Sex Slaves [home page]
  • home
  • discussion
  • the story
  • what's needed



Written and directed by Ric Esther Bienstock

Produced by Ric Esther Bienstock, Felix Golubev, Simcha Jacobovici


ANNOUNCER: These women have been torn from their lives, taken from their families and sold into slavery. They are victims of a multi-billion-dollar international business that traffics hundreds of thousands of women a year.

Tonight, FRONTLINE takes a hidden camera look deep inside the new global sex trade.

VLAD, Trafficker: [through interpreter] Our girls are in high demand since they’re quite pretty and easily accessible. It’s a very profitable business.

ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE also follows one man who’s determined to get his wife back before she’s lost for good to the world of the traffickers. It’s an extraordinary journey that raises tough questions about governments around the world largely indifferent to the traffickers’ abuses.

TANIA, Trafficked to Turkey: [through interpreter] I hadn’t encountered much evil in my life. I thought I’d find at least one kind person, or that one of those pimps would set me free.

NARRATOR: Odessa, Ukraine, a port town on the Black Sea known for its nightlife and its beautiful women. Under the old Soviet Union, it was a center of organized crime. Now Odessa has become a major hub for the global sex trade. Women are lured to the port of Odessa from all over the struggling countries of Eastern Europe with promises of badly-needed work abroad. Many are unaware of what the traffickers have in store. The production team has set up cameras here.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK, Producer: We knew if we wanted to get inside the story that we had to be in a place where it was so prevalent that everybody would have an example or know people who were trafficked. And that’s what brought us ultimately to Odessa.

NARRATOR: Frustrated with an inability to chase the traffickers overseas, the Ukrainian secret service has given us a tip about a suspected sex trader who regularly brings girls through here. Across from the port, on the famous Odessa steps, we secretly film as she traffics young women to Turkey. We’ve been asked to call her Olga.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK: The secret service said that she runs a legitimate business as a cover, and she basically takes women from Moldova and Ukraine to work as domestics in Turkey. And amongst these women are some younger women who she sells to traffickers and pimps in Turkey. We wanted to answer some fundamental questions, like why don’t these women run away and how do they get across borders and how do they get kidnapped and how could they really be enslaved in you know, at this point in history.

FELIX GOLUBEV, Producer: Sex trafficking only started with the fall of the Soviet Union, when the borders opened up and it became much easier for traffickers to find desperate girls, girls with no education, girls that they can fool, and persuade them to go abroad.

NARRATOR: We watched as Olga settled the girls in for the trip across the Black Sea. Many are destined for the legitimate jobs that Olga has promised, but according to a convicted trafficker who agreed to speak with us, some of these young women are headed for a far worse fate.

VLAD, Trafficker: [through interpreter] The average trafficking ring has three to four middlemen. The transporter takes her from Ukraine and puts her on a boat. In Turkey, she’s transferred to someone else. And she’s then sold on to a pimp.

NARRATOR: We located two women who were trafficked on this same boat six months earlier by Olga.

ANYA, Trafficked to Turkey: [watching video footage] [subtitles] That’s the woman who brought us to Turkey and sold us.

KATERINA, Trafficked to Turkey: [subtitles] She treated us quite well. She kept coming and asking, How are you, girls?

ANYA: [through interpreter] I thought I was going to work in a shop. We were told that there are lots of women from Moldova and Russia working there. We were told that we could earn $200 a month.

KATERINA: [through interpreter] I can’t say I was very happy or excited. I worried a bit because we were heading for a foreign country. We hoped everything would be OK.

NARRATOR: Turkey has become one of the largest markets for women trafficked from Ukraine and the old Soviet Bloc. Its lax visa requirements make it an easy port of entry to Europe and the Middle East for traffickers like Olga.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK: She got through customs with absolutely no problem. The traffickers who transport these women have a very easy time of it. Because the women know that they’re going to be working illegally in the country that they’re going to, they actually help the trafficker by lying to the customs officials. At this point, we didn’t know exactly what she was going to do. We didn’t know where she was going to go. We didn’t know what kind of vehicle she would have. All we knew is that she often goes to a cafe and sells the girls. That’s what we had heard.

NARRATOR: The plan is to keep on Olga’s trail in Istanbul and see where the women in her group are taken. The crew’s Turkish fixer has a good idea where they’re headed.

FIXER: They’re going to Aksaray, that place, the Russian district.

