The Price of Sex (dir. Mimi Chakarova, 72 min., 2010, Documentary) — http://www.priceofsex.org
What is the cost of one woman’s life? Her freedom?
What is the cost of hunger, of communities lacking jobs, of children lacking discernible futures?
As an increasingly globalized world, what price are we paying for the continued suffering caused by human trafficking?
These are just a few of the questions that raced through my mind as I watched Mimi Chakarova’s documentary The Price of Sex, which premiered in New York last month at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. The filmmaker’s work consisted of seven years of investigating sex trafficking and the sex industry, particularly focusing on women from Eastern Europe. In the film, she allows viewers a glimpse into the lives of several former sexually exploited women and adds to this with her own investigative journalism, traveling to the countries and cities in which their exploitation occurred. The film ranges from focusing on individuals’ circumstances to understanding the broader socio-cultural issues that create situations in which trafficking can occur, examining the women’s hometowns, the ways they were coerced or forced into the sex industry, and the men (and women) who both force women into the sex industry and solicit them.
My reactions to the film ranged from a deep sorrow for these women to a rage at both what they had to experience and at the systems that allow human trafficking to continue. I was moved by all the women’s stories, which were told in their own voices and with all their faces shown, and further moved by their courage in openly sharing their experiences. The violence and trauma they suffered is shocking, and the stigma and minimal support that met them when they returned to their hometowns and countries was minimal. However, I’m heartened by their abilities and bravery to work with Chakarova to bring their stories to light. As for human trafficking and the sex industry itself, Chakarova does well to explore the socio-economic and socio-cultural factors surrounding these problems, focusing not only on governments that try (or fails) to prevent trafficking and sexual slavery but also on other factors—economics, patriarchy, education, and more—providing an analysis that allows for both the depth and breadth of the issue.
Chakarova won the film festival’s Nestor Almendros Award for Courage in Filmmaking, and the film stands as a testament to her daring work, in which, often undercover or through hard-to-get interviews with johns or hotel owners, she attempted to reveal the underbelly of the so-called beast that is the sex industry. She speaks candidly—in the film itself, and also spoke before and after the screening—of her connection with the women she follows in the film. While she was adamant to remind our audience that human trafficking and sexual exploitation occur everywhere—New York City included—Chakarova admits that her childhood in Bulgaria causes her to see the plight that many Eastern European women face in a different light. As she notes, after the fall of Communism, it was like there were two paths: she and her family went on one path that led them to the U.S. and greater opportunity; the women in these film took another. Yet, Chakarova notes, the women in this film could’ve been her playmates as a child, and had she taken this other path, it would have left her struggling with the poverty that now encompasses her whole hometown and she could’ve found herself in the same situations that these women had to face.
Thus, with this sense of immense empathy, Chakarova’s journey towards telling these women’s stories began, and this film is a testament to that ongoing journey. In this way, Chakarova’s personal lens provides a stunning and intimate glimpse into the lives of these exploited women and gives the audience a similar feeling that “this could be me, too.”
For more information on the film, Chakarova’s work, and what you can do to help, please visit www.priceofsex.org.