Wednesday, February 8, 2006 11:00 AM
Producer/Director Ric Bienstock was online Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 11 a.m. EST to discuss the PBS Frontline film "Sex Slaves," which follows a husband's efforts to track down his 21-year-old wife, who was sold into sexual slavery for $1,000 by a man who promised a trip to buy goods in Turkey. Katia (last name withheld) and her husband Viorel were four months pregnant when she was taken. She was one of the many women kidnapped and sent to places like Europe, the Middle East and the United States, where they are often "owned" by violent pimps, repeatedly raped, beaten and sold to other buyers. Viorel's search leads him to Vlad, the man who originally sold his wife, and into the heartbreaking world of other women who are sex slaves. A 28-year-old Ukrainian native, Oksana, was sold 13 times during her captivity and recalls being held in a cramped apartment with other women, one of whom sought help from the authorities only to be exploited by policemen.
The transcript follows.
Award-winning filmmaker Ric Bienstock has produced and directed a diverse and eclectic range of films. Her credits include Impact of Terror, about a suicide bombing in Israel; Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour, a three-part series taking Penn & Teller to the back streets of China, India and Egypt on a wild and unpredictable odyssey in search of extraordinary magicians; Boxing: In and Out of the Ring, an inside look at the business of boxing; The Money Shot, a revealing behind-the-scenes look at the hard-core pornography industry; Ebola: Inside an Outbreak, a thorough ground-zero investigation of an Ebola outbreak in Zaire and Ms.Conceptions, an entertaining look at single mothers by choice. She also served as location director on the Emmy Award winning Plague Monkeys and producer of Deadly Currents, a feature-length investigation of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
Washington, D.C.: Did Viorel get Katia back? Was she still pregnant?
Ric Bienstock: Yes, Katia was sent back to Moldova by her traffickers. They realized that she was more trouble then she was worth. By sending her home, they understood that the Moldovan police couldn't or wouldn't do anything and they also wanted to ensure that she couldn't go to the Turkish police. Katia was still pregnant when she returned, but on account of the drugs and abuse she endured at the hands of her traffickers, she had to terminate her pregnancy. Katia is now living with her mother in Moldova. Viorel is working in Odessa. He can't afford an apartment so they can't live together yet.
Austin, Tex.: Are these girls getting therapy after they return home?
Ric Bienstock: Yes, there are currently many NGOs working on helping the victims when they return home, but resources are scarce so there is always room for improvement. Many of these women need medical help, psychological counseling and help reintegrating back into society after their experiences. There are shelters for the women in some cities, but spaces are limited so not everyone is benefiting. The IOM (International Organization for Migration) funds many grassroots projects in that region.
Sunnyvale, Calif.: Was it worth it? Was it worth keeping your journalistic distance and letting Tania go back as a sex slave in Turkey instead of helping her? Please tell me you made up the story that she went back and instead are secretly supporting her family.
Ric Bienstock: Thank you for raising this question. You're not alone in asking us about Tania. Tania's story broke our hearts. Of course, we couldn't walk away without helping her. We did give Tania money to pay for the operation and to help her family, but she still decided to go back since she believed it was the only option she had to earn an ongoing income. Her brother did have the operation he needed, but unfortunately it wasn't successful and he passed away nonetheless.
I believe she was fortunate to have been deported from Turkey shortly after she went back so she was spared the horror of what her life could have become. There certainly is a limit to what journalists can do to help, but as human beings we would never walk away from such a situation without helping. Also, the documentary has aired in two other countries, and we have been able to elicit donations for Tania and the other women in the film, so we have been sending money on to her as we receive it.
Philadelphia, Pa.: I was saddened to read that a captured woman escaped only to be abused by the police. I was wondering why more women just don't try to escape. Is that the reason why: the police won't really help them?
Ric Bienstock: There are many reasons why these women often don't try to escape. They have a mistrust of law enforcement because they have an experience of police corruption in their own countries. Also, they are illegal immigrants in the countries that they have been trafficked to, so they are scared to go to the authorities. But most importantly, their captors often tell them that they know where the victims's families live and they know that they have children, and warn them that if they don't submit, their children are at risk. All of these factors contribute to the fear they have of attempting to escape.
Des Moines, Iowa: I was very moved by the report. Are you kept informed of how the women depicted in the report are doing? I was particularly touched by Tania's story. I realize her interview was in June 2004. Do you know how she is doing now? I am interested in helping her and saw the information about the trust fund set up by the Canadian production company.
Ric Bienstock: We have been keeping in touch with the women who participated in the film. Tania is having a difficult time, but she is strong and is working hard to try and improve her circumstances. An NGO allowed her to stay in one of their shelters in Odessa for a while and provided her with training so that she could find work as a seamstress. They also gave her some computer training. Unfortunately, she had to be away from her family while doing this. She is now trying to find an apartment in Odessa and looking for enough work to maintain the apartment and bring her daughter to live with her. Katia is not working. She has had a hard time recovering from her experience. Oksana is living with her family and seems to be doing OK. In all cases, there is a dire need for finances. This is the the reason they were vulnerable to traffickers in the first place, and this is still their biggest challenge. Since there is no government help, and very few jobs available, I fear that women will continue to take risks and go abroad for work in the hopes of building a better future.
San Benito, Tex.: How long a period did it take to film the this? The abduction the interim period and the return of this gentleman's wife? By the way, this was excellent journalism.
Ric Bienstock: Viorel's story took place over the course of several weeks, but we filmed on and off over the course of approximately four months to get the entire documentary. We had to go back several times to get all the elements of the story.
Philadelphia, Pa. Is there a way to help a woman in the last night's program? I lay awake all night thinking about Tania going back to Turkey to prostitute herself in order to support her brother and daughter. It seems improbable that she'll be able to do this without getting kidnapped or killed. Is there someway to make a contribution to her family?
Ric Bienstock: There has been such an overwhelming response from people who wish to help the women who appear in our documentary. We couldn't find an NGO that was able to direct money to individuals, so we opened up a trust account in order to direct funds to them. If you are interested in helping, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phoenix, Ariz.: Why don't the NGO's have some people wait at the ports at Odessa and hand out some type of warning/information pamphlet to the women under 40 years old or so as they wait in line to board the boats? Maybe they would have second thoughts about boarding a boat to turkey with someone they don't know much about with an "employment offer." Maybe the same thing could be handed out in Turkey at the parking lot and or port of entry before or after they go through customs. Also is Turkey a tier 3 nation?
Ric Bienstock: There is information provided to many of these women at the ports and borders when they exit the country, though there is certainly more work to be done on that front. One of the victims we spoke to told me that a customs officer actually warned her when she was exiting the country. But despite the warnings, most of these women believe that they are going for legitimate jobs and that "it couldn't possibly happen to me." Turkey is a tier 2 nation.
Ridgewood, N.J.: Hello. Regarding the man who got five years probation - was that a function of the laws or the fact that in many countries, the wheels of justice are greased with lots of bribes?
Ric Bienstock: I personally think it is a function of both. Many countries, including the U.S. are changing legislation to include laws that will make it easier to prosecute traffickers. We were unable to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was bribery involved in Vlad's case, but it is common knowledge that there is corruption in many of those countries. We were, however, told explicitly by one of the recruiters who was willing to sell us women, that she had contacts in the police department in Moldova that were helping her. We were also told by "Maria," the wife of the pimp who was holding Katia, that she paid the police $1,000 to get information from him. So, there is no doubt that corruption exists and is one of the many reasons why this slave trade is able to flourish in many of these countries.
Philadelphia, Pa.: What happens to the women who they become too old to be financially productive to their captives?
Ric Bienstock: Once a woman has outlived her usefulness to her pimp, she is often just discarded. Either left to make her way back home, or sent back home. We spoke to an organization in Kiev, Ukraine who ran a small program that was based in a hospital because they were finding that so many women were returning traumatized and with serious medical issues. Sexually transmitted diseases are common. So is AIDS. The most horrific story we heard was about a woman who got pregnant while in captivity and was forced to work until very late in her pregnancy. She returned to Ukraine to have her baby. This was an unwanted pregnancy and and unwanted baby. She will need counseling and medical care for a long time to be able to put the pieces of her life back together.
Nashville, Tenn.: Rick,
I admire your team for taking the risk to make this film. I was born in Russia and lived there for 23 years now live in the U.S. But until recently, I had no idea that things like human trafficking are happening there and, for that matter, anywhere in the world. I am afraid, that the problem with Russia that allows this to happen is poverty and corruption of government and legislation. But because of films like yours, more people will be now aware of this problem. Did you try to offer your film to be translated and broadcast on any of the Russian TV networks? I feel this is very important.