NARRATOR: Aksaray is a bustling district in the heart of Istanbul, home to growing numbers of expatriate Soviets. Compared to what they left behind, Aksaray is full of opportunities. But for many young women, Aksaray will be the bitter end to their dreams. Olga leads the team to a notorious spot in Aksaray. This parking lot is an unofficial market for Russian migrant workers. Goods are exchanged, deals are made, legal and illegal workers head to their new employers. And women are sold.

KATERINA: [through interpreter] She asked us to wait for a while. Then she approached us and said, Come with me. We followed her and crossed the road.

ANYA: [through interpreter] There were some men at a table outside a cafe. She brought us to those men and said that one of them was the owner of the shop. She told us they were going to drive us to the apartment where we were going to stay.

KATERINA: [through interpreter] She talked to them in Turkish, took money from them and counted it. I saw her counting the money. I got scared. She said, Don’t worry, everything is fine. Go with those men. They’re good people. Don’t worry. We guessed that she was selling us, but we hoped we were wrong. We hoped that we had misunderstood things.

ANYA: [watching video footage] [subtitles] Look, there’s the money!

KATERINA: [subtitles] Just like that.

ANYA: [subtitles] She’s selling them, just as I was sold.

KATERINA: [subtitles] Look, the police are right there and she’s making a sale. She’s not afraid of anything.

ANYA: [subtitles] She destroyed my life.

NARRATOR: Once trafficked into sexual slavery, the women are quickly put to work to start turning a profit for their new owners.

KATERINA: [through interpreter] They brought us to an apartment. That night, a man woke me up. He told me to get dressed because I was going to work. I asked him, Why am I going to work now? He said, Get dressed and you’ll see. He took me to a hotel. It was a nightmare.

VLAD: [through interpreter] Everything depends on the psychological state of the girl. If she has a weak psyche, she usually breaks down and accepts that she’ll have to work as a prostitute.

KATERINA: [through interpreter] He simply raped me. I screamed and tried to run away. He was so cruel.

ANYA: [through interpreter] They forced us to have sex with different Turkish men. They did whatever they wanted to us.

NARRATOR: Journalist Victor Malarek spent two years interviewing traffickers and their victims.

VICTOR MALAREK, Author, The New Global Sex Trade: People have said to me, "Well, these girls can run." They can’t. They’re taken to these apartments and these houses, usually in remote areas, and men come in and break them. They make her submit to every indignity in front of all the girls. They beat her and do whatever. And all the other girls fall right into line.

NARRATOR: Back at the port of Odessa a few days later, Olga’s business is done. The Ukrainian secret service says she’ll soon return here with a new group of recruits. Officials estimate that hundreds of thousands of women have been trafficked from Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union, so many that an office has been set up right at the port to help the victims. Today it’s visited by Viorel, a man who says his wife was sold into the sex trade.

OFFICIAL: [subtitles] When did this happen?

VIOREL: [subtitles] She left Odessa on June 12th, on board the Caledonia.

NARRATOR: Trafficked on the same ship as Anya and Katerina, her name is Katia.

OFFICIAL: [subtitles] And you say your wife was pregnant when she left? [Viorel nods] How far along?

VIOREL: [subtitles] Around four-and-a-half months. She’s been gone almost a month.

OFFICIAL: [subtitles] Did she leave on her own?

VIOREL: [subtitles] She went with him, Vlad.

OFFICIAL: [subtitles] She went with Vlad? Who’s Vlad?

VIOREL: [subtitles] An acquaintance who sold my wife.

NARRATOR: Katia and Viorel met in Odessa, where Viorel worked as a bartender. Her nightmare began when an acquaintance of theirs offered to take her to Turkey, where she could buy goods cheaply for her mother’s market stall back home.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK, Producer: Basically, an acquaintance of theirs had told him that he was going to Turkey anyway, so he might as well accompany Katia. And he speaks Turkish and he could just help her and watch over her. And a week after they left for Turkey, Viorel got a phone call from this gentleman, Vlad, saying that he had sold his wife for a thousand bucks.

VLAD: [through interpreter] For Katia I was paid $1,000. That’s how they priced Katia at the time.

VIOREL: [through interpreter] He said, "I’ve sold your wife." I immediately realized that I shouldn’t jump on him. Otherwise, he’d disappear. Like, he wouldn’t give me his telephone number and I would never find him or my wife. I spoke to him nicely.

VLAD: [through interpreter] Why did I phone him? To say that I felt guilty might sound absurd after what I did. However, strange as it may seem, guilt played its part.

