“I was 19 and fell for the money,” the sex trafficking survivor on the screen said. She tells her story to Mimi Chakarova, a Bulgarian photojournalist, in the feature-length documentary “The Price of Sex: An Investigation of Sex Trafficking.” The trafficking survivor was promised $500 to move and work in Dubai, where she was forced into prostitution.
On Feb. 20, Alternative Break screened the investigative documentary and hosted a discussion led by CaraLee Murphy, East Coast Director for non-profit The A21 Campaign that combats human trafficking.
“The Price of Sex” portrays Chakarova’s personal investigative journey to expose the reality of sex trafficking from Eastern Europe to the Middle East and Western Europe. The story is told by survivors’ personal accounts, undercover footage and Chakarova’s journey from Eastern Europe to Turkey, Dubai and Greece.
While seeking the truth behind this large scale international crime, “The Price of Sex” looks back at how sex trafficking in Eastern Europe started. When communism collapsed in 1989, millions of former Soviet bloc citizens began to migrate abroad for economic opportunities. Women dreamed of better lives than the economic misery that surrounded them, a dream that traffickers continue to prey on today. Traffickers arrange job placements as waitresses or nannies abroad only for the Eastern European women to arrive at their destination with a pimp who puts them to work.
These Eastern European women are mostly trafficked to Russia, Turkey, Greece, United Arab Emirates and Israel. When they arrive at their destination, their passport and documents are confiscated.
After the film, Junior Kathryn Witcher said, “I can’t imagine being trafficked so young.”
“You [start to] believe that’s your identity,” freshman Alexis Pearson added.
Murphy sparked further discussion by saying, “There are estimated about 30 million people stuck in trafficking. Last year, it was 27 million.”
Murphy also pointed out that in the documentary, the woman who was trafficked at 19 was paid $500 to keep for herself. In many cases, the girls do not keep the money and are there to get a paycheck as a means to support their family.
Murphy described how The A21 Campaign has helped in the countries shown in the film. In Bulgaria, The A21 Campaign does prevention work by promoting awareness to the community about human trafficking.
In Greece, The A21 Campaign has trained 142 cops, and their goal is to train 300 cops. It is culturally accepted for these men, even the police, to buy the girls without giving it very much thought.
In Thailand, children are often trafficked because their parents will sell them. “[The mother] is often congratulated because she won’t have to worry about paying bills ever again. She can just sell her little girl,” Murphy said.
When it comes to domestic sex trafficking in the United States, girls are often reeled in by their insecurities, according to Murphy. Murphy recounts a conversation between an A21 agent and a trafficker, in which the agent asked, “How are you surrounded by all these girls? They’re young. They’re beautiful.” The trafficker smiled and said that he would walk up to any girl in the mall and say, “you have beautiful eyes.” If she says thank you, he lets her walk. If she shows any insecurity, he pursues by showering her with compliments or gifts from the shops.
Right here in Charleston, the domestic and international trafficking crisis collided when Eastern European girls began work at a local strip club. Murphy tells the story of how members of The A21 Campaign decided to check the club out. During their visit, they saw an Eastern European girl at the pole who spent the entire time adjusting her clothing that would only either cover the top or bottom half of her body. According to Murphy she cried the entire time and the men in the club continued to throw dollar bills. When it comes to the fight against trafficking Murphy says it is vital to start working on education so that more strip club incidents do not occur.
“In order to end human trafficking you have to end injustice,” Murphy said.