Katia, from Moldova, was trafficked into sex slavery by an acquaintance, Vlad, who brought her to Turkey on the pretext of helping her procure goods for her business. Once there, she was sold to a notoriously violent pimp, Apo. For seven weeks, she was held captive in a locked room where every day she was drugged, beaten and forced to have sex with Apo's clients. Meanwhile, her husband Viorel, accompanied by FRONTLINE's production team, was desperately searching for her in Turkey's thriving sex market. Here's her story. This interview took place in September 2004, and has been translated from Russian into English.
UPDATE, MAY 2009:
FRONTLINE asked producer Ric Esther Bienstock how the characters in this report are doing now, more than 3 years since the original broadcast. She writes: "Katia moved to Odessa and found a job in a bar. She has not really emotionally recovered from her ordeal. She and her husband Viorel split up not too long ago. She was just recently diagnosed with cervical cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy."
What made you decide to go to Turkey?
We decided to open a small business. My Mom was already selling stationary, and advised us to start doing the same. Turkey is said to have very cheap merchandise that could be re-sold here for a better price.
We were visiting a friend. A guy was renting a room at her apartment. She introduced us to this man, Vlad, and said he was a very good friend of hers. Somehow we started a kind of friendly relationship with him. At some point, [Viorel and I] started discussing the possibility of going to Turkey in order to buy merchandise. Viorel did not have an external passport at the time, and he did not want to let me go myself. Vlad interrupted our conversation and said he had been in Turkey and that he knows Turkish very well. He offered us his help in finding good merchandise. We trusted Vlad after knowing him for a couple of months, and we decided that I would go with him. …
How did you feel about going?
It was interesting at first. Anybody would be excited about going to a new place. I'd heard a lot about this country, and how beautiful it is. …
What was Vlad like on the trip over?
I can't say what Vlad was like on the ship. First of all, I didn't feel well because of my pregnancy. I spent most of my time resting in the cabin and rarely went to the cafeteria. I went out for a smoke sometimes. From what I could see, he was calm and normal.
Did you notice anything suspicious?
No, I did not. I wasn't suspicious at all.
During or before your trip to Turkey have you ever heard about girls disappearing in Turkey?
Well, I had heard some stories about girls being tricked in Turkey. But as far as I knew they went there of their own free will and afterwards got tricked and got in trouble that way. However, I never heard stories like what happened to me.
When did you become suspicious?
When we arrived in Istanbul, we rented a room in the hotel. I felt bad almost all the time. … Vlad asked me to try to feel better, because, as he said, we were going to see his friend who was going to help us buy merchandise wholesale. Her husband is a Turk, they always get a better bargain.
We tried to call Viorel, and that's when I got suspicious. Every time he tried to call, Vlad claimed that he couldn't get through to Ukraine. Whenever we went to go make phone calls he said that there was no phone connection.
Then what happened?
In the evening we went to see Vlad's friend. She introduced herself as Angela and introduced me to her husband. I don't remember his name. It was a Turkish name. First, we started talking about merchandise. She brought beer that was already poured in glasses. After I drank the beer, I realized that I didn't feel well. I simply lost consciousness.
I woke up in a car. I was sitting next to Angela. There were two other people I didn't recognize and Angela's husband in the car. I realized that I didn't have my purse where I had my documents and money. I started panicking. When I started shouting, "Where are you taking me and who are you?" Angela said that Vlad sold me to her for $1,000, and if I threw a fit my body would be found in the mountains, meaning they will kill me. She started swearing at me. They put me on the floor in order to keep me still. I didn't know where we were going. It was dark. The only thing I knew was that we were driving through the mountains.
We arrived at a deserted house. There were no other houses around. It was a two-story house, a very suspicious place. They took me inside and pushed me into the room. There was a table and two chairs in that room. The walls were gray. The floors were marble and there were metal bars on the windows. They locked the door behind me and left.
Before sunrise another man came and brought me a bucket that I could use as a toilet. He could speak a little bit of Russian. He introduced himself as Mohammed. Then another man came. He said his name was Apo. Mohammed told me that Angela sold me to him.
I was in hysterics. Apo pushed me and I fell down. They left. Another girl came. She was a bit taller than me, she was blond. I found out later her name was Tanya. [Editor's Note: This is Apo's wife, who called herself "Maria" in her phone calls with Viorel]. She started explaining to me what I was supposed to do there, and why I was there.
When I asked them to bring me some water they brought me water. There was something added to that water, because in about 15 to 20 minutes I started hallucinating. At that moment Tanya explained to me that they bought me to have sex with their clients. When I started to resist, she said, "You're not the first. We already had girls like you. Those girls that didn't want to do it at first, work and enjoy it now." I told her, "If you like to f*** Turkish men, then you f*** them." She slapped me and left. ….