NARRATOR: Vlad decided to help Viorel after learning that the woman he sold Katia to had then re-sold her to a notoriously violent pimp called Apo.

VLAD: [through interpreter] Apo is a person without a shred of human decency. He has no principles whatsoever. At times, he can be very cruel.

NARRATOR: Vlad gave Viorel the phone number for Apo and Viorel called, pretending to be Katia’s original trafficker.

VIOREL: [through interpreter] I called Apo and negotiated with him directly to buy her back. I asked him, "What do you want, girls or money?" And he said, "Money."

NARRATOR: Katia was being held in Antalya, Turkey, a tourist town on the Mediterranean. Viorel set up a meeting with Apo at the airport to buy Katia back. He then went to the Turkish police.

VIOREL: [through interpreter] They’d stationed police everywhere in order to nab him. Then I called Apo and he came.

FELIX GOLUBEV, Producer: When they start talking to each other, I understand something went wrong, and you know, either Apo saw a police officer or somebody blew a whistle. Apo got very suspicious and he jump in the car and took off.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK, Producer: And that was it. Apo no longer trusted Viorel. Apo assumed that he was being framed by Viorel and Viorel had called the police.

NARRATOR: Viorel now feels that informing the police was a grave mistake.

VIOREL: [through interpreter] What can you think of the Turkish police? There were 60 officers involved, in a guarded airport with only one entrance and one exit. There’s a checkpoint and tons of police, and they let Apo slip away. I’ll do anything to get her out of there. Whatever it takes, I don’t care. I’d sell my [deleted] organs.

Tiraspol, Moldova

NARRATOR: Katia’s journey into the hands of one of Turkey’s most violent sex traffickers began in Moldova, a nation wedged between Romania and Ukraine. Moldova is perhaps the poorest country in Europe. Eighty percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Tiraspol, its second largest city, is a haven for traffickers in arms, drugs and people. It is also Katia’s hometown.

ALEXANDRA, Katia’s Mother: [through interpreter] I pushed her to go to Turkey so we could make some money. Some people do manage to make money. It’s probably my fault because I encouraged her to go.

NARRATOR: When Katia left here with Vlad a month earlier, her 5-year-old son, Roslan, stayed behind with her mother.

ALEXANDRA: [through interpreter] Here I am with her 5-year-old child, and I’m 60. I told him that she went to work. What else can I tell a child, that his mother was sold? Imagine. He keeps crying all the time and asking why it’s taking her so long to come back. What can I say to him? He’s so little. "Where’s my mama? Where’s my mama?" What can I tell him?

VLAD: [through interpreter] Katia didn’t suspect what kind of plans I had for her in Turkey. How could she suspect? My plan was to keep her in the dark. Katia ended up in a place were I didn’t want her to be.

NARRATOR: Though one of the smallest countries in Eastern Europe, Moldova has become a leading exporter of women and girls into the global sex trade. Posing as buyers and wearing hidden shirt-cameras the crew set out to see how pervasive human trafficking has become here.

FELIX GOLUBEV: I had a business card that said "Exotic Entertainment." I pretended that I was a guy from the West who’s interested in buying Eastern European girls. From the get-go, it was very plain and simple. "I buy girls from you?" "Yes." "How much?"

NINA, Trafficker: [subtitles] $500 to $600, that’s what I get. The final price is higher, but I must share with the middleman and the guy who transports them.

FELIX GOLUBEV: She got very excited because there she had a brand-new opportunity to start selling girls to North America.

NINA: [subtitles] I meet with them to make sure they’re the right age and have the right looks. Some people don’t want scars, for example. They don’t want them to have what do you call it?

FELIX GOLUBEV: [subtitles] Appendix?

NINA: [subtitles] Yes, the appendix scars. But they usually take them anyway.

FELIX GOLUBEV: [subtitles] Can I see the girls?

NINA: [subtitles] First I’ll check them out to see if they’re suitable. Then you can come and see for yourself. I’m not going to sell you a cat in a bag, right?

FELIX GOLUBEV: So the next step for her is to find those kind of girls for me.

NARRATOR: Newspaper ads are often used by recruiters. Some women understand they’re code for sex work, but a good percentage are fooled by the traffickers.

VLAD: [through interpreter] 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 ten percent are totally unaware. In other words, they are brought there under false pretenses.

FELIX GOLUBEV: [subtitles] How can I guarantee they won’t run away?

