An Anti-trafficking Story


A young woman leaps over the sill of her ground floor window in the red light district calling "Reb Goldishkeh! Reb Goldishkeh! Ya vabstra, ya v'mitzrayim!" I was following a self-guided walking tour map at the time, and shocked to go through such a district, and even more so to recognize her from a Jewish immersion retreat some years before in the Ukraine. Looking around for assistance, I was fortunate to find the adjacent window woman's client emerging singing a Russian folk song while buckling his trousers in the street. A sailor, he was willing to translate "Elena's" rapid Russian for the price of a beer.


Her story: Desperate to support her family, she took a survival loan from a man who promised her income to pay it off from an overseas housekeeping job that he would provide, along with an added loan for her transportation and lodging. Instead he farmed her out as a prostitute within an hour of her arrival at this destination, not as a housekeeper, rather as his slave; all of her earnings going back to him to service the interest on the debt, as well as for her clothes, transportation, and living expenses. I did the math - the debt would keep her enslaved to him forever. At that moment her "supervisor" flew out of the house, simultaneously shoving the young woman toward her window and myself and the sailor towards the gutter shouting: "I charge for socialization, prepay or get the F... out of the way."


This is only one face of the horrific criminal scams committed by those trafficking in the slave trade. I first learned about how to fight trafficking while teaching for Project Kesher, a Jewish organization that offers highly effective anti-trafficking programs throughout the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. A call to a Project Kesher advocate, a contact in the local community, and a friend in the UN, and within the week "Elena" was in a safe house and job training. Today she has stable work as a hospital phlebotomist.