aija landed at Kastrup airport, the police had conducted a raid at the club and arrested the Hungarian women working there. They are now being questioned at the police station, where they report that, among other things, they have been working as prostitutes and have paid 50 per cent of their salary to Luna. The police prose-cute the women for working without a work permit in Denmark and put them on a flight back to Hungary. Luna, on the other hand, is not arrested. A few weeks later, Club 8 reopens – this time with new women from Eastern Europe, as the answering machine of the club reports. This the police comment: “We have been in touch with the club, and they say that they show films, but that there is no prostitution going on.”

Until recently, statements and lines of action like these were the norm within the Danish police. The reason for this was partly the Danish legislation – and partly the beliefs within the police force about what constitutes trafficking in women.


Until recently, the Danish police claimed that no actual organised use of prostituted foreign women takes place to any great extent in Denmark. The main reason for this was that foreign women who were arrested for working as prostitutes did not give information that they were victims of what that police normally take to be activities associated with trafficking in women: i.e., actual forced labour, physical violence and theft of passport and personal documents. The women have arrived in the country voluntarily; they are basically able to move around freely, as they choose, and they even get paid for their work. How the women have entered the country, who has arranged their travel and whether the women are paying off a debt to these people are questions that have not been the primary concern of the police, since they have assumed that the crucial issue is whether the women are working as prostitutes voluntarily or not. What the police, on the other hand, have focused their investigation on, is whether somebody else has profited from the women’s prostitution. In Denmark, working as a prostitute is not a criminal act, while procuring, that is, making money from somebody else’s prostitution, is illegal. But when it comes to this, the problem lies with the courts of law, the police say. At the Danish courts of law, documented proof of actual financial profit from procuring is needed in order for some-one to be able to be sentenced as a procurer. “We can go into a brothel and find working schedules and accounts, which document that a person has made, for example, a million crowns in a year. But when the defendant stands before the judge, he can deduct costs for toilet paper, coffee and what not and thus prove that the actual profit wasn’t that big in the end. And so he is let off, since he hasn’t made any money out of the prostitution,” says criminal inspector Kurt Jensen at the Copenhagen police.On these grounds, there have been very few court trials of procuring in Denmark in relation to the number of pimps that probably operate in the country.

However, with the latest case, where the police revealed a network of 40 agents who trafficked in Baltic women, this trend is now undergoing a change. For the first time in Denmark, the police chose to charge the suspects with the smuggling of people and emphasised in their prosecution that the women, in spite of their voluntary par-ticipation, had been treated as goods according to the whims of the agents and had not been able to set their own working conditions. The case resulted in a sentence of a total of ten years and six months imprisonment for five people. However, this did not help the Baltic women. They were, as is customary, sent back home.

ULRIKKE MOUSTGAARD works as reporter at the Danish daily newspaper Dagbladet Information and has written the book Kroppe over gręnser – når kvinder handles til Danmark [Bodies across borders – when women are traded to Denmark] Informations Forlag, Copenhagen, 2001.

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