NINA: [subtitles] Once they arrive, be sure to take their passports away. Whoever meets them should take their papers. Of course, we’ll tell them that they’ll get them back, but you should take them away. I’ll feel safer, too.

NARRATOR: Once moved out of Moldova, Ukraine, and the other major source countries the women’s trafficking odyssey begins.
[ See a map of trafficking routes]
For Katia, it’s now been five weeks in captivity, and all communication with her traffickers has gone dead.

Dobra Volia, Ukraine

NARRATOR: Trafficking victims often disappear without a trace. What little we know about what Katia may be enduring is pieced together from those who managed to escape. Today, 23-year-old Tania is seeing her family for the first time since she was trafficked to the underground brothels of Turkey.

TANIA, Trafficked to Turkey: [through interpreter] Before this, I hadn’t encountered much evil in my life. 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.
[subtitles] Did you miss me?

DAUGHTER: [subtitles] I missed you.

NARRATOR: When Tania left home six months earlier, she told her daughter that she was going to work abroad to make desperately needed money. The idea came from a woman in town who knew her family was struggling. It’s common for the first person in the trafficking chain to know the victim personally.

VLAD: [through interpreter] Anyone who works with people has to understand their psychology. You have to know how to lure someone in. They don’t even have money for basic food, so most people try to find work abroad. Once they hear words like "abroad" or "big money" they’re hooked.

TANIA: [through interpreter] I started crying. I said 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." They said they all got there the same way I did. I prayed, asked God to somehow help me get back home.

NARRATOR: Viorel is now headed back to Turkey to rescue his wife from Apo, the pimp who owns her, this time without the help of the police. Viorel knows this may be his last chance to get Katia back. And all he has is Apo’s telephone number. Apo has a wife named Maria who is his partner in crime. At their airport meeting two weeks earlier, Viorel had pretended to be a pimp named Seriozha.

[on the phone, subtitles]

VIOREL: Hello, this is Seriozha. Maybe you don’t remember. I’m the guy from Odessa.

MARIA: Seriozha, you came from Russia, Moldova or where did you come from, Ukraine? And you told the cops that we stole Katia.

VIOREL: I didn’t! Listen to me. It was Katia’s mother who reported it to the cops in Moldova. But the police in Ukraine blame me. Do you understand? They’re looking for Katia. The only way for me to avoid prison is to buy her back. And if you don’t want any problems, just get her the hell out of the country.

MARIA: You go to the cops and tell them that we’re not guilty.

VIOREL: How can I go see the cops? Come on!

MARIA: Is she your sweetheart?

VIOREL: She’s as much of a sweetheart as my shoes.

MARIA: You know what kind of a bitch she is.

VIOREL: I know only one thing. Her mother has been stirring up s***.

MARIA: What about her husband?

VIOREL: I know nothing about her husband. I don’t care about him. The main thing is that she gets out of Turkey, so that nobody has anything on you.

MARIA: Call me in 20 minutes. I’ll talk to Apo.

VIOREL: OK Maria. No problem.

MARIA: See you.

VIOREL: She said call back in 20 minutes. This is endless! What did you decide?

MARIA: He says he doesn’t trust you. You made a mistake. He can’t afford to trust you.

VIOREL: Let me talk to Katia.

MARIA: She’s not with us right now.

VIOREL: Where is she?

MARIA: She’s not here. She’s in another house. We’re alone.

VIOREL: Listen, let’s all meet, Katia, you, me and Apo. Let’s sit down and talk. I swear on my mother that I won’t bring any police, not one person. I’ll come on my own. Let’s meet somewhere on neutral territory, somewhere in a bar. Let’s meet and talk. I swear I’ll be alone.

MARIA: Let’s talk tomorrow then.

VIOREL: OK, I’ll call tomorrow. My God. If she comes tomorrow with Katia, this might all be over. Give me your shirt with the hidden microphone and camera, and you’ll be able to listen to what’s going on.

NARRATOR: At this point, Katia could be anywhere in Antalya. Viorel and the team decided to search for Katia in Turkey’s hotel brothels and discos.

MIDDLEMAN: [subtitles] Come inside and see the girls!

FELIX GOLUBEV, Producer: Everybody in Turkey know where the Russian discotheques are, full of Russian prostitutes. We went to those places with Viorel, hoping to find Katia there. But Katia was not trafficked into one of these disco places. She was held in a private house.

NARRATOR: Posing as interested clients, the crew was led to an underground brothel discretely tucked away in a typical Turkish neighborhood. They were then taken inside one of the unmarked apartments, where trafficked women told us they were kept virtual prisoner.

[ More on hidden camera filming]

TANIA: [through interpreter] They took me to a villa. They locked me in. We worked for as long as we had clients, 24 hours a day. They didn’t see us as human beings, but just as whores, just as flesh that they could use. That’s all.

OKSANA: [through interpreter] We serviced between 8 and 15 men a day. There were 22 girls in a three-bedroom apartment, and each girl got beaten up at least once a day. Sometimes Turkish policemen used our services. One girl ran away and went to the police for help, but she was taken back to her pimp.

NARRATOR: To offer some hope, the traffickers suggest to the women that they can work their way to freedom by paying back their purchase price.

VLAD, Trafficker: [through interpreter] Debt bondage represents the money that a girl is told she has to work off. That amount is easily inflated, if the pimp wants. That way, the debt never goes away and she continues to work without ever receiving a penny.

TANIA: [through interpreter] He said, "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.

NARRATOR: If a trafficked woman manages to pay off her so-called debt, her pimp can then simply sell her to someone else. This creates a cycle of debt bondage from which there is almost no escape.

VLAD: [through interpreter] One pimp sells her to another, he sells her to a third, this third one to a fourth, and so on.

NARRATOR: Tania was sold three times before she realized that she had left home pregnant and was starting to show. Her new owner noticed.

TANIA: [through interpreter] My pimp said, "You’re going to have an abortion." 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. Five days later, I was sent to a client. You know, they just stuck a sponge inside me to stop the bleeding and sent me to work.

Antalya, Turkey

[on the phone, subtitles]

VIOREL: Hello, Maria?

MARIA: Yes, hi. Listen, I spoke with my husband. He won’t meet. I’ll come to talk to you, OK?

VIOREL: No problem, Maria.

MARIA: I’ll call you in 10 minutes and tell you where to go.

VIOREL: You’ll call me.

PETER SAWADE, Sound Recordist: The camera is this button here. And try not to touch your shirt because there’s a microphone in there, as well.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK, Producer: If you’re sitting at a table having coffee, make sure the coffee’s not in front of you on the table.


[on the phone, subtitles] So I’m going to Migros McDonald’s, yes? OK. I’ll call when I get there.



PETER SAWADE: We’re rolling on the hidden camera.


NARRATOR: Viorel takes a taxi. The crew trails close behind. Maria has set the meeting in a public place, a shopping mall full of tourists and affluent Turks. We follow him inside with a second camera.

VIOREL: [on the phone, subtitles] I’m next to the burger place. Shakespeare? Bistro something.

VIOREL: Is it you? You’re blond! Let’s sit down.

NARRATOR: Maria’s come alone, but she’s afraid Viorel has brought the police.

VIOREL: [subtitles] Don’t worry. Nobody’s watching me. Nobody’s tailing me. I didn’t bring anybody with me.

MARIA: [subtitles] We wanted to have normal relations with you and give Katia back. We even gave her a shower.

NARRATOR: Maria accuses Viorel of trying to get Apo and her arrested at the airport a few weeks earlier. She says a Turkish policeman confirmed this.

VIOREL: [subtitles] That’s 100 percent bulls***. Go back to your cop and kick his head in because he’s lying.

MARIA: [subtitles] Not true? We paid this cop $1,000 for information.

VIOREL: [subtitles] He’s lying, I’m telling you. All I’m saying is, let her go and your problem is solved.

NARRATOR: As the conversation continues, Maria lets slip some surprising admissions about Katia.

MARIA: [subtitles] Believe it or not, I would kill her if I could.

VIOREL: [subtitles] Don’t even think about it. If you lift a finger, we’ll all be f***ed.

MARIA: [subtitles] Katia has only seen my husband twice, the first time when he f***ed her, the second when he sent her to work. That’s it. The others take her to work.

VIOREL: [subtitles] Who cares? Until she’s back in Ukraine or Moldova, we’ll have problems.

MARIA: [subtitles] I can’t live like this anymore only problems, problems. I’m fed up with this. Why did I marry this guy? I want a normal life.

VIOREL: [subtitles] We all want a normal life.

