Published: April 29, 2019

Student Name: Kavya Kannan

Course: PSCI 3022

Instructor: Prof. Sarah Sokhey

Published: March 15, 2019

When the world thinks of the consequences of the Soviet Union collapse in 1991, sex trafficking is certainly not the first to come to mind. The image projected to the world during this time was a politically and economically unstable regime in dire need of rehabilitation. But the collapse of the Soviet Union left the Russian state weak and showed promise to traffickers internationally of Russia being involved in all aspects of the sex trafficking industry.

Sex trafficking is a “form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion” (“Sex Trafficking”). Coercion is the most emphasized principle in this practice as it involves persuading an individual to engage in sexual activity with the authority through means of “physical confinement, non-payment for services, withholding of wages and manipulation of debt” (Harroff-Tavel). For the purposes of sex trafficking, women and children are primarily targeted as they are the most vulnerable. Russia’s consistent negligence of the issue has allowed it to be reclassified as a Tier 3 country (from formerly being on the Tier 2-Watch List in 2013) because of the little progress they’ve made in countering the practice (“Russia”, U.S. Department of State). To counter domestic and foreign pressure, Putin instituted an amendment that slightly tightened the Criminal Code for traffickers in 2003. This amendment, though a reflection of progress, was clearly not a sufficient resolution. Politically motivated, this adjustment to the criminal code remains the only piece of legislation in response to this issue (Roache).        

Currently more than a million people live in state of modern day slavery in Russia. More than 100,000 women are trafficked in Russia every year (Lee). Women are reported to service as many as 30 men in a single day. (“Russia”, Global slavery index) Russia is unique in that it serves as a source, transit, and destination country whereas countries generally fit under one of these designations. Source countries are those that provide an atmosphere of “poverty, oppression, lack of human rights, lack of social or economic opportunity, dangers from conflict or instability and similar conditions” (Addressing the Root Causes of Sex Trafficking). Source countries for the practice in Russia include Ukraine, Moldova, Vietnam, and Nigeria among others (“Russia”, U.S. Department of State).Transit countries, through which victims travel through to their final destination, are chosen for their weak border controls as well as proximity to the destination sites (“Trafficking Routes). It is for these reasons that Russia also serves as a prime transit country. Destination countries have much stronger economies than that of the origin countries, making them able to support a large commercial sex industry and pay victims more for their work (“Trafficking Routes). For the practice in Russia, destination sites include Russia itself (specifically more prosperous cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow), Northeast and Central Asia, Europe, the US, and the Middle East. For some women, their first destination site may just be one among many, reflecting the continuous search for stability.

The practice of sex trafficking can be attributed to the view of women within Russian society. Reports show that women get paid, on average, 30-33% less than their male counterparts. Additionally, their involvement in the political sphere has been very limited as only 3 of 19 ministers and 11 deputies were women in 2012 (Zakirova). For single mothers and young women, this situation is extremely concerning as they desperately search for ways to support themselves and their families. Reports show that the number of women in poverty in Russia is significantly greater than males aged 30 and older. The desperation that poverty and lack of opportunity ensues leads women to resort to such dehumanizing measures as ways to continue living. Though they engage in the practice, more than 64% of women themselves claim sex trafficking is a “morally unacceptable way for women to work.” (Buckley).

Other causes of sex trafficking in Russia can be linked to the continued culture of alcoholism, unemployment, homelessness, and drug taking that was further proliferated by the collapse of the state in (Buckley, 25). The collapse of the Soviet Union plunged a majority of the Russian population into a state of poverty with the desire to sustain oneself running high. People sought easy ways to gain access to the central cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg that showed promise of a stable income and economic sustenance. Sex trafficking in the form of prostitution seemed to gain ground during this time as it was an easy route into these cities. The practice now is escape route from economic oppression in the modern Russian state (Buckley, 22). Another plausible explanation is Putin’s institution of authoritarianism within the state. With the establishment of the power vertical (Ruthland) as well as the Foreign Agent Law of 2012, anti-trafficking agencies in Russia have been forced to shut down or focus on less controversial topic areas (Dean).  This can be directly correlated to an increase in sex trafficking rates as citizens no longer have access to education against participation in the practice nor do victims have a vessel for support in society.

The lack of efficient measures taken to eradicate sex trafficking in the region leaves Russia with a pressing legitimacy problem. 21% of the Russian population condemn prostitution as an appropriate source of income while 61.6% of the population also see prostitution as morally unacceptable. Additionally, 64.8% of the population view sex trafficking as a growing and serious, large or enormous concern within society, showing the need for action (Buckley, 9). For Russia to truly see any substantive change with the practice, a few crucial steps need to be taken. First, there needs to be a proper protocol to handle victims. This can come in the form of additional support to health care officials for proper screening procedures and treatment of the victim. Additionally, because of the prevalence of the practice, it would be advised for the government to create a body to monitor trafficking and anti-trafficking efforts throughout the region. Funding to NGO’s that have already mobilized anti-trafficking efforts in Russia would also bolster efforts to combat sex trafficking (Lee).  On the international scheme, countries need to create a systematic approach to collecting data on this practice as it is very vague and unreliable. Only then can countries truly understand the scope of sex trafficking in their country and address it by themselves or succumb to international pressure (Laczko).

Russia’s ineffective response to sex trafficking is a result of negligence and the invisible nature of sex trafficking. Because the practice often goes easily undetected, many women become ensnared in its ways and find it difficult to escape as no other viable economic opportunities surround them. Institutional change must be made for the Russian regime to see any reduction in sex trafficking. But with the prevalence of the culture within the regime, the question becomes when the Russian regime will take action, not if



 Works Cited:

 “Addressing the Root Causes of Sex Trafficking.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Buckley , Mary. “Human Trafficking In and Out of Russia.” Fair Observer, 9 May 2014,

Buckley , Mary. “Public Opinion in Russia on the Politics of Human Trafficking.” JSTOR, vol. 61, no. 2, Mar. 2009, pp. 231–248.

Dean, Laura. “A Stage for Human Trafficking: The World Cup in Russia.” Wilson Center, 19 June 2018,

Gehlbach, Scott “Reflections on Putin & the Media,” Post-Soviet Affairs, 26:1, 2010, pp. 77-87

Harroff-Tavel , Hélène, and Alix Nasri. “Tricked and Trapped: Human Trafficking in the Middle East.” International Labor Organization, 2013.

Laczko, Frank. “Human Trafficking: The Need for Better Data.”, 2 Mar. 2017,

Lee, Ying Chieh. “HUMAN TRAFFICKING ACROSS BORDERS AND THE NEED FOR A GLOBAL RESPONSE.” Master Theses CUNY Academic Works, 2014, pp. 51–54.

Roache, Madeline. “Putin Doesn't Care about Sex Trafficking.” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 13 July 2018,

“Russia.” Global Slavery Index, Dec. 2018,

“Russia.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, June 2017,

Rutland, Peter. 2000. “Putin’s Rise to Power,” Post-Soviet Affairs.

“Sex Trafficking .” National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris, 2018.

“Trafficking Routes.” Trafficking Routes, Dec. 2018,

Zakirova, Venera. “Gender Inequality in Russia: the Perspective of Participatory Gender Budgeting.” Reproductive Health Matters, vol. 22, no. 44, 2014, pp. 202–212., doi:10.1016/s0968-8080(14)44806-7.