For eight years, photojournalist Mimi Chakarova tracked down women who were trafficked for prostitution. Her in-depth investigation took her from the Bulgarian village where she was born to the streets of Turkey and to nightclubs in Dubai. She is now sharing the stories of the women she met during her journey with her latest documentary “The price of sex”.
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Mimi Chakarova was born in 1976 in Bulgaria, when the country was still under the influence of the Soviet Union. During the 90’s, her mother took her to the United States, where she was given opportunities that, otherwise, would be out of reach for an average Bulgarian teenage girl.
While Ms Chakarova was abroad, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union opened doors to Eastern European countries. Many of them, like Bulgaria and Moldova, were unprepared for the transition and disparities inside Europe steadily increased.
Impoverished, jobless, and desperate, women from Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries became easy prey for traffickers. Lured with fake job offers (as waitresses or cleaners), they often ended up locked, sold and trafficked for prostitution in foreign countries.
And such criminal scheme has been going on for 20 years, Ms Chakarova says.
“I felt really guilty that I grew up in the same conditions, in the same kind of community, where some of the girls ended up missing, while my mom and I ended up somewhere else”, Ms Chakarova said at the Frontline Club, in London, where her documentary was screened last night.
For more than eight years, she chased women who escaped from their traffickers and tried to capture their stories on camera, while digging into the networks they had left behind: she followed the routes the traffickers were taking, involving Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Dubai.
“It’s very dangerous to enter this world as a woman”, Ms Chakarova says – and not always trafficking victims were open to share their stories: “women associate their trafficking experiences to the camera, because often, once they are sold, there is a ‘break-in’ period that involves being gang-raped and also being videotaped or photographed by the pimps, who later threaten to use that footage, by sending it to the girl’s father, if she ever tries to escape”.
Under threat, these women are often kept by their pimps until they pay their “debt”, Ms Chakarova explains: “some girls would keep on a diary how much they are making every single day, how much is being charged for taxis, or food, or for her supplies, trying to reach her cost or the debt that someone has put on her to free herself”.
“And sometimes she does, and what happens is that she is sold to another person and the story starts from the very beginning”, Ms Chakarova says.
Tackling sex traffic
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 2.5 million people spread across the globe are victims of human trafficking. And the United Kingdom is also part of the statistics: according to the Association of Chief Police Officers, more than 2600 women have been trafficked into the country to work as prostitutes, both in England and Wales.
Ms Chakarova says human trafficking “is never going to stop”, even though “we can reduce the numbers” of victims of human trafficking. Her film, she said, raises awareness on the subject of human trafficking thus contributing for a change: “the first step is to get informed, to see this film and to also criticise it”, she says.