June 23, 2011
reprinted from NPR
Before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Eastern Europeans were locked inside an open-air prison. So when it finally came down, many countries were unprepared for what passed through the newly opened gates. In many countries, liberation left a vacuum that filled with lawlessness and deep poverty. In the worst cases, an epidemic of human trafficking, rape and forced prostitution ensnared hundreds of thousands of women.
LANGUAGE ADVISORY: Clips from The Price Of Sex contain adult language and subject matter.
Photojournalist Mimi Chakarova has sought and recorded the stories of Eastern European women who disappeared into the modern-day slave trade of sex trafficking. Her documentary, The Price of Sex, is showing this week at the American Film Institute’s Silverdocs festival.
Chakarova tells NPR’s Neal Conan that the stories she recorded could easily have been her own.
“We came from the same place,” she says. “I grew up in a village in Bulgaria during Communism. We breathed the same air; we were surrounded by the same conditions.”
She says women from Bulgaria, Moldova and other Eastern European countries often end up in Turkey and Greece, which is where Chakarova found her subjects. The women tell stories of being offered jobs as waitresses or hotel maids, accepting, and soon realizing that they were actually being forced into prostitution.
Vika is one of the women Chakarova interviews in her film. She tells Chakarova that she got into trouble after accepting what she thought was a waitressing job in Dubai. She says she blames herself for what she calls her naivete. The experience left her broken.
“You have to keep in mind what they endure after they are trafficked,” Chakarova says.
According to Chakarova, the women are sold for $500 or $1,000, money they must then repay their pimps. But that’s not all.
“There is this ridiculous amount which is a collection of all kinds of fees which the pimps are imposing on these women,” she says, “from their cigarettes to whatever outfits the pimps are choosing for them to showers.”
Chakarova says some women know what they’re headed into but, because of their current living conditions, choose to do it anyway.
“The level of desperation … is so huge,” she says.