This article is based on a testimony of a woman from Colombia who became a victim of illegal facilitation into the commercial sex industry in Estonia in 2023. She shared her experience in an interview with International Women’s Network in Estonia to spread information about the issues migrant sex workers can face, and to prevent other women from going through the same proceedings she endured. The article also includes comments from the Social Insurance Board (SKA) and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), clarifying the status of sex work and its facilitation in the Estonian legal system, and specifying what constitutes sexual exploitation and human trafficking according to Estonian law to help prevent human trafficking.
From an interview by International Women’s Network in Estonia (IWNE)
Carolina: “I am 25, from Colombia, and I am a university law student. I started doing sex work this year. I have been in Estonia for a month now, although my original plan was to stay for 10 days only. I came to Estonia to work as an escort thinking that “everything was going to be fine”. Before coming, I was told that what I would be doing was legal, but it turned out to not be the case. I decided to tell my story because I want women to be aware of the complications tied to coming to Estonia as a sex worker and to share my experience with the police proceedings.
Human trafficking prevention and victim Helpline: +372 6607 320
I decided to come to Estonia as an escort because of the bad financial situation in Latin America. Opportunities are minimal. In Colombia, I would have to work 30 days to earn what I could here in 1 hour. A friend who had already been to Estonia as an escort recommended me to do the same. I looked online and it appeared that sex work was legal in Estonia. The information I found online was confusing, but as I also had a friend who had come and done the same thing with no complications, I was sure nothing would happen to me either. My friend put me in contact with “the person in charge”. We agreed on the payments and that I would get my own tickets to get here, and she explained the dynamics of local sex work. She told me that Estonia was a very calm place, that what I was going to do was legal, and assured me that nothing bad would happen. She described Estonia as the Seventh Wonder of the World. But this was not the reality.
I met her as soon as I arrived. She was a young woman, she spoke Spanish and told me that she had previously worked as a sex worker herself. She said she knew about the dynamics of sex work in Estonia from personal experience, so she decided to help other women who wanted to come to work as well. She took me to an Airbnb where I would sleep and work. I would wake up at 9 in the morning and work until around midnight, and that was it. I planned to be in Estonia only for 10 days, make my money, and then return to Colombia, and we agreed to that.
Providing sexual services, however, does not bring criminal charges to the sex workers themselves.
She paid for my Airbnb and for advertising my services online. She dealt with communications with clients on the website, sent me details of the jobs, and then we would split my earnings 50/50. She would also pre-select the clients so I would feel safe. She dealt with all communications, as I only speak Spanish, so I can not communicate in other languages. The agreement was respected on her side, and I made around 150 euros per client, most of whom, according to her, were Estonians and Ukrainians.”
Carolina: “After a few days in Tallinn, I went to Tartu. When I was at my Airbnb, I got a knock on the door. The policemen were dressed as civilians but showed their police badges. They told me to pack my things and that I would be informed of what was happening at the police station. They didn’t give me any information and I didn’t understand what was going on. The first thing they did was take my phone away.
I packed my things and was guided to a car that did not have any police markings on it. In the car, they began asking me about my activities in Estonia, about my employer, and showed me a picture of her. On the way to the station, I was transferred to another car with different police officers. When we arrived at the police station, they provided me with an interpreter. They told me that I was a witness of a crime and that the proceedings were not against me.
They had to retain my passport and my phone until the proceedings were over. I was confused. They sent me to a hotel and said nothing more. I waited for a week to receive any more information. I was assigned a social worker who acted as a bridge between the police and me, but she could not answer any of my questions either. Afterward, I was sent to another hotel where I met other women in the same situation. They were Dominican, Venezuelan, Brazilian, and Colombian, and we all had the same questions and concerns, and nobody knew anything. Some of them had the same employer as me, but others had different “bosses”. But we all had similar stories.
We had all come knowing what we came here for, to work as escorts. And each had planned the length of their stay according to their own wishes. The proceedings for each woman were different. For some, like in my case, it lasted over 20 days, while for others it could be 3 days, after which they would be released. We had no idea what was happening and how it was supposed to work, it was confusing and overwhelming.
It is, however, contrary to the grounds for issuing them a visa, and will result in the temporary revoking of their right to enter into Estonia.
