“Prostitution and trafficking girls have nothing to do with sex. It is about power and violence.”
To penetrate the darkest truth about prostitution and sex trafficking of young girls, Mimi Chakarova, an American photo-journalist did not leave any stone unturned. For a decade, she went back to the countries of Eastern Europe to document the complete truth about sex trafficking and what started as a series of photo-documentation of the survivors of sex-slavery, eventually metamorphosed in to a heart-wrenching film, The Price of Sex, unveiling lives of many many unfortunate women, who only wanted to live a better life.
“Since I started this work, my mission has always been to bring out the stories of these women to light and to let the public know.”
The Price of Sex is an eye-opening exposé about the cruel world of sex-trafficking where women are only seen from the supply point of view. After watching the film, one thing comes out evidently. Prostitution and sex trafficking are directly related to power and violence. The power of the privileged to exploit the poor through false hopes, using violence as a tool to exploit and break the poor women so severely, that they can never go back to their previous lives again.
“You are a piece of meat, you are nothing more. You have no identity, no past. Everything has been erased.” – Mimi Chakarova, narrating the stories of sex-slavery survivors.
“High level of corruption, the big discrepancy between poor countries and rich countries, the big discrepancy in access to justice” stand as the pillars of sex-trafficking to thrive. Capitalism turns the poor countries as the “suppliers” of women, where they are lured by traffickers to travel abroad, not knowing what reality awaits. Rich countries create a strong demand of “supply” of these women and thus, the sex-mafias never fall short of money as they never stop selling women.
Women, who are mostly born in the former Soviet bloc of countries, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, young women who are suffering from extreme poverty, fall prey to the traps of sex-trafficking. They are promised better jobs abroad and they leave in a desperate to hope to escape the grim reality, in a hope to live a better life but in so many cases, their dreams turn into nightmares when they reach the other side of the world.
Mimi traveled to nine countries, to bring out the stories of women, who escaped the sex trafficking circle, to bring out the stories of how young girls are fooled by traffickers, with promises of jobs and a good amount of money abroad, and what happens to them, next.
Mimi states, “Since the collapse of communism, Turkey has been a primary destination for Eastern European women, sold for sex, and like anywhere else, once a girl is sold to prostitution, it’s impossible to escape.”
Mimi’s film had three central characters who spoke about their stories of being trafficked to Turkey or Dubai, where they were promised of jobs and once they landed, they were sold to pimps to become sex slaves.
But how does it all start? Mimi says, since the collapse of communism in East European countries, part of former Soviet republic, the people started leaving as the countries hit new levels of poverty and no jobs to offer. Young girls were easily tempted with promises of a better life abroad, but little did they know what are they signing up for.
“The story of the traffic girls has one recurring theme, no opportunity to have a decent life back in the home, once you see where they come from, the living condition of the place, you begin to understand why young women are desperate to leave.” Mimi Chakarova, The Price Of Sex.
The future that they face, is eerie, worse than a horror dream. They are treated as objects, used day and nights by the clients, they are left with no hopes and dreams and zero chance of getting back home safely.
They are taken in high buildings, closed spaces, with barely any windows and they, can never leave.
“ A woman is sold by the trafficker to the pimp. This becomes her debt. The pimp convinces her that as soon as she repays the debt, the quicker she can be released” – Mimi Chakarova, The Price of Sex.
Some, in a remote hope, to escape or to simply stop their bleak life, jump from buildings and many do not survive.
They have no say, no right to live or leave on their own.
Bika, a woman who was promised a job of a waitress and was sold in Dubai, says that she had 30 clients a day. They never stopped working and they never had the right to say no.
“I have absolutely no say in here. If they pay, I have to spread my legs and let them have me. I have to. If I say no, they’ll throw me off the 15th floor of a building and nobody would say a thing. They’ll drown me in the ocean or bury me in the desert”, Bika said.
In order to expose the life of prostitutes, Mimi had no choice but to pose as one to get close to the truth. She chose Aksaray, in Istanbul, one of the most infamous brothel areas of the world, to go as an undercover agent. But getting into that world and getting out of it, was not that easy. Nobody was ready to take the risk and her friends advised otherwise.
She interacted with men for days who would take her there, who know her true identity and who can expose her any second. But she had no choice but to risk it all as it was the only way she could film the dark corners of the trafficking world, what the girls who escaped, have talked about.
Mimi described the inside world of these women, she said in an article, “It’s a well without a bottom full of water as black as the darkest night. It’s a place you can’t return from unharmed. Once you enter this world, it consumes you and eats at your dreams. The images are most vivid at night.”
Chakarova said, it’s easy making a documentary of countries having no water supply or not enough jobs, but when you talk about prostitution, it becomes the talk of supply. From politicians to policemen, border patrol and ordinary men, everyone is involved. Women are sold and treated as objects, used as a piece of meat and discarded when they become old.
“Prostitution is legal in Turkey. In this predominantly Muslim country, where the religion prohibits sex before marriage, there is a persistent demand for prostitution in place. But the majority of the prostitutes are illegal, as they are trafficked from former blocks of Soviet.”
To probe the issue in a deeper sense, Mimi met a number of NGO and hotline offices who constantly work to save women, from falling into the trap of traffickers or ways to seek them out. According to her, “men are not the only reason why trafficking continues to happen all over our world. Women stand by and watch.
Women sell women. Women deceive women.”
“Anyone who oversimplifies how the system operates is doing a disservice to the many moving parts of this perfectly designed machine. It runs on profit. It has nothing to do with human life. In fact, that’s not even a discussion of concern.”
One moment from the film which will shake you to the core is when she asked a doctor who used to go the brothels to distribute condoms, “When you go inside, what’s the first thing that you see?”
And the doctor replied, “First thing? Meat. But it’s not the right question. It’s the last thing that you see. It’s pain”.
After The Price Of Sex was released, it worked as a piece of training equipment for many police institutions to learn more about the issue. Her primary objective has always been, “To get as many people to know this issue, to understand this issue and to expose this issue, that was the objective of the film”.
In another documentary of Netflix, “Tricked”, a commentary on the sex traffic rackets of the United States, the same recurring theme come to light. As long as the privileged and the ones in power will aid the corruption, will use violence to exploit young girls, the system can not change.
“Whether with cash or intimidation, traffickers knew how to beat the silence.”
There is an urgent need for stringent laws and a system where women will be given more importance than being treated as objects.
To conclude with Mimi Chakarova’s words, who believes, “And unless we address corruption in the police units and the judicial branches in the countries that benefit from trafficked flesh, unless we offer alternatives for those living in some of the poorest nations in this world, we will continue to see steady numbers of desperate young girls being sold into one of the darkest and most brutal industries of our time. Education and awareness are not enough. What is required is unilateral action across borders.”