NARRATOR: Maria promises to speak to Apo and set up a meeting between the three of them. As he waits for Maria’s call, Viorel begins to worry that Apo and Maria may simply get rid of the problem by selling Katia to another pimp. Passed on through the sex trafficking network, she could be anywhere in the world within days.

VICTOR MALAREK, Author, The New Global Sex Trade: These women are being trafficked to the West. In the United States, they figure 20,000, 25,000 a year. But Europe is the major destination, Germany, upwards of 80,000, 40,000, 50,000 in the Netherlands, Spain and Italy and Turkey. All of these countries are getting trafficked women. We have laws in every country on the planet that say you can’t abduct people, you can’t kidnap, you can’t force them into prostitution, you can’t assault them. the laws are there, but they’re not being enforced.

NARRATOR: A day has passed and Viorel still hasn’t heard from Maria or Apo.

VIOREL: [subtitles] Nobody is picking up.


FELIX GOLUBEV: Nobody answers.

VIOREL: [subtitles] They’re probably trying to figure out their next move.

NARRATOR: Most trafficking victims have no way out. A few escape and some are let go when they’re of no more value, but many get caught up in police raids like this one in Antalya. What seems at first like a rescue will actually become the beginning of a new ordeal.

VICTOR MALAREK: When the cops find them, they deport them. The police just simply bring them to the immigration authorities and they are deported. They’re re-victimized yet again by the system.

NARRATOR: In most countries, trafficked women are treated as illegal immigrants, with no access to the justice system, and the traffickers and pimps are rarely pursued.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK: There is no witness protection for them. Traffickers often know that they have children and use that as a threat against them. So most often, the girls are not willing to testify because they’re scared.

NARRATOR: Oksana was caught in a police raid and deported back to her home town in Ukraine. In her eight months in captivity, she was able only once to attempt escape.

OKSANA: [through interpreter] I was desperately trying to think of some way to get out. I wanted to go to the authorities, but I couldn’t. I called home.

VLADA, Oksana’s Mother: [through interpreter] She was saying, "Mother, I can’t take it anymore. Please go to the police. Maybe they can rescue me." I went to our police and they said, "Didn’t she know what she was going for?" Meaning, "She knew what she was getting into, and we don’t deal with prostitutes."

NARRATOR: Thirty-six hours have passed. Viorel is growing more suspicious that Katia has been moved or sold.

VIOREL: [on the phone, subtitles] Let me talk to Katia. Just a few words. Where is she? [other end hangs up]

[subtitles] Katia’s not there.

FELIX GOLUBEV, Producer: [subtitles] What do you mean?

VIOREL: [subtitles] I don’t know. Katia’s not there.

NARRATOR: With no one returning his calls, Viorel comes up with a plan to confront Maria with the undercover video from their meeting.

VIOREL: [subtitles] I’ll tell her we have her on tape, and we’re in with the police. So she’s trapped and forced to tell Apo to release Katia.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK: Don’t do that yet. Don’t threaten with the tape yet.

FELIX GOLUBEV: Then he says he brings me out of the car with the tape recorder and shows her, "Here’s the evidence. We’re going get her." You know, "We’re going to get to"

VIOREL: [subtitles] You’ll introduce yourself as an Interpol agent.

FELIX GOLUBEV: I’ll say I’m an Interpol guy [crosstalk]

VIOREL: [subtitles] You’ll show up, and I’ll tell her we have it all on tape and there’s no way out.

FELIX GOLUBEV: Basically, he says, "You guys be in the car." Then he says

VIOREL: [subtitles] She clearly said on camera, "I would like to kill her."

NARRATOR: Viorel’s plan has put the production team in an ethical bind.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK: I don’t know if we’re crossing a line. What do you guys think?

FELIX GOLUBEV: He’s not exactly a rational guy, at this point. He’s desperate. He wants to threaten them. He thinks it’s going to work.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK: Frankly, I think there’s more of a danger that if they see that, what’s the point of giving up his wife? They’ll just can hurt her.

PETER SAWADE: I don’t think it would accomplish anything.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK: I’m just worried that he puts himself in more danger and that he ends up getting the crap beaten out of him, if not worse, and that we end up being responsible for that because we provided the materials for that.

NARRATOR: None of this matters until Viorel gets hold of Maria or Apo.

[on the phone, subtitles]

VIOREL: Is Maria there?

MAN: Maria is not here.

VIOREL: Can you get her to phone me?


VIOREL: OK? Tell her to call me right away.

MAN: I’ll call her now.

VIOREL: OK. Thank you. [hangs up] I’m fed up with these Turks!

