The flesh trade - The Best from Greece

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Posted on: 06/Apr/2011

 THE STORY never changes. Once across the Greek border, the migrant women and girls find that the jobs they were promised no longer exist. And their traffickers take their passports before selling them to brothel owners.

They are held in debt bondage and sometimes resold, much like cattle, to other brothel owners.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 100,000 women and girls are trafficked into western Europe annually, where they are forced into prostitution or other forms of sexual servitude.

Despite measures to combat trafficking in Greece, local and international non-governmental organisations estimate several thousand migrant women and girls are smuggled into Greece each year.

On March 30, the government vowed to step up the fight against human trafficking.
“Greece is a country that has not been left untouched by the problem of human trafficking, but it is a country that is making a really big effort to fight it,” Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis told an anti-trafficking conference in Athens on March 30. “2010 was a good year. The number of [traffickers] charged increased by 65 percent and the number of convictions by 52 percent.”

According to Kouvelis, Greece will become a “leader” in the fight against trafficking. He said this will require the Greek authorities to work more closely with international organisations like the IOM and with police around Europe.

“We also need society’s support,” Kouvelis added, announcing plans to recruit famous athletes, artists and leaders in business and education in a nationwide public awareness campaign against trafficking. “It’s important for them to work with us,” he said.

AWARD-WINNING Canadian director Ric Esther Bienstock was in Athens on March 30 to present her gripping documentary expose into human trafficking - the shadowy, multibillion-dollar global industry that is now one of the fastest growing international criminal enterprises.

Her 2005 documentary Sex Slaves was screened at the foreign ministry on March 30 at an event organised by the Canadian embassy in Athens.

In an interview with the Athens News, Bienstock discussed the making of the film, which explores the global trafficking problem through personal stories.

From the villages of Moldova and Ukraine, to underground brothels, Bienstock follows one Moldovan man’s desperate efforts to find his 21-year-old wife who was sold into sexual slavery for $1,000 by a man posing as the couple’s friend. The film also tells the heartbreaking story of a 28-year-old Ukrainian woman who was sold 13 times during her captivity.

Athens News: When did you decide you wanted to make this documentary?

Ric Esther Bienstock: It was when I was doing a shoot in China with Penn and Teller - two well-known magician comedians from Las Vegas. We had to go deep in the middle of nowhere in China and I had to find a place for them to stay that was an appropriate accommodation. I found this hotel - it was clean and modern. It wasn’t the Holiday Inn, but it had that look. I later found out it was a brothel.

There was a disco in the hotel basement where there were mostly Chinese prostitutes, but there were also two blonde women. My co-producer was Russian and we went to talk to them because we were curious what these white women were doing there. They told us how they had been recruited by Russian-speaking Chinese men who told them they would be cleaning hotel rooms.

It was a classic trafficking story, of which I was unfamiliar with at the time. We asked the women if they wanted us to call the police, but there was really nothing we could do. The police used their services. We couldn’t help them.

When I got back to Canada, I just couldn’t get that story out of my mind. I was flabbergasted. I had so many questions like why don’t the women just run away.

How did you go about making the documentary?

The idea was that we would get inside - that was our ambition. I definitely intended to go undercover.

How did you find the people in the film, like Pasha, the woman in Ukraine who recruited the girls by promising jobs abroad as domestics?

We worked in Kiev and very closely with the IOM [International Organisation for Migration], as well as the police and non-governmental organisations. Basically, we would meet one person and that person would introduce us to another.

It is actually remarkably easy to find a woman.
People talk about these big traffickers - big Mafia types. And that’s not really what we saw. What we saw were small-time recruiters - little chains that work together.

How are women lured by the recruiters?

The women are so desperate that even though they know they are taking a risk they keep thinking it’s not going to happen to them. And the people recruiting them are people like me and you. That’s what shocked me the most. They look like regular people.

But they exploit the desperation. Some women know they are going to go as prostitutes or strippers - though many think they will go as domestic workers, but they do not think they will have their passports taken and held against their will.

Is it a modern form of slavery?

This is slavery. These women couldn’t work their way out of it. And most of these women never recover from it.
It is such a traumatic experience. Katia, the [Moldovan] wife whom we helped track down, had so many health problems like cervical cancer. She’s a broken woman. Now years later, she speaks in monotone.

You put your own life on the line interviewing traffickers and victims. Was it worth it?

I think the film touches people. It leads many people to action. I have got emails from people who want to help. I am not an NGO. When the film aired on CBC in Canada, PBS in the US and Channel 4 in the UK, we received so many phone calls from people who wanted to help the women in the film, rather than fight trafficking in general.

I contacted a number of NGOs, but they couldn’t take money and give it directly to the women. So I opened a trust account - it was clear that I could not issue tax receipts. I have received over 20,000 Canadian dollars, which I have sent to the women through Western Union.

I find this remarkable. We aired again last month in the United States and the cheques are coming again.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a film about organ trafficking. It’s about the dire shortage of kidneys in some countries and how people are so desperate they go to other countries where people are willing to sell them their kidney.


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