Violence, forced labour, coercion into crime, and even murder – Lithuanian human trafficking victims have faced it all. Some stories were shared during an online discussion of a social project You Are Not Alone.
At least a few dozen Lithuanian citizens fall into human trafficking traps every year. In the last couple of years, 84 such cases have been reported in the United Kingdom alone. In 2020, eight Lithuanians aged 29-44 were released from modern slavery in Spain’s Valencia region.
Cases of Lithuanian human trafficking victims have also been recorded in Italy, Greece, Ireland, and other countries.
But many more instances go unreported, and sometimes, even the reported cases are not classified as human trafficking because of insufficient evidence, according to lawyer Mantvydas Bucys.
The necessary conditions for a case to be classified as human trafficking include deceit and a person’s transportation to a promised workplace.
“Without transportation, there is no crime of human trafficking. It can only be defined as illegal detention or exploitation,” Bucys said, adding that if a person knows where they are going and for what job, they cannot be treated as a victim of modern slavery.
Gintarė Raguckaitė has shared a story of her sister Giedrė, who was killed in Ireland, where there were attempts to involve her in a prostitution network.
Raguckaitė’s sister disappeared more than a year ago. Her body has never been found, and the criminal investigation is ongoing.
According to the woman, there would be no investigation into her sister’s case if not for the effort of her family and friends.
“We, Giedrė’s family and friends, started the investigation. My dad went to the Lithuanian police after my sister went missing, but an international search was not launched,” Raguckaitė said.
Following the police’s inaction, Giedrė’s sister and best friends started looking for clues on her social media. Here, they found information on her employees and where she was on the last day before going missing.
Raguckaitė passed the details on to the Irish police which started an investigation. Later, a witness to Giedrė's killing was discovered.
“I now know how some of our compatriots live in some regions of Ireland,” Raguckaitė said. “I sincerely thank this witness because thanks to her, we at least know that Giedrė is really gone.”
According to the woman, it is a myth that only uneducated, poor people become victims of human trafficking. Her sister had a higher education diploma and spoke perfect English, she said.
Coerced into growing weed
During the discussion, Linas Pernavas, Lithuanian Police Attaché to the United Kingdom, shared a story about Rimas (not his real name).
In 2007, Rimas’ father died. His mother was sick, two older sisters went to live abroad, while his brother became an alcoholic. Rimas, who was still underage at the time, had to find a job to survive.
After completing the 10th grade, he decided to look for a job abroad. He posted on various job search boards and soon received a call from a potential employee. He was offered a job at a Lithuanian firm in the UK.
Rimas had no money to travel. But the employee explained that all costs will be covered, and he would be able to pay back after receiving his first wage. A week later, a van came to collect Rimas and take him to the UK.
Upon his arrival to England, Rimas’ documents and phone were confiscated. He was told that his job was to grow marijuana. When the young man tried to refuse, he was beaten up.
Rimas spent two months locked in a house in England. He could not leave and was constantly supervised. He was badly beaten several times.
Around two months later, Rimas managed to escape and contacted the Lithuanian Embassy in the UK. He was provided with temporary accommodation, while Lithuanian and British police started an investigation that is still ongoing.
Although it is commonly thought that women fall into human trafficking traps more often, the number of male and female victims is almost similar, according to Pernavas. Women are usually involved in prostitution, while men are exploited for forced labour, he added.