GENEVA (Reuters) - Russian pop star Valeriya says she is drawing on her experience as a battered wife and “slave” to help migrant workers break free of sexual exploitation and forced labor in her homeland.
Valeriya was formally named on Tuesday as goodwill envoy for the Russian Federation on behalf of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an agency she has teamed up with for the past year to combat human trafficking.
“I meet and talk to these people, I am not a professional psychologist but I am sure I can help people with my own experience as an ex-victim of slavery. I suffered a lot of domestic violence,” the blonde 40-year-old told a news briefing.
“I was forced to work for a man, my (former) husband, who treated me like a slave. So I feel I know the subject maybe even more than many others and am ready to help people with all my heart,” she said.
Valeriya -- who only goes by her first name -- has sold 100 million CDs. She is entering the British music market, where she has been dubbed the Russian Madonna, with an English version of her album “Out of Control.”
Her anti-trafficking clips already appear on Russian television and she plans to dedicate some of her concerts around Europe next year to raising public awareness of the problem.
“This evil exists... it is among us,” she said.
“Sometimes we artists, actors and musicians are able to bring more public attention to a problem than officials or politicians. We speak the language of emotions and feelings.”
Russia has become an attractive destination for millions of migrants from neighboring countries looking for better opportunities, according to the IOM. The Geneva-based agency says that it has good cooperation with the Russian authorities.
Some 260 victims of trafficking have been assisted at an IOM rehabilitation centre which opened in 2006 in Moscow. Many are Russians, followed by migrants from Uzbekistan, Moldova and Ukraine.
“The one thing we can say with some certainty is it’s the tip of the iceberg,” said Richard Danziger, IOM’s head of counter-trafficking activities worldwide.
Valeriya recalled her decision to leave her husband of 10 years, who was also her manager, and take her three children to live with her and her parents in their one-bedroom flat.
“He beat me up, cut me with knives and there was sexual exploitation as well -- all kinds of bad things. One day I was fed up and couldn’t bear it any longer,” she said.
“My main message when I was talking to these poor girls who suffered so badly because of their naivety, was ‘Do not feel sorry for yourself. You have to act, you have to rebuild your life. Do not look back and beat yourself up because this is only destructive,”’ she said.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan