Tania, 23, from Ukraine, was tricked into going to Turkey with promises of a nanny job. She desperately needed money to help pay for her brother's medical bills. Once in Turkey, she was sold to a violent pimp. After 10 weeks, one of her customers bought her freedom and helped her return home. Tania later went back to Turkey planning to earn money as a prostitute but was quickly caught in a police raid and deported back to Ukraine. Her brother died shortly after her return. This interview was conducted on June 30, 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: "Tania is doing extremely well. Every time the documentary has been broadcast, we have received funds from viewers who wish to help her and other characters in the film. These funds have helped Tania pull her life back together. She was able to buy a small house in a village where she could find work. She is the sole breadwinner in her family, so this was crucial for her to be able to earn a living while living with her daughter. She currently works as a sales clerk in a local store. Her daughter is thriving. She no longer has to travel an hour to get to school. Her new school is a mere 10 minute walk from home. Tania is trying to learn English now. She has survived her ordeal and has made a new life for herself."
What were the circumstances that lead you to Turkey?
I worked as a cook at a café in the town of Nikolaev. [A couple] would come to the café to eat and to have tea. The man was a foreigner and the woman was Ukrainian. They were husband and wife. They would talk a lot with our girls who worked as bartenders. And once these girls, the bartenders, came up to me and said that the couple wanted to talk to me. The girls knew about my family situation: My brother and my mother had tuberculosis, and we needed money for the medicine and for food. So, I approached them, and they told me that I could make around $1,000 a month if I worked abroad. They said that I could renovate my house, buy bed-sheets, clothes, get some furniture. They said I wouldn't need to work hard.
… They offered me work as a nanny at their house. They said that they had a very good friend whose girls work, two each at a villa. The woman said that she is taking her sister with her as well. She said it wasn't hard. She said that we could just go and have a look, that if we didn't like it there, we could just say so, and we would be given a ticket and sent back. She said that sending us back wouldn't be a problem at all. She kept saying it was all for real and it wasn't a scheme.
Did they tell you would be going to Turkey?
Yes, they said it would be in Turkey, in Istanbul. You see, the thing is that it was my first month working in the town of Nikolaev. I lived at home before, and I never had a chance to see what the life was like abroad. I never traveled. When I worked in the town of Nikolaev, it was my first time away from home. I just stayed at home, looked after the kids and went to school and looked after the garden. I just wasn't interested in the city life.
Did they pressure you into going?
… They gave us around three days to think it over. We really doubted that what they offered was real. Then the woman came back and started persuading us again. She was really pushing; she stressed that I had family problems and I'd have a lot to lose if I passed this up. She said nobody was making me go and work right away. She said I could just go to see.
So they convinced us just to go and see and if we liked it there we would stay and if not they would buy us tickets and send us home. They would accompany us everywhere and pay all the costs. Usually, you have to wait two months for your travel documents to get ready. They just paid to speed up the process and the travel documents were ready in 10 days.
… When we arrived at the port they asked us not to tell anyone where we were going and who we were going with and, if asked, we had to say, for example, that we were going there for a visit. When we went through customs the police officers were warning girls, well, asking girls "Why are you going there?" and telling the girls about what might happen to them there. We said that we were visiting our girlfriend. …
We got on the boat. When we approached Istanbul she told us, "Girls, put your make-up on, so that you'll look beautiful." We put our make-up on and got off the boat in Istanbul. Then, we went to a café to grab a bite. Some guy approached us. The woman told us that he was a good friend, and if we decided to work, we would work for him.
He spoke English with the woman and Turkish with the man. When we were eating I noticed a short man staring at us. He walked around us three times, from this side and then from that side, just staring at us. I asked the woman, "What's going on?" And she answered, "Well, maybe he is just a Turkish guy, and he is interested in what Russian girls look like. He is nobody." So, they paid for our meal. After we ate they told us, "Get in the car with [the woman's friend]. He'll take you to the villa."
Then they had a chat with him again and took us to his car. There were two men in the car already: one was the driver and the other one was sitting in the front seat. The driver was the short man who had been walking around us at the café. [The woman's friend] got in the back seat with us. There were four of us squeezed in the back. The woman said: "Wait. We will visit you tomorrow morning. We are going to go home today." They [said they were going] to see their children and tomorrow they'd come see us. They said that we should go and that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that nothing would happen to us and that they wouldn't harm us. We got really scared. We wondered why it was happening like that; they told us that upon our arrival we would stay and rest at their place for the first day or two, and then decide and tell them if we would go for it or not. And what really happened was different from what they had promised. They told us, "You go see the place, and we will come to see you tomorrow."
Then we got in the car and started moving. … We drove about four hours from Istanbul. They took us to a room at a hotel. There were four more girls in the room; three of them worked and the fourth one was a girlfriend of the chief pimp. When we got to the room they told us that it was our first day of work. We didn't believe them. We told them that the woman told us we could decide if we wanted to work or not and they would send us back home right away if we didn't want to. And we told them that we didn't want to work and that we were not going to work. They said, "What do you mean you're not going to work? That woman sold you for $5,000, and now you belong to us. You are going to work here for free for a month, and then you will be getting $500 a month, and in six months you will be able to go back home."
Then I started crying really hard. I was saying that I didn't want to do it, that I refuse to do it, and that I wanted to go back home to my child. The other girls told me, "We also have children, and we also work, and you'll have to do it, too. There's nothing you can do about it." I had a nervous breakdown. I was crying really hard. I was shaking and just couldn't calm down. One of the girls there was asked to talk to me. They said they all got there the same way I did. When I asked them how many times they worked there, it turned out it wasn't their first time there. It was their second or third time there. …
The girls told us that, like it or not, they would keep us there. If necessary they would beat us; they won't let us go, and we would have to work. That man and woman had given us their phone number so that, in case we needed to, we could phone them. So we wanted to call that woman to ask her to give them the money they had paid for us. But they refused. They didn't give us the phone. They checked our bags. They took away all the phone numbers that they found.
They took us to a villa. It was a two-story house with grates on all the windows and all the doors. They locked us in. Initially, there were five of us locked there -- there were two other girls who worked there. They were there with us for the first couple of days. Two girls that had arrived with me were dragged off to work the same night. They were afraid to touch me because I was crying so hard. I couldn't sit. I couldn't talk. I was shaking. I was crying all the time.
Then, they took me and another girl to another villa and locked us up there separately. They didn't touch me for about three days. They just waited until I calmed down because I told them that I wouldn't work, that I would slash my veins. I told them that I was going to do something awful to myself and that I wouldn't work for them. They were really scared. …
During the time that I was locked up they sold one of the girls who had arrived with me. I found out about it -- that she wasn't there -- much later. The other girl who had arrived with me was still there. They brought that other girl [to see me.] She was telling me, "Well, let's just calm down. Let's just work quietly. We'll find a way to get out of here. We'll figure something out. We'll leave this place, one way or another." Then we started working. …
The man who said he owned you. Did he at least treat you well?
Well, they kept us in locked room at all times. When he took us to a client at a hotel, he would watch us all the time. We weren't allowed to make phone calls. The girls didn't have phones. We weren't allowed to make phone calls from a client's room. He probably warned clients not to let us make any phone calls.
Did they make you work a lot?
Yes. We worked for as long as we had clients.
How many hours did they make you work a day?
All day long. Twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes we had two or three hours of sleep and that was it. If, for example, we refused to go to a client, or go to work, they beat us up. They fed us once a day, when they remembered to bring food. And when they forgot to give us food, they would tell us to get the food from a client.
Did you ever use a client's phone? Did you ever find a client more inclined to help?
The clients wouldn't give us the phone or food. We asked them to let us call the Ukrainian police … just to tell them where we were so that they would go to the Turkish embassy and free us with the help of the local Turkish police. The clients wouldn't let us. Those pimps had regular clients who knew the rules.
How many clients did you have to service a day?
Do you believe that the clients knew the circumstances that they women were in?
I think they did. They didn't see us as human beings, but just as whores, just as flesh that they could use. That's all. …
Were you able to use condoms when you were soliciting?
No. Because some of the clients didn't want to use condoms. If you insisted on using a condom, they would tell the pimp, and then the pimp would beat you up bad. He instructed us to do whatever the client asked.
How did you get through the days? What gave you the strength?
I desperately wanted to go back to my child.
When was the last time you had seen her?
I had come home, just to see the kids, and then to leave next day. I was going to take a night bus. My daughter was asleep. I went to kiss her goodbye. She woke up and started begging me, "Momma, don't go away." I told her, "I won't be long. I'll come home very soon." She put her hand under the pillow and gave me her little wooden cross. She put it in my hand and said, "Momma, keep it with you." She used to play a lot with that cross. I said, "Why? It's yours." "No, You take it. It's my gift to you." … That little cross, … I always had it in my hand, prayed, asked God to somehow help me get back home. … I think … that image of the child helped me to overcome everything … because I wanted to come back home … just to hug her. …
How long did this go on?
I stayed with them for about two or three weeks. After the police deported [the girl that had been trafficked with me] they hid me at their friends' to wait till the police finished checking the hotel. They brought us to their friend's place in the morning. We stayed there until evening. In the evening … they walked me out to the backyard. There was a car in the backyard. There were three guys standing near the car. These guys looked at me. … I got really scared because when I saw them I thought they were selling me. But he took me by the hand. He was pushing me forward so that they could see me. I asked him, "Are you going to sell me?" He answered, "No. Don't worry." And he took me back to the house.
And then, about an hour later, … around 10 o'clock at night, they got a call. … I was told that I was going to meet a client. I was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and a sweater with buttons on the front and had a purse. We drove for about 40 minutes. We arrived at another hotel. A man got in the car with us. He was looking at me. I leaned back. I felt so horrible. I was afraid that they would take me somewhere else. … I was just so scared. And that guy looked at me and said, "Are you not feeling well?" I said, "No. I just have a head-ache." And he said, "Well, then everything is fine." He was Turkish, but spoke Russian. Then, he said, "Let's go to the hotel." When we walked into the hotel, the other two guys, friends of that other pimp, [h]ad followed us to the hotel. They sat in the armchairs in the lobby for about five minutes. Then they left. I asked that man, "Where are they going?" He answered, "They will be back." We were sitting there waiting for them, and in about 10 minutes I asked him again, "So, where are they?" He said, "Now, you're going to work here. They sold you to me."
When I heard that I was resold -- he understood Russian well -- I started telling him about how I got there, what happened and asked him to send me back home. He said, "I paid a lot of money for you. How can I send you back home?" He said, "You'll have to work for me for a month." … He said that the girls work for him until their visa expires and then they go home, and that those who want can come back, and that he doesn't force anyone to stay there.
So you were with a new boss, and he said you could go in a month.
Yes. He told me he paid a lot of money for me, and I had to work off this money for him. "OK," I said, "I'll work for you, and I won't create any problems for you. I won't get drunk and won't create any problems with the clients and other stuff. I said, "If I work off your money would you let me go home?" He asked me, "How are you going to go back without any money?" I said I didn't care, I just wanted to get back home. He agreed. A girl, who was there with me, told me not to worry, that I'd work for a month and they would let me go and buy me a ticket. The next day they went somewhere. I stayed with that girl.