What was going through your mind at that point?
I was totally confused at that point. Plus I was on drugs, and therefore I could not understand what was going on. It seemed like a nightmare.
What happened then?
Then nobody was there. They came back at night and transferred me somewhere else. … I was brought to a room that reminded me of the previous one. There was a couch on the floor. They threw me at that couch and said that they were going to come back soon. Then a new person came in and brought me a glass of water. I could not refuse it, for I was very thirsty. I hadn't eaten for a long time as well. I drank that glass of water and the same thing happened. Everything was mixed up in my head.
Then they brought a man, and told me if I don't satisfy him, they'll kill me. But when the man entered the room, I started fighting with him. When I was fighting with him, I was shouting at him and he was shouting at me. Two other men came in, and pinned me down on the couch. After that one man approached me and kicked me in the stomach and another one hit my face. I realized later that my teeth were broken, my mouth was bleeding.
After that everybody left, and I was on my own again. Then it was the same almost every day. Then they transferred me to another place; I remember a very long drive. We arrived somewhere. There were lots of five-story houses around.
I was taken to a new room. I heard voices of Russian girls. Then when I was locked away, one Russian girl came in. She also brought me some water and a bread roll. I asked her where I was, what was happening to me. She told me, "You were in Antalya at the beginning. Now you are in Ismir." Later on I was told that somebody was looking for me.
They let me talk to Viorel. I could not tell him that I was in Ismir. I was told that if I told him, they would do something bad to me. I told him that I was in Antalya. … I was told to say that everything was OK with me, so that he would give up looking for me, so that he would forget about me. When I spoke to Viorel, I couldn't stand it, and I said that I wanted to go home very much.
[On the phone] Viorel tried to calm me down. He asked where I was and if I could run away. He asked how I was feeling. He asked me not to get an abortion. He said he would rescue me, that he would go to Antalya the next in order to buy me back, to take me back. After that they drugged me … and beat me… and raped me. I thought it was all over for me. I thought nobody would help me at all. …
I understand, it might be hard for you to talk about it, but what was happening while you were kept in this apartment?
I was severely beaten. They brought different men. They raped me. When I resisted, they kept beating me. Then they said that if I didn't calm down, they would sell me to a place where nobody returns.
Could you communicate with the clients?
I tried, but they didn't understand Russian. I didn't speak any Turkish at all.
What did it feel like when you were given the drugs?
I was weak and dizzy. I was hallucinating. It was a very unclear condition. I stopped realizing what was happening around me, where I was. I didn't understand anything. I couldn't even talk.
Did they know you were pregnant?
Yes, they knew from the very beginning that I was pregnant. Vlad knew that.
How did you get through all of it?
I guess, because I was on those drugs, because I was confused all the time. When I took those drugs, I couldn't understand anything. I didn't feel anything. Even after I was severely beaten, I didn't feel much pain.
Why did they beat you?
Because I didn't want to have sex with their clients. I kept screaming, "Send me home! I will report you to the police! I will get out of here, you won't get away with it!" …
Why do you think they locked you up?
First, I kept saying that I would run away. The other girls were there of their own free will. The girl who brought me drinks kept saying, "Behave yourself, and you will earn money and go home." Since I misbehaved, they thought I might run away. That's why they locked me up.
How many clients did you have a day?
I had approximately two clients per day. …
How did you find out they were going to release you?
The day before I was released, they entered my room and asked where I wanted my ticket to be: to Odessa, or to Chisinau. I said: to Chisinau. They left and didn't say anything. The next day I was seated in the car with a man I didn't recognize. … In front of the airport he gave me … $20. … We took a plane and flew to Istanbul. I flew from Istanbul to Chisinau on my own.
When I arrived to Chisinau, I was obviously very happy. I approached the taxi drivers and one agreed to drive me to Tiraspol for $20 -- exactly the money I had. That's how I got home. … I was probably home around 11 p.m. I rang the doorbell. My mom opened the door. Obviously we were crying, we were so happy. My son came over to me. I was so happy, I was in seventh heaven.
Can you think of any day that was the worst?
It was all the same every day. They beat me and raped me all the time. I can't think of anything worse.
Were there any nice, decent people?
Not at all. They were all the same. I don't think a normal person would go and rape a girl who was kidnapped and locked up. There were no normal people there.
Why did you decide to tell your story to us?
I hope my story will help to punish those people who caused me so much distress and express gratitude to those people who helped me to escape.