With a growing economy and its location at the intersection of Asia and Europe, Istanbul is one of the target cities for sex traffickers, smuggling women from around the world.
Istanbul police detained nearly 2,000 women last year on charges of prostitution, along with more than 300 on charges of pandering. More efforts are underway to curb the trafficking.
Sex trafficking is an international phenomenon. According to International Labor Organization (ILO), some 4.5 million people are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
Turkey cooperates with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to prevent human trafficking. The United Nations agency's Turkey office jointly conducts projects with Turkish authorities to help the victims to return home, assist in legal issues and provides technical expertise. The IOM also has a hotline, 157, to provide assistance to trafficked people.
The majority of human traffickers are Turkish nationals coordinating the smuggling of women for prostitution with traffickers in their countries of origin. Local prostitution business is flourishing but in Istanbul, women involved in prostitution are mostly those from Russia and former Soviet republics who came to Turkey in pursuit of a better life.
Aksaray, a district on the city's European side and on the historic peninsula, where the city's landmarks like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located, is popular among procurers. The district houses a large number of migrants from Russia and former Soviet republics.
Moscow-born Yulyya I.Y., 25, was rescued from the clutches of a prostitution ring of 17 suspects in 2013 by police. She was deported back to Russia. Her plight began after she met a Turkish man online. "He invited me to Turkey and advised me to stay here on a one-month tourist visa. He said he had contacts and could find me a very decent job. He paid for my ticket and I came to Istanbul. Here, he introduced me to another man. He told me I could make five times more money than I earned in Russia. I accepted. I did not know it was prostitution. I tried to escape but they had seized my passport. I was staying in a rental house with three others and there was a man watching our every move. We tried to contact police but we couldn't," she said. Hers is no different than the accounts of others forced into prostitution. Gangs imprison young women like Yulyya by seizing their passports and locking them up.
Most of the detained prostitution suspects tell police that their capture is actually their "liberation" as they suffer maltreatment at the hands of prostitution gangs.