The Price of Sex / US Embassy 2012
THE PRICE OF SEX:
Documentary Photographs by MIMI CHAKAROVA
August 31 – September 30, 2012
Vernissage Friday August 31 / 7 – 10pm
In collaboration with Ottawa Photography Month & Nuit Blanche 2012This project is funded in part through a U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassy-Ottawa Public Affairs Section Grant.
The Price of Sex is a documentary film and photo exhibit about women in Eastern Europe who fell through the cracks of migration. We grew up under a restrictive communist regime but secretly hungered for opportunities in the West. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Eastern Europeans finally had a chance to taste raw capitalism. The unfortunate reality was that the vulnerable and uneducated lacked the necessary skills to survive it. Countless young women fell prey to traffickers. These girls, some still teenagers, were a commodity to be sold, exploited and discarded. Some call them foolish – poor girls duped with promises for work abroad, instead sold to pimps in brothels and sex clubs; others call them sex slaves – victims of brutal, irreversible circumstances. No one knows how many women have been killed in the global sex trade. We can only estimate. Over time I found young women who had survived. This exhibit is a testament to their courage – their willingness to expose the darkest and most haunting inner-workings of sexual slavery.One of the main reasons for showing the faces of these women is to strip away the fear and shame that keeps so many quiet. The women’s silence perpetuates the vicious cycle of trafficking. As the years passed, I was convinced that if I could bring back what I witnessed, I could be an outlet for change. I found ways to expose the corruption that greases the wheels of the sex trade. I spent nearly a decade connecting the dots between the countries of origin – where the girls come from – and the countries of destination in the West and the Middle East – where they end up sold into prostitution against their will.My hope is that the film, along with this exhibit, will reveal a deeper truth of the women’s reality and what they’ve endured. Sex trafficking is not a sheer equation of supply and demand. Add desperation, poverty, abuse, no access to justice and high levels of corruption and you’ll be a step closer in understanding why sex trafficking continues to thrive. By peeling away the layers of the price of sex, the viewers become witnesses – no longer unaware or complacent. I urge them to rise for what must change. – Mimi Chakarova
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Since the collapse of communism in 1989 millions of former Soviet bloc residents have migrated abroad looking for opportunities. These waves of migration breathed life into one of the oldest yet darkest criminal enterprises—the trafficking of human beings into sexual slavery.
Thousands of Eastern European women have been sold into prostitution. For the last ten years photojournalist Mimi Chakarova, a Bulgarian who immigrated to the United States in 1990, has documented their journeys from villages in Moldova and Albania to the streets of Turkey and nightclubs in Dubai—where prostitution is an equation of supply, demand and desperation.
HOW TRAFFICKING WORKS
After the fall of the Soviet Union, millions of young women in Eastern Europe came of age amid economic misery. Their childhood fantasies of a better life in the West became a human trafficker’s golden opportunity. Agents and brokers arrange travel and job placements as waitresses or nannies; young women are escorted to their destinations and delivered to their employers. They quickly find that there is no café or family, but a pimp who puts them to work.
Most women are trafficked by someone they know: a relative, an acquaintance, a boyfriend or a childhood friend. More than 60 % are recruited by other women. Upon reaching the foreign land, they find themselves in coercive and abusive situations from which escape is both difficult and dangerous.
Currently the top five destinations for sex trafficking of Eastern European women are Russia, Turkey, Greece, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. Most women expect work as factory workers, waitresses, domestic servants and au pairs. After arriving in the country of destination, their passports, documents, money, and personal belongings are taken away. They become sex slaves, sold and resold to pimps at brothels, hotels, and apartments. Those who manage to escape the traffickers are deported. Back home, they rarely tell their loved ones the truth. The stigmatization of prostitution is every family’s deepest shame.
Human trafficking succeeds because of the lack of job opportunities in Eastern Europe, persistent poverty, domestic violence, and the degradation of the family unit since the collapse of communism. Lacking education and often living in villages with no running water and electricity, rural women are eager to escape their grim reality. They are desperate to work abroad to sustain their families back home. More than 30% of those trafficked have 1-2 children and 70% of them are single mothers. Women leave home because they see no other alternative. With an average income of $100 a month, mere survival is at the core of why women agree to go abroad.