Ric Bienstock: We hope the film will be broadcast in Russia. We promised the women in the film that we would not broadcast the film in Ukraine. They all felt that they might be stigmatized if it aired in their own country.
San Benito, Tex.: Why didn't the camera crew follow the wife of the trafficker who had Katia, this has been troubling me since last evening. The whole incident could have been solved if she had been tailed to be able to tell the the police where they were. Just curious.
Ric Bienstock: We initially did start following her thinking that she might lead us to Katia. Viorel called us in our van (we were traveling separately from him incase he was being followed) and when we told him we were following her he was very upset. He felt that his meeting with Maria was successful and that Apo and Maria would give Katia back to him. He was concerned that we would blow this for him. We respected his wishes.
Amarillo, Tex.: Does all of the money sent to the trust fund for the girls go to the girls? Also, can we send cards and letters of encouragement to them as well?
Ric Bienstock: Yes, all of the money sent to the trust fund goes directly to the girls, or whoever it is earmarked for by the donor. There is no administrative cost except for the cost of the wire and bank charges, which are unavoidable.
Ridgewood, N.J.: On a previous question someone mentioned Turkey as a tier 2 or 3 country. What does that designation refer to and how is it relevant to the human slavery/bondage. Are certain nations held to a higher standard?
Ric Bienstock: The U.S. department of state publishes a "Trafficking in Persons Report" every year to report on foreign governments' efforts to eliminate human trafficking. The goal of the report is to raise awareness and to encourage countries to take actions to counter all forms of trafficking of people. Countries are rated according to their efforts in counter-trafficking. The idea is that if a country isn't making efforts they can be subject to economic sanctions. You can find this report on-line at http://www.state.gov/g/tip/.
Los Angeles, Calif.: How did it make you feel inside as a woman to hear this sad occurrences?
Ric Bienstock: People have often asked me how I feel as a woman. To be honest, it was devastating to me as a human being, not just as a woman. My co-producer and crew (all-male) were equally shocked and saddened by what we saw.
Silver Spring, Md.: I just watched your documentary about sex trade. Sex trade or prostitution is a very sad side of the human race. As far as I know, this has been going on for more than 15 years in that part of the world. Many families have been destroyed on both side of the Black Sea. I am very sorry for them and their families. My other concern is that, your program only showed one side of this drama. It looked as flat as NBC's Dateline program without the ads. It strangely reminded me the Midnight Express. Girls were innocent victims and Turks were disgusting and evil! You did not question these girls and their backgrounds or the Turks (pimps, policemen, men on the street). I was in Turkey last summer and saw lots of Eastern block prostitutes. I also saw Eastern Block women working in decent jobs. I am very disturbed with your program and the way you depict Turks. Anything involving sex trade is obviously dark, cruel and illegal, I am not denying that. I don't know your motive, but as a Turkish American I found your program insensitive and outright racist. Whatever is your reasoning, I hope you can look at your directing from a different angle to catch a good glimpse. But if your purpose was to simply smear a "not-so-popular people," you have done a satisfactory job.
Ric Bienstock: It was not my intention to depict Turks in a negative way. But the stories we focused on all took place in Turkey. While it is true that there are many women from the former Soviet bloc countries in Turkey working as willing prostitutes and in other jobs, there is also a serious trafficking problem in Turkey that is flourishing. This is acknowledged by the Turkish government.
Hillsdale, Mich.: Given the fact that you were secretly filming a known sex trafficker "Olga," were you able to turn her into the Ukrainian authorities for questioning and a possible arrest?
Ric Bienstock: We provided them with the information but to the best of our knowledge they have taken no action yet.
Silver Spring, Md.: What sets Turkey apart from the other countries that participate in human trafficking?
Did you come across any connections to illegal online pornography industry that apparently flourishes in this sordid part of the world?
Ric Bienstock: Turkey is not different from other countries that have trafficking problems. We focused on Turkey because that was where our victims were trafficked to. It is also easier for traffickers to bring victims to countries that have lax visa requirements. You can buy a visa for Turkey at any port of entry whereas to get into, say, England, it is much more difficult.
Ric Bienstock: Thanks so much for your interest in this documentary. For all those of you who are interested in contacting organizations who do work in trafficking, please go to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.