Then, he called the house where we were staying. He told that girl to get ready, that we were going to meet a client. We got ready as if we were going to meet a client. They took us to a car. The girl got in one car while I got in the other. … We were driving for a long time; we left in the afternoon and got there around 10 o'clock in the evening. Then we got to another hotel. They walked me into the hotel, took me down to the basement where the girls were -- the basement was converted into a room. They told me I was going to work there. I realized that I was resold again and that I had to work there.
Fifteen minutes passed. I was sitting there and thinking that it was just a joke. I thought I was dreaming. I couldn't believe it was happening with me. I started crying again because that man lied to me. I lost my last hope to get home soon.
Then, about 30 minutes later they took me to a client. When I got back in the morning the chief pimp said that I had to work there for half a year. He also spoke Russian. He understood Russian really well. I told him about the way I got there, what happened and that I wanted to go back, and he looked into my eyes and said, "Are you nuts? I paid so much money for you, and I am not letting you go. Like it or not, you'll have to work here for half a year."
Did he tell you how much he paid for you?
He said, "You'll work for free for a month to work off what I paid for you and then you'll be paid $500 a month." But the girls told me, "He never pays $500 a month. He always finds a reason to fine you." For example, if a client asks you to do something and you refuse, and the client complains to the pimp, he'd charge you for a month or two, and you'd end up working for nothing. And, of course, he would beat you up really badly.
At this point did you think you would be able to get out of there?
We were locked up there. His guy was watching us. They wouldn't take us outside. They would just take us to a client and then back to the room. …
Before this, I hadn't encountered much evil in my life. But when I got there I couldn't believe places like that actually exist in this world. I thought I'd find at least one kind person, or that one of those pimps would set me free.
How many times were you sold?
Can you talk about your abortion?
I had an abortion in Turkey. Just before leaving for Turkey I had lived with a guy for a year and a half. We broke up, and when we broke up I was pregnant, but I didn't know that. … Just before I went to Turkey we got back together, and we were going to get married a month after I was supposed to get back. … When I realized that I was pregnant … I really wanted to keep that child … I wanted to go back home, marry him and have a baby. … But when they found out that I was pregnant they took me to some hospital … gave me an ultrasound, realized that I was pregnant and how long I was pregnant for. I told them that I was going to give birth. My pimp said, "You're going to have an abortion." I said, "No. It's my child, and you're not going to tell me what to do." Then the girls told me, "He's going to beat you up really badly and resell you again. You won't be able to do anything." When he came to tell me that I had to go to the hospital to get an abortion, I cried. I said that I didn't want to, that I wanted to have the baby. He said if I refused, he'd make my life hell, and I'd end up with a miscarriage anyway. He forced me to have an abortion.
The thing is that there was another girl who was four-months pregnant. Her baby was moving already. He wouldn't let her go. She had a client who offered to pay him anything just to buy her out. He wouldn't sell her. He tortured her till the last moment.
He had two friends. That hospital belonged to his friends. They would take all the girls for check-ups there if, for example, someone would get really sick. They took me there for an abortion. When the doctor asked me if I wanted to have an abortion I just kept silent. I just couldn't say "yes." And then the doctor asked them what to do. And they gave an answer for me. They also told me if [I] refused, the chief pimp would do to me whatever he wanted.
After I had the abortion I cried so hard. I couldn't recover. They didn't take me to the clients for five days. They wouldn't let anyone see me. I was bleeding and was very sick. … I would just dream of a baby at night. I dreamt of nursing a baby. My breasts were full of milk. Then, it got to the point where I wouldn't communicate with anyone. The girls would talk to me but they sounded as if they were very far away. One night I dreamt of my mother. She was so young and beautiful. She said, "Daughter, finally I found you." They say if you see a person young in your dream it means that he died. I got really scared. I thought she had a heart attack. She had heart disease. She has problems with her heart very often. And then I felt I was just going insane.
Five days later I was sent to a client. They just stuck a sponge inside me to stop bleeding and sent me to work. It got to the point when after a client fell asleep I burned my hands and legs with a cigarette. When I got back from the client, one of the girls noticed spots on my hand and on my leg and reported it to the pimp. The pimp came to see me. I was wearing a shirt. He asked me to show him my hands. I asked, "Why?" He said, "I'm telling you, show me." I pulled up the sleeves. When he saw the burns he started beating me on the head. As he was beating me I just felt like dying. Then he stopped beating me. I went to the bathroom and slashed my veins. He told me to come out. I came out. He saw that and started beating me on the head again. My nose was bleeding. Then he stopped. At that point I totally lost touch with reality. He got worried. He thought I went mad and told the girls not to leave me alone. He told me to always stay where they were, and if he saw me sitting on my own he'd beat me on the head.
How did you finally escape?
I had a client. He started asking for me when I had those burns on the hand and on the leg and the bruises -- when the pimp beat me up, he'd beat me on the head; he tried not to bruise my face so that nobody would notice. He [the client] noticed that and asked, "What's that?" I said, "I just burned myself with hot water." But he didn't believe me. We started talking, and I told him everything -- about the abortion, how I got there, why I burned myself. He said he was going to help me. Either he'd steal me or talk to my boss and buy me out. He spoke to him twice, but he wouldn't sell me. But then he had a problem; the police busted him, so, he sold me to that client for $3,500. That client brought me to his home. I spent about two weeks there. He paid a fee for my expired visa, bought a plane ticket and sent me home.
When you came home did you go to your house?
Did you tell anyone what had happened to you?
Did your mother have any idea what happened to you when you left?
How long were you gone in total?
Two and a half months.
Would you go back to Turkey after this?
After everything you went through, why would you go back?
I have no other choice. My brother has a burst appendix, everything inside him tore apart, and the flesh started to rot from the inside. … The doctor said that we need a lot of money for special treatments for him. He said that if he doesn't get treated, we might as well order a coffin for him. We've borrowed a huge amount of money because we didn't want to lose him, and we've been told to pay it back. If we don't, we'll be in trouble, especially our children. Anything could happen to them when we're not around. So I have to go there to earn the money because it would take my mom a year to earn it at her factory. …
How much money, in a month, do people make around here?
If you work here or at the farmer's market, it works out to be $30 or $40 a month.
When you put this ordeal behind you, how much money will you need just to be able to live a good life?
I think around $200, considering a family like ours, the number of family members that we have. I'd say $200 or $250 at least, because everyone needs to be fed and clothed, and we need to do some renovations, buy decent mattresses, bedsheets, duvets. It's very hard to make ends meet on one salary with a family like ours, where everybody gets sick, and we spend a lot of money on medicines, food, clothes.
Why do you think it is so hard for someone who lives here, for someone your age, to earn a living?
Of course, if you have a good profession it is possible to survive or if you slave at two jobs at the same time as many people do. However in my case it's impossible to make ends meet with a large family where most of the kids are sick and where we spend all our money on medicine, food and clothing.
Were you aware of the trafficking problem before you were exposed to it, and are you now aware?
No, I wasn't aware then. Now I know. … When I was there I spoke with some of the girls. Apparently there are girls there who go back home and tell their girlfriends back home that everything is OK, that you can earn decent money over there no problem. Then they send them to their former pimps, and get money for this and then their girlfriends realize that they're not allowed to leave whenever they want.
There are pimps in Turkey now who tell their girls that they will be paid their $500 a month in four or six months, and when that time comes, they take the girls to a client supposedly, and once they're there the girls are told they've been resold to another pimp. And they don't pay them anything. You may end up with a pimp that won't even care how you have sex; the clients will have sex any way they want it. It's very common now to force you to do it like that.
If you had a chance to say something to the traffickers what would you tell them?
I asked myself, "Don't these pimps have any children? Why do they treat us so cruelly? Don't they have a heart or a soul? They may get away with it in this life, but ultimately, God will punish them. Don't they care that their children may suffer the consequences of their actions?"