After about 15 days of waiting, I was questioned by a migration officer who told me that I had 10 days to leave Estonia. I was asked all the same questions again and informed that I was not going to be able to return to the Schengen area for a year.
Next, I was taken to another interrogation with police and asked the same questions once more, but this time I was given my phone back. I was told that I had to wait until a judge heard the interrogation and decided if I needed to go to court and testify as a witness. I told them I had already scheduled a flight for the Friday of that same week as I was told to leave the country within 10 days. But they kept me waiting for another week. I was desperate. I informed everyone that I would miss my flight and that I wanted to go home, but nobody helped me.
On the day of interrogation, I begged them to help me. It was then that they gave me the contact of some people who could help me with the flight ticket to go home.
“It feels like I had to pay for a crime that I did not commit.”
The police told me that for Colombians, being an escort in Estonia is illegal, but that I was still just a witness. But it is still not clear to me. I was not forced to come here, I came out of my own free will. I feel like, in a way, I kind of hired the person who is in charge of managing things as if they were an agent. And I paid for her to do her job.”
Legal status of sex work in Estonia
“Prostitution in Estonia is not legal, but it is partially unregulated. It is not directly prohibited to offer sex services to citizens of Estonia or the EU, but since such activity may be related to the mediation of prostitution or human trafficking, all persons involved in prostitution are under the sharp attention of the police. People who offer sex services are constantly checked to identify whether they are being brokered by someone or if they are victims of human trafficking. However, providing sexual services does not bring criminal charges.
In the case of persons from third countries, the provision of sex services in Estonia is contrary to the grounds for issuing them a visa. If the person has a residence permit in another EU country, the police will order the person to leave Estonia and apply a ban on entering Estonia for up to 3 years. If the person does not have an EU residence permit, the police issue a departure order and apply a ban on entry into Schengen for up to 3 years.
In Estonia, it is forbidden to mediate any kind of prostitution and also to contribute to it. Organizing accommodation and air tickets, posting an ad promoting the service, and communicating with clients are therefore all prohibited activities that make the “helper” automatically a suspect of a crime. If human trafficking or prostitution mediation is suspected, it is important to cut off the connection between the mediator and the potential victim. For this purpose, the task of the police is to find safe accommodation for the person offering sex services and to take custody of their means of communication, which can also be important evidence in criminal proceedings. In order for the person to still be able to communicate with their loved ones, they are given a replacement means of communication by the police or the Social Insurance Board.”
What message would you like to give to other Latin American women who are thinking about coming to Estonia to work as sex workers?
Carolina: “I think that whoever wants to become an escort in any other country should be very well informed beforehand and seek trustworthy advice. They need to understand if it is really legal or not. I would not advise finding a “boss” or someone managing your work.
And if they are already in a situation like mine, I advise them to be very patient. It is psychologically difficult to go through the proceedings like what I endured. Even when you know that you are not going to go to prison and that you can go back to your home country eventually, the uncertainty about what and when will happen is scary. It feels like I had to pay for a crime that I did not commit. Although they told me I was free, I was not able to just take a flight and go home. I did not come for a vacation, I came with a goal and a schedule, because I have responsibilities at home.”
Resources and support
…someone is being influenced or coerced (e.g. by threats and violence) to provide sexual services and/or send revealing pictures and videos of themselves or others;
…someone provides sexual services but their pimp/boss/manager keeps most of the earned money;
… someone has their accommodation (e.g. in a hotel, hostel, apartment) arranged by a third party for prostitution activities;
…recruiting, transporting, or arranging the search for clients for the purpose of prostitution (online advertising, other communication) is done by a third party;
…someone arranges for a sex buyer to reach the people who are involved in prostitution;
THIS IS SEXUAL EXPLOITATION.
If this has happened (or is happening) to someone you know or to you, know that help is available and free. Providing sexual services does not bring criminal charges, so you do not risk criminal prosecution for reaching out. You can also reach out anonymously.
Call the human trafficking prevention and victim Helpline at +372 6607 320 or send an email to email@example.com
24/7 you can call the victim support helpline 116 006 (+372 614 7393 when calling from abroad) or the emotional support and pastoral care helpline 116 123 (every day from 10 to 24, pastoral care counselors take calls from 16 to 24)