Ukrainian refugees targeted for sexual exploitation

StarAvis Desk
StarAvis Desk
4 Min Read
Refugees are forced to put their trust in strangers (Photo: BBC)

Analysis of search engine traffic reveals a growing interest in Ukrainian pornography since the Russian invasion.

There has been an increase in interest in pornography claimed to feature Ukrainian refugees, who are increasingly being targeted for sexual exploitation, according to research.

Thomson Reuters researchers found that Ukrainian refugees may be victims of traffickers on the ground and cyber-voyeurs.

The researchers identified an increased interest in Ukrainian pornography since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 by analyzing global search engine traffic. They believe the increased interest may encourage traffickers to act more often and with greater impunity.

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The organization has called for urgent action to strengthen protections for Ukrainian women and children at risk of sexual exploitation.

The analysis of internet search trends found that views of pornographic videos claimed to show Ukrainian refugees have leaped in the past six months. A snapshot of 13 videos claimed to feature Ukrainian refugees shows they were viewed 275,000 times in January.

While there was evidence of sexual exploitation and trafficking of some Ukrainians before the war started, the latest data shows a significant increase since the Russian invasion. Worldwide search traffic for exploitative terms such as “Ukrainian porn” has consistently increased since then.

Thomson Reuters is working with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to raise awareness about this sexual exploitation. They have launched a campaign called Be Safe to encourage the global community to provide Ukrainians with safety information and to help spot the warning signs of traffickers.

Refugees are all too vulnerable to exploitation (Photo: BBC)

Valiant Richey, the OSCE special representative and coordinator for combating trafficking in human beings, said: This analysis shows just how crucial it is to keep women and children fleeing the war safely. The high demand from men for sexual access to Ukrainian women and girls creates an enormous incentive for traffickers to recruit vulnerable people to meet and profit from that demand.

“We already found direct evidence of recruitment attempts on chats used by Ukrainians and an increase in the advertisement for Ukrainians online.”

The new data is based on “interest scores,” which relate directly to search traffic and compare a term’s popularity over a specific period.

Earlier analysis in 2022 found that global internet searches for sexually exploitative terms explicitly relating to Ukrainian refugees surged after the outbreak of the war. In March 2022, the research found a 300% global increase in these terms.

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In the UK, there was a 200% increase in searches for “Ukrainian escorts” compared with six months before the outbreak of war, while in Spain, there was a 600% increase in searches for the term “Ukrainian porn,” and in Poland a 130% rise.

There has also been an increase in searches for these terms in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, and Switzerland.

Heather Fischer, a senior adviser for human rights crimes at Thomson Reuters, said: “Our latest 2023 data analysis shows that internet demand for derogatory material relating to displaced Ukrainians is driving traffickers to coerce, lure and groom women and children into sexual exploitation. We are partnering with the OSCE to mobilize the global community to recognize the need to act now and protect vulnerable people from exploitation”.

Last November, a hearing in the European Parliament revealed evidence that Ukrainians were at high risk of ending up in prostitution networks or the pornography industry, and that many were increasingly recruited through online platforms.


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