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Every young woman at the Casa Regina Pacis has a worst memory. For some, it was the moment of realisation, in Romania or Serbia, that her identity and freedom had been confiscated, that her dream of escape to the West meant enslavement. The first rape by a new "owner" is a frequent nightmare; so are the auctions across eastern Europe where women are sold like cattle. The Albanians often beat their teenage "property" - and threaten to kill relatives if they try to escape or betray their tormentors.
The story usually starts in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. Anna, a tall, black-haired young woman with green cat eyes and plucked eyebrows, was 17 years old when her mother Svetlana died of heart disease in She is a cheerful soul, but her voice cracks when she talks about her family. Her father Valeri had been a soldier in the Soviet army, and his job took the family to every corner of the former eastern bloc.
Grief and inactivity led him to vodka. My father's pension was enough to buy food - nothing else," she says. Anna fetches an album of family snapshots. These fragments of lost innocence are the girl's most precious belonging, constantly studied and shared with the other women she now lives with. Anna opens the book to her favourite page, with two black-and-white photos. One shows her father, still young, with high Slavic cheekbones. The other picture, lovingly trimmed into a silhouette along the outline of her parents' heads and shoulders, shows Valeri and Svetlana before she died: a handsome couple, tough, long-suffering former Soviet citizens.
For three years after leaving school, Anna tried to find work in Chisinau. As a child, she had dreamed of being a doctor. Life is too hard in Moldova. There is no work. Even if you have a job, there is no money to pay your salary. If you work in a shoe factory, they pay you with shoes. Several of Anna's schoolmates decided to leave Moldova for Italy. We were locked up; they took my passport," she says.
It's just a job - you'll sell yourself when you get to Italy and you'll make money. Nobody there said anything about prostitution; they talked about working in a bar or a restaurant. This modern slave trade has exploded in the two years since the Kosovo war, with an estimated , east European women reaching the west European "market". Yet the EU has so far proved incapable of taking a concerted humanitarian approach to the problem.