Vlad, a convicted sex trafficker (photo, right, shows him in the docket with his head covered), was featured in "Sex Slaves," and his interview here offers some real insight into the traffickers' world, the women they sell, and how it all works. Vlad convinced Katia, an acquaintance in Moldova, to travel to Turkey with him. There, he sold Katia to a middleman -- a woman -- who then resold her to a notorious and violent pimp. (Read Katia's story.) Vlad was later arrested and convicted of trafficking by a Ukrainian court, but he got off lightly. What follows is Vlad's side of the story: What happened to Katia, his motivations in telling Katia's husband that he had sold her, and why he got involved in this world. Editor's Note: Read the producer's interview for her assessment of Vlad and his story. This interview took place in September 2004.
Can you tell me about the process of selling girls?
The process of selling girls goes as follows. First, girls are procured. Seventy percent of the girls know exactly where they're going, and what they're going for. Twenty percent of them agree to be exotic dancers, but often don't suspect what else might happen to them. And the remaining 10 percent are totally unaware. In other words, they are brought there under false pretences. They are lured in with all sorts of different proposals. For example, one can offer a girl a high paying job, let's say as a housekeeper, housemaid, or caring for elderly people or kids.
That's how girls end up in this environment. And the way it happens is this. Trafficking rings come in all sizes. It depends on how many middlemen are involved in the ring and the number of steps between the initial person and the person at the end of the ring. The average ring has three to four middlemen; each person in the ring has his own designated role. The first person scouts for girls and looks after travel documents. The second one couriers them through a transit country, which is located between the country of departure and the country of arrival. And then there is a person on the other end who receives the girls, this is the third person in the ring.
Here is a simple example. One finds an individual in Moldova with the idea of taking her to Turkey. If this person is going to take a ferry, she has to go across Ukrainian territory, just as it was in my case. The transporter takes her from Ukraine and puts her on a boat. In Turkey she's transferred to someone else. She's then sold on to a pimp.
What happens to them next? What happens with those that were deceived?
There could be several scenarios for them. Everything depends on the psychological state of the girl, depends on the strength of her psyche. If she has a weak psyche, she usually breaks down and accepts that she'll have to work as a prostitute. If she can't be persuaded, she'll be physically forced to do it. So that's how the work starts.
The rule is that during the first month she has to work off the money that was spent on her travel expenses. In Turkey this amount usually varies from $1,500 to $2,000 [or] $2,500. After she works the money off, if the pimp gets the feeling that she is not willing to work further, he might let her go; after all, she has paid the money off, plus made some additional money for him. But in this case she is left with nothing for herself. She is discarded or sent home, or even given up to the police, who will deport her.
How does debt bondage work?
Debt bondage represents the amount of money that a girl is told she has to work off. That amount can be easily inflated if the pimp wants. If, for example, the pimp thinks the girl is too aggressive within that first month, if she annoys her pimp, he might resell her to another pimp in order to avenge her for the problems she has caused him. That way, the debt never goes away and she continues to work without ever receiving a penny. One pimp sells her to another, that one sells her to a third one, this third one -- to a fourth one, and so on. It keeps going till the moment somebody feels sorry for her and simply sends her home or gives her up to the police. That is how debt bondage is created, and the girl remains in debt forever.
What are the conditions of work [for girls] in Turkey?
Most of the time they work in hotels. I am talking about those who knew where they are going. Those who are deceived are kept locked up, so that they cannot run away and report to the police on the pimp. Otherwise, they would definitely try to return home. Therefore, they are kept locked up in private houses, cottages and villas where the clients are brought. Naturally, they are kept under lock and key.
How is it controlled? Are their passports taken away?
Their passports are taken away from them to make sure they have difficulty escaping. … The girls are also warned that without passports, if they are caught, they will be put in jail for a long time. They are also threatened that anything could happen to them in prison. This is a way of threatening the girl to not even think about escaping without a passport.
Where do most of the girls come from?
The main supply countries are Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, where, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economy has deteriorated to the level where the majority of the population is unemployed; therefore, most people are left without a livelihood. So people look for solutions in order to feed themselves and their families. … Most people try to go to work abroad. What kind of work? People usually don't care. Once they hear words like "abroad" and "big money," they're hooked. Our people are not afraid of work. Therefore, any offers of employment that seem to have relatively good salaries attract their attention.
Why are there so many girls from Moldova?
The economic situation in Moldova is very bad. Most people barely earn $30 to $40 per month. How can one live on $30 to 40, even on $70 per month? How can one survive? What if he or she has a family?
What is the age range of the girls who are selected?
From 18 years old -- the age of majority -- up to 25 years of age. At this age, girls tend to jump for anything that sparkles. At this age a person doesn't think of what a proposal to work overseas might mean.
How widespread is this business in Europe?
As far as I know, it is widespread all around the world, it is well established. As far as I am aware, as far as my knowledge regarding the rest of the world goes, trafficking in girls is the third most important form of illegal trafficking, after drugs and weapons. It's a very profitable business. Our girls are in high demand, as they are quite pretty as well as being easily accessible.
What is the average price to own a girl?
It depends on the economic level of the country. In countries like England or Germany, the girls are more expensive. I don't know the exact prices there. I can talk about Turkey, though. In Turkey, the price of a girl depends on her appearance, on her behavior, on whether she is compliant or not. Pimps also check to see if she is problematic or not. Nobody wants a difficult girl who will annoy clients, since clients will then complain to the pimps afterwards. The price in Turkey also depends on the city. In tourist cities the price is obviously higher. In regular smaller cities, the price is lower. The price fluctuates from $1,000 to $2,500, depending on a girl's qualities.
What was your role in Katia's story?
My role was to deliver her to Turkey and to transfer her to another person, who then decides on their future. … In Katia's case I was not only a courier I was also a procurer. She was planning to go to Turkey to buy office supplies in order to start up her own business. I had to go to Turkey on my own business anyway.
I decided that since she was going there anyway, I could make this whole thing work. I didn't even have to spend money on her ticket or arranging documents. That made financial sense. We arrived in Turkey, and I contacted a middle person there who knew that I was coming. She expected me to bring some girls. We arranged a meeting. I told her, "I have a girl, I can deliver, the problem is that she is totally unaware."
She said, "Vlad, don't sweat it. Leave it to me. Just make sure that she and I are left alone together, and I will sort it out myself." I said, "No problem." I then took Katia to that lady. I brought her there and left them alone.
What happened next? … She couldn't persuade Katia. She then lied to me over the phone that she had persuaded her. That was Katia's story. As a result, Katia ended up in a place where I didn't want her to be. …
Did she suspect what kind of plans you had in store for her?
No, she definitely didn't suspect. How could she suspect, as I didn't explain anything to her? That was to be done by a middle person, who was supposed to talk her into it.
Could you give more details about the process when you were on the boat, and when you came to Turkey? What did you tell her the moment before she was transferred to different hands?
On the boat, there was nothing to do. When we arrived in Turkey, we went shopping. We checked out the prices. We checked what else she could buy in the future. Basically, we were talking mostly about the stuff she wanted to buy, those office supplies.
I invited her to a disco, so that Angela, who was a middle person, could see her and evaluate her. The amount I was supposed to receive depended on Katia's looks. Angela said that Katia was suitable. She asked me to arrange a private meeting with her so that she could persuade Katia to stay here to work as a prostitute. That was the goal.
What happened next?
I don't know what happened between two of them and what they were talking about. Everything I was talking about happened in Istanbul. Angela sent her to Antalya. In Antalya there is a pimp called Apo. She sold Katia to him. Katia was his after that. According to Katia's story of what happened, Apo took a very aggressive approach to Katia. She didn't even have a chance to realize what happened to her. He simply decided to squash her psychologically. After the psychological pressure didn't work he probably decided to put physical pressure on her. When I found out that Katia didn't agree, and nobody wanted to return her because it is business and money is involved, I had to think how to get her out of there.
To be honest, at that moment, I felt terrible. I phoned Viorel, and told him everything. He got pissed off but asked me to wait for him [in Turkey]. He came there, and we went to look for her together. …
Why did you decide to phone Viorel? What was the reason? Did you want money from him? How did he react?
Why did I phone him? After I found out that Angela did not manage to persuade Katia I decided to call him. Since we lived in the same town, and we more or less knew each other I knew how to get in touch. To say that I felt guilty might sound absurd after what I did. However, strange as it may seem, guilt played its part. I felt sorry for her.
So, you phoned Viorel and …?
To be honest, I didn't know what to do. I phoned Viorel and told him. It is easier to tell a person over the phone rather than face to face. What was Viorel's reaction? He was shocked. Imagine the situation: this person you know calls you and says: "Dear friend! I sold your woman." It is obviously shocking, but he stayed cool. That was his way. He asked me to wait for him, and I agreed. I tried to do everything to help him find Katia.
How much did you get paid for Katia?
For Katia I was paid $1,000 US, by Angela, the middle person. That's how they priced [her] at the time. Later the price went up, as Angela had to make her own profit. I don't know how much, since this information is not advertised. Everyone gets their share and does not look at somebody else's pocket.
Don't you feel guilty about Katia?
Sure, I have inklings of conscience. I also live in a country where the economy is down. I have a family. I have an underage son. I don't have a wife. My son lives with me. My mother is a pensioner, and I have to support my son's education. My son is very talented. He is a talented singer. I hope he will become a performer in the future. You would do anything in order to help your relatives.
What were your plans when you were growing up? Did you think the life would turn out this way?
In the past, during the Soviet Union, I was quite a successful athlete. At that time, being an athlete was prestigious. I was able to earn a living as an athlete. Then everything fell apart. It was hard to adapt to this change. Some people manage to adapt to anything. I guess I'm not one of those people. That's the story.
What pushed you to do this kind of business?
Why did I decide to deal with this dirty business? Because of money. My finances were very bad. The 1st [of] September, [the beginning of school,] was coming. My mother's health was deteriorating. I had to do something. I needed money for her operation and to support my child going to school. That's what made me get into this business. If it were not for these conditions, if I had a normal job, a normal salary, if I had stability in life, I would not do it. It is psychologically difficult. Sometimes you overstep the boundaries of decency in order to survive.
Was this your first sale?
No, it was my second sale, but the last one. That's it. That is enough. Because besides the court judge, there is another court -- God's court.
You have already sold somebody else?
Yes, once. I didn't really sell, I just couriered. I didn't procure the person. The person was ready to go. But that was a different story. There was an agreement there.
Could you describe your role in this network?
In general, my role is that of a little screw in a big mechanism. Very little. My function is to be a courier. If I could find a person, I find her. But it was not my main duty. I could be, for example, asked to meet a person who would be transferred by another person to me, and my job would be to bring that person to the final destination. In Katia's case I was both a courier and a procurer. I procured and transported her. Two roles.
Could you tell anything about Apo?
Apo is a person without a shred of human decency. He has no principles whatsoever. At times he can be very cruel. However, with me he was OK. In this business Apo is a top operator. He finances everything, he heads the network, and he is a pimp. He decides on how and where the person is going to work. He decides on prices. He is a tough guy. With regards to the police he is smart. He is very careful. Regarding your question of whether the police will ever catch him, it is hard to predict. We will see. Time will tell.
Why did you get off so easily?
Our court realized that I repented. I tried to help the investigation process. I guess I had a good lawyer. I'm grateful. The judge turned out to be a good guy as well. He understood my situation.
What are your plans for the future?
Plans? What kind of plans could I have as I am still in a drunk state because of my freedom? I would like to go and see my son. I miss him so much. I miss my mother.
What would you say to Katia if you meet her now?
I would apologize. What else could I say her? I can only ask for an apology once again. I have nothing else to say.