Lubya came to the UK from Cechnya, smuggled illegally in a freight container. Like many immigrants from the east, she found herself beholden to those that had brought her here and told that she must work off her debt. She was placed in a massage parlour, where she worked as a prostitute. Horrific enough, one might think, but from here Lubya’s story takes an altogether more sinister turn.
“They told me I wasn’t making enough money,” Lubya tells us, “and in order to get more, they want me to have surgery. I don’t like the idea, am scared about it, but what could I do? At first I thought they wanted me to have boob job, but then they tell me what it is really about. They want to turn me into an animal.”
In this case, Lubya is not speaking metaphorically. For some time, police and academics studying the sex industry have become gradually aware of a new trend in the sex industry – prostitutes transformed into other species by means of surgery. The transformations go beyond simple roleplay or dress-up fetishes and alter the physiology of the women at a core level.
“At first I thought it was a joke, like it was some sort slang word, but then they showed me other girls they had done this to. One of them was an ostrich, another one had been turned into a donkey. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but they tell me that this is what I must do if I want to stay here in the UK.”
Lubya never had a choice. The people she was working for intimidated her and threatened her family. Held hostage in a foreign country, Lubya submitted to the will of her captors and agreed the surgery.
“The place they took me to, it was not a hospital. It was dirty, more like a butcher’s shop than a place of medicine. The man they called doctor looked like a mechanic. He didn’t really talk to me. No-one did. They just looked at me like I was a piece of meat. I suppose that’s all I was.”
The surgery took eight hours. Lubya was conscious for most of it, apart from when the pain became too much to bear and she blacked out. The pain did not end with the surgery. For months afterwards, Lubya suffered the after effects of the haphazard procedure – debilitating pain in her arms, legs and body, severe headaches, nausea and blackouts. None of this, though, compares to the psychological trauma she suffered.
“After the surgery, I was in so much pain that I could hardly move. Even to lift my arm was agony, but I had to see myself in the mirror. I had to know what I had become.”
With the bandages removed from her eyes, Lubya was confronted with a reflection that she did not recognise. Lubya, a petite and attractive young woman, had been transformed into a bear. Her slim, 5’2” frame had been stretched beyond its natural limits and fur had been crudely grafted onto her skin. Her face had been extensively remodelled and she found herself unable to stand on two feet for more than a minute at a time.
“I hated it,” Lubya says now, still visibly shaken by the memory. “Every time I think of that first time, seeing what they had done to me, I want to cry all over again. They robbed me of myself and I hate the fact that I let them do it.”
Eager to capitalise on their investment, Lubya’s handlers gave her little time to recover. Within days she was moved from the massage parlour she had previously worked in to a specialist site outside the city, where transformed prostitutes are available to high-paying clients. These ‘sex zoos’ (Сексуальный зоопарк in Russian) are a growing problem, but no-one seems willing to act against them. One officer who wished to remain anonymous stated that the authorities were well aware of the problem, but that a territorial dispute between agencies meant nothing was done.
“It’s basically an issue of jurisdiction between the police and the RSPCA. Neither of them is wants to do anything about the problem, but they don’t want the other one taking charge, either. It’s a political mess and the real problem carries on unabated.”
Not, however, for Lubya. She escaped her captors and is now undergoing a programme of physical and psychological recovery. Slowly, she is learning to cope with the after effects of her ordeal and is undergoing physical therapy to reverse some of the damage caused by her bizarre and unnecessary surgery.
“I’ll never be the same,” she says now, “but if I only do one thing with the rest of my life, it’s got to be telling my story to the world. There are other women out there, just girls really, who may find themselves in this situation and I won’t let the world ignore them. If I can prevent it happening to others, then it will not have been in vain. I hope that we can end this stupid, barbaric thing. No woman should have to be turned into an animal.”