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Bulgaria: Research on Bulgarian Sex Workers

July 2009, Sofia – An in-depth analysis of prostitution in post-socialist Bulgaria is now available on the “Liberal Review” website. The author of the study, Tihomir Bezlov is a sociologist, an independent researcher of criminal processes in Bulgaria and the founder and leading specialist in the Democracy Research Center in Sofia, Bulgaria. This document is one of the rare and current research projects that treat sex work as a separate phenomenon, apart from trafficking. According to main participants in sex industry – ex-sex workers, sex workers, pimps and owners of “public houses” – women who are forced into sex work constitute not more than 10% of all sex workers

Thein-depth analysis begins with an assessment of internal market of sexual services and the Balkan context. According the author, after the collapse of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe these countries went through serious political, economic and social changes. In the beginning of the 90’s most sex workers on the territory were poor females, mainly from the Roma community. In the end of the 90’s the picture changed – more and more Bulgarian women from higher social and economical status were engaging in this profession. The author believes that the wars in the ex-Yugoslavian Republic also played a role in the increase of the number of sex workers on the Balkans.

The author quotes the Dutch National Rapporteur who found that 14% of the victims of sexual exploitation in Netherlands were Bulgarians, putting Bulgaria in first place on trafficking scale for the 2000-2003 period. The situation is similar in Germany, where Bulgarian women trafficked for sexual purposes are third on the scale. This trend can also be observed in other European countries, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Greece. At the same time the surveys of the prostitution in Western Europe indicate that a small percentage of sex workers looked for support from the authorities.

The author also describes different types of sex work, its structures and places where women get involved in this business.
1. On street and highway
2. In clubs
3. In "Public Houses”
4. By phone
5. In bars
6. Elite prostitution - models and girls who are students in universities.
7. Resort prostitution and sex-tourism.

In the second part of the research, he analyses the export and trafficking of people. He assesses social status, education, family history, regions where are the most of the victims coming from, models of the organization of the trafficking from the criminal structures and the roles of the criminal structures on different levels of trafficking.

Further, he evaluates the relationship between trafficking and sex work abroad. According to main participants in sex business – ex-sex workers, sex workers, pimps and owners of “public houses”, women who are forced to work as sex workers constitute not more than 10%. Similar is the data given by the Women’s Alliance for Development  – in 2006 the Alliance made a survey, according to which 92% of the Bulgarian sex workers abroad are voluntarily involved in sex work.

Next, the author attempts to evaluate the number of sex workers. He uses data provided by police and his own calculations – he estimates that sex workers counts as many as 25 000 – 30 000 and 70-80% of them are working abroad either constantly or from time to time.

Further, the author describes different types of sex workers: sex workers who work by themselves; sex workers in partner relationships- mostly with pimps, who take care of their security; sex workers who are employed by an individual or by a company (bar, massage parlor, etc).

In the third part, the author describes in details the structure of sex business in Bulgaria. According to him, inner and external businesses have their own places in this system. Females from certain towns are escorted to certain countries.

He also describes different roles in the business:
1. The "Hunter" of fresh flesh – a person who takes women in Bulgaria. The role is the same as in the trafficking, but the women know what their profession is going to be.
2. "Mule" – a person who escorts women to a certain country.
3. Pimp –the person allocates women to certain terrain.
4. “Controllers” (“first girl” or a madam) – a sex worker who has pimp’s trust; she controls girls, their earnings, etc.
5. A person who transfers the money back to Bulgaria; often that is the “mule”. Sometimes criminal structures involve drivers and bus-hostesses of the international bus lines. Another way is through a woman who has the trust of the bosses.
6. Investors – are businessmen and lawyers who are responsible for investing and legalizing of the money that had been earned and transferred.
7. Boss - is the highest level. This person is situated in Bulgaria and controls other participations in the scheme. The boss more often has another business – more often this business is legal.

The analysis ends with assessment of the market with sex services and tendencies in sex business.

Contact person: Tsvetelina Oreshkova
Email: t.oreshkova@hesed.bg