NARRATOR: Increasingly desperate, Viorel cruises the streets of Antalya in the vague hope of spotting Katia. But he now fears her lost to the world of the traffickers.

VIOREL: [subtitles] I keep hoping that I’ll see her somewhere. I can’t check every restaurant, every bar, every hotel. I’ve looked everywhere. I want my wife back.

NARRATOR: Back in Ukraine, just over a month after a sympathetic client helped free her, Tania is struggling. She and her family lived near Chernobyl when the worst nuclear reactor accident in history took place. Now they are plagued with health problems. Her sister has a brain tumor and her brother has chronic abdominal troubles.

TANIA: [subtitles] See how they cut him?

[through interpreter] The doctor said that we need a lot of money for special treatments. He said that if he doesn’t get treated, we might as well order a coffin for him.

NARRATOR: With no other way to pay just a few hundred dollars for her brother’s operations, Tania has made a decision that’s almost unimaginable to most trafficked women, to return to the country where she was held prisoner and prostitute herself.

TANIA: [through interpreter] I have no other choice. 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. Please understand that I just want to save my brother.

[ More on Tania’s story]

Tiraspol, Moldova

NARRATOR: Viorel finally gave up trying to reach Apo and Maria. After searching the streets of Antalya for days, he returned in despair to Tiraspol. But his persistent phone calls did have an effect. Feeling the pressure, Apo and Maria took Katia to the Antalya airport and sent her home.

VIOREL: [subtitles] So tell me what happened?

KATIA: [subtitles] I’ll tell you later. Not now. Not today.

VICTOR MALAREK: So many of these girls come home psychologically devastated. They come home with all kinds of medical problems, sexually transmitted diseases. They’re HIV-positive. They have AIDS. There’s nothing for them. What does she go back to when she had serviced 10 men a night?

KATIA: [through interpreter] He said his name was Apo. I was in hysterics. A girl came in. She was a bit taller than me. She was blond. She told me that I belong to them and that they bought me in order 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 [deleted] Turkish men, then you [deleted] them." She slapped me and left.

VLAD, Trafficker: [through interpreter] Katia turned out to be a stubborn girl, a girl with attitude. Apo took a very aggressive approach to Katia. She didn’t even have a chance to realize what happened to her.

KATIA: [through interpreter] 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. Two other men came in and pinned me down. [weeping] They drugged me and beat me and raped me. I thought it was all over for me. They knew from the beginning that I was pregnant. Vlad knew that.

NARRATOR: With Viorel’s help, the Ukrainian Police arrested Vlad and charged him with sex trafficking, setting the stage for a rare prosecution in Odessa.


Odessa, Ukraine

NARRATOR: This was when the team first saw Vlad, as he was led into court. He has spent one month in custody. Now he faces up to 15 years in prison.

JUDGE: [through interpreter] In the name of Ukraine, Mr. Vlad V. is accused of criminal activity. The accused is charged with finding women in the Republic of Moldova and bringing them to the city of Istanbul, Turkey, in order to sell them for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

NARRATOR: Katia was willing to testify against Vlad, but she was not even notified of the court date.

FELIX GOLUBEV: It was very unusual. Neither Viorel nor Katia were invited to court. The proceedings took about 15 minutes. The judge read the verdict and let him off the hook.

JUDGE: [through interpreter] The defendant is hereby sentenced to no less than five years imprisonment. the accused will be released from the five-year sentence and put on five years probation. Is the sentence clear to you?

VLAD: [subtitles] Yes.

JUDGE: [through interpreter] The court session is adjourned.

RIC ESTHER BIENSTOCK: The prosecution rate is abysmal in most of these countries. The official line is exactly what you would hope it would be, which is, "We’re doing as much as we can. We have a counter-trafficking unit. We’re trying to prosecute." Is it effective?

FELIX GOLUBEV: [subtitles] The court session is over.

VIOREL: [subtitles] And?

FELIX GOLUBEV: [subtitles] He got five years probation.

VIOREL: [subtitles] We were told he would get between 8 and 15 years, but not 5 years probation.

VLAD: [through interpreter] 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.

NARRATOR: Vlad agreed to talk to us about what he’d done because he felt he had tried to do right by Katia and Viorel, even if too late.

KATIA: [subtitles] It’s shocking. For selling people, for rape, for beating, for mental torture, and they let him go. It’s too much.

NARRATOR: Because of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her traffickers, Katia had to terminate her pregnancy. The damage, she says, may never be healed.

We left Vlad just after he was freed from jail in Odessa. He said he was headed back to Moldova and would not traffic again.

We informed the Moldovan police about Olga. They have taken no action against her.

Not long after returning to prostitution, Tania was caught in a police raid in Turkey and deported back to Ukraine. Her little brother died a month after we filmed him.



Ric Esther Bienstock


Ric Esther Bienstock

Felix Golubev

Simcha Jacobovici


Simcha Jacobovici

Brian Woods


Ken Dornstein


David Kazala

Greg Hopen

Harlan Reiniger


Michael Grippo CSC

Joseph Paul Locherer CSC


Peter Sawade


Jeremy Wales

Dmytro Ishchenko


Ed Krupad

Stuart French


Aaron Davis & John Lang


Greta Knutzen

Tara Jan


Bruce Thorson, Canada

Jane Logan, U.K.


Andrew Bely

Douglas Thoms

Michelle Gurevich


Michael H. Amundson

Dan Johnston


Richard Spence-Thomas

Jim Sullivan


Daniel Pellerin


Elma Bello


Andrew Bely


Le Huynh


Vlada Plekhanova

"Barra Barra"

Performed by Rachid Taha

Written by Rachid Taha and Steve Hillage

Published by Delebel Editions (SACEM) & Chrysalis Music (ASCAP)

Courtesy of FKO Music, Barclay Music and Universal Music Canada


Jerry McIntosh

Marie Natanson


Franca Cerretti

Produced with the financial participation of the

Canadian Television Fund

created by the Government of Canada and the Canadian cable industry

Telefilm Canada: Equity Investment Program

CTF: License Fee Program

and with the financial participation of Rogers Documentary Fund

with the assistance of the Canadian Film and Video Tax Credit



Tim Mangini


Chris Fournelle


Missy Frederick


Steve Audette


Michael H. Amundson

John MacGibbon


Chetin Chabuk


Melissa Roja


Mason Daring

Martin Brody


Diane Buxton


Andrew Ott


Michelle Wojcik


Peter Lyons


Kate Femino


Jessica Cashdan


Gabrielle MonDesire


Kirsti Potter


Lisa Palone-Clarke


Eric Brass

Jay Fialkov


Adrienne Armor


Mary Sullivan


Tobee Phipps


Bill Rockwood


Kate Cohen

Sarah Ligon


Sarah Moughty


Catherine Wright


Sam Bailey


Kito Robinson


Robin Parmelee


Ken Dornstein


Sharon Tiller


Marrie Campbell


Jim Bracciale


Michael Sullivan


Louis Wiley Jr.


David Fanning

An Associated Producers Ltd. film

Produced in association with


Channel 4

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

and Canal D

(c) 2006

Associated Producers Ltd./AP NSS Productions Ltd.

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.

ANNOUNCER: This report continues on our Web site, where you’ll learn more about the producers’ journey under cover in the world of sex trafficking, statistics on the global sex trade and how countries rank in combating it, what a convicted sex trafficker has to say about the global sex trade and how it works, and what experts say is needed to fight it, plus a video report about a young woman trafficked to Canada. Then join the discussion about this program at

Next time on FRONTLINE:

WOMAN: Meth has destroyed this community.

ANNOUNCER: Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug

Dpty. BRET KING, Multnomah County Sheriff: She looked 20 years older than she was.

ANNOUNCER: made from a highly profitable pharmaceutical.

STEVE SUO, Reporter, The Oregonian: Cold medicine’s a $3 billion money-maker.

ANNOUNCER: Was this epidemic preventable?

Rep. BRIAN BAIRD, (D) Washington: Back home, it was tearing lives apart. Here in Congress, it was as if there was no problem at all.

ANNOUNCER: The Meth Epidemic, a FRONTLINE investigation.

Educators and educational institutions may purchase a copy of FRONTLINE’s Sex Slaves. To order, call PBS Video at 1-800-PLAY PBS. [$59.95 plus s&h]

Funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The Park Foundation, committed to raising public awareness.

FRONTLINE is made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

home + introduction + site map + join the discussion + mapping the story + what needs to be done
making of this film + estimating the numbers + producer's chat + dvd/vhs & transcript + press reaction + credits
privacy policy + FRONTLINE home + WGBH + PBS

posted feb. 10, 2006

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo copyright ©2006 getty creative
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation