In a growing cross-border trade, young women and girls living in poverty in the former Soviet bloc, Asia, and sub-Saharan African are being lured into an underground network of sex slavery by false promises of legitimate jobs or marriage. The International Organization of Migration estimates that 300,000 immigrant women and girls are currently working in forced prostitution in Western Europe, while others are being sold into sexual slavery in the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries. Upon arrival, women are stripped of identification and become dependent upon their traffickers, often subjected to torture and other forms of violence. Due to fears of contracting AIDS, young girls, who are perceived as being disease-free, are increasingly becoming targets of traffickers. Sex trafficking is now ranked third behind illegal drug and arms sales. The United Nations estimates that traffickers make a profit of over $7 billion a year through forced prostitution and sweatshop labor.
Currently, Italy leads the way in efforts to assist women escaped from forced prostitution. While Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands offer shelter, protection, and residency permits to these women, in hopes of enabling them to identify and prosecute traffickers, Italy now provides them with schooling, job training, and employment. Largely due to these provisions, formerly-trafficked women have assisted law enforcement to identify 1,500 pimps and traffickers and, as a result of a revision in Italy’s immigration law, more than 2,000 immigrants have obtained residency permits.