Yekaterinburg, Russia -- A massive child sex ring was exposed in downtown Yekaterinburg this week. The accused were caught selling young boys, renting them for sexual services and routinely raping them. Their victims were over 1,000 boys, ages 12 through 17. This "business" has been operating for five years, so many of the victims were 7 to 12 years old when they were first kidnapped. Police have documented 116 cases of rape and sexual abuse and the alleged owners of the "business" have been caught. One of the suspects committed suicide in jail after he was imprisoned with common criminals. The leader of the group however, escaped. It is rumored that several powerful citizens of Yekaterinburg frequented the establishment and pressured the court to release the accused ring leader pending his trial date. Thanks to this release the lead suspect in the case has now fled the country.
It is amazing that this story, along with news about dedovshina brutality in the Russian army very rarely makes it into international media coverage of Russia. By pursuing generic, pre-written stories such as "Putin's crackdown on dissent" and "the Kremlin's centralization of power", international news outlets are neglecting their duty to report the worst human rights abuses in Russia. A good journalist or citizen can make better use of their time by asking more relevant questions. For instance: how can subsidies for Russian mothers prevent the depopulation of the country, if so many children between the ages of 7 and 17 are sexually abused, and so many young men ages 18 to 20 are tortured in the army? It is these defiled innocents who grow into psychologically wrecked adults dying from suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse and AIDS throughout Russia.
Unfortunately, even the U.S. State Department's annual human trafficking report isn't nearly as harsh on Russia as it should be. The report places Russia in the Tier 2 Watch List -- which means that there are major human trafficking or slavery issues to be worried about. The report says "Child sex tourism remains a concern". These timid words come despite the well-established fact that Russia is responsible for 75% of online child pornography!
The Yekaterinburg pedophile gang was caught after one of the police officers "purchased" a boy, according to a planned sting operation. For police officers working the case, it was like opening the doors to hell -- an old building downtown, next to the largest public market in the Urals region, served as the pedophile "brothel". Pedophiles were finding their little slaves at this market. They promised them shelter, food and showers, then raped them and put them to "work". The criminal profits from this establishment were huge because besides providing sexual services from children, the joint served as a production studio for child pornography. And these videos and pictures are often sold in open air markets throughout Russia!
Anyone who takes the Moscow subway on a cold winter day knows that the last car of each train is filled with smelly, dirty children. There are thousands of these runaways in the major cities. There it is possible to find peers, unite in gangs, do drugs, and have sex with other kids and adults. They can find food, shelter, and showers in exchange for sexual services and participating in making child pornography. One recent report by a major Russian news channel featured 9, 10, and 11 year-old girls pregnant and giving birth. The shocking part is that the police are aware of these activities and often receive a very good cut of the profits for their complicity.
Yekaterinburg is a relatively small city of 1.3 million people. It doesn't serve as a main hub for human trafficking like Moscow or St Petersburg. According to UNICEF, the number of homeless children in Russia in 2003 was 700,000. Today, the number is estimated to be 2 million homeless children! This is the result of widespread alcoholism, imprisoned parents, domestic abuse, poor and abusive orphanages, and absence of rule of law and any child protective services.
In spite of coming from impoverished backgrounds and broken homes themselves, many Russian oligarchs don't have an interest in solving these national problems. Roman Abramovich, who spent his childhood in an orphanage, has invested nearly two billion dollars into the British soccer club Chelsea; much more is simply stashed away or working for his multiple businesses. The Russian Federation's stabilization fund, valued at between 75 and 115 billion dollars, is being invested into foreign businesses. Meanwhile, American media outlets focus on Russian legislation which they claim could limit freedom of speech as part Putin's alleged crackdown on dissent, while missing the two worst ongoing human rights abuses in Russia -- child exploitation and army brutality.
The suspects caught in Yekaterinburg were Alexey S., 31 -- a former police officer; Yuri A., 30 -- the full time leader of the group; Sergey M., 53 -- a masseuse at a spa; Alexander S., 47 -- a city employee; and Vladimir L., 52 -- occupation unknown. Interpol is currently searching for Yuri A. after he successfully fled the country. The former police officer was either murdered or committed suicide in prison. The three other suspects are awaiting trial for their crimes.
They are charged with Russian Federation Criminal Code articles #127-1 (trafficking in persons), #132 (forceful acts of sexual abuse), #134 (sex acts with a minor under 16 years of age), #135 (perversion), #242-1 (production and sale of pornographic materials involving minors), #151 (enticing or forcing minors into anti-social activities). The city government has also sent letters of notification to the neighborhood police, which had conveniently "missed" the prostitution ring under their noses, and another letter to a local school where one of the accused worked as a first aid teacher.
Today Russia is awash in oil and gas money, the nation's cities are growing again, and the country produces more young billionaires per capita than any other nation in the world. It is a shame that such widespread depravity is not addressed by the Russian government, society, foreign NGOs operating in Russia, or covered much by the international media. While freedom of press is very important and should be written about in The Wall Street Journal, defending the basic human rights of children and draftees to be free from sexual exploitation and torture are more immediate concerns for ordinary Russians.
Some of our readers have doubted the truthfulness of this story and challenged me on the facts presented in this article. I am personally dismayed by such reactions, because it either means that:
1) RussiaBlog isn't viewed as a trustworthy source and I'm assumed not to be doing my homework;
2) Some anonymous blogging collectives would rather pick personal fights rather than express compassion for the young victims. Below is an extensive list of links to various Russian news sources, and two pictures taken during the arrest:
New Region Newspaper, Yekaterinburg - http://www.nr2.ru/ekb/36658.html
NewsBattery.Ru - http://news.battery.ru/theme/crime/?from_m=theme&from_t=crime&from_n=39284365&newsId=39237261
Nakanune.Ru - http://nakanune.ru/news/v_ekaterinburge_zaderzhany_pedofily
Komsomolskaya Pravda (Ural) - http://www.ural.kp.ru/2006/08/02/doc128900/
Argumenti i Fakti - http://www.aif.ru/online/aif/1323/35_01
Photos taken during the arrest:
The youngest victim is only 8 y.o.