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Pushing Sex in Turkey

By Rip Ritchie

     My experience in Istanbul, Turkey brought me into immediate contact with the Eastern European/Russian sex slave trade.  I had learned about the atrocities associated with this trade from a video entitled, “Dying to Leave”.  Without knowing it, I was coerced into a high-class brothel where I had the opportunity to tenderly interview a trafficked victim. Taksim Square
   The video, “Dying to Leave”, details the route that sex slaves are trafficked across Eastern European borders.  Women are often kidnapped or tricked into the arduous trip.  Some are promised employment that never existed and are trapped into conditions of enslavement.  They sometimes pay for passage to another country where employment is promising.  When they get there, they are at the mercy of their captors.  They can be sold without even knowing it.  Others knowingly enter the sex-trade process because of dire conditions at home.  Either way, these women are taken far from home where they have no contacts and ways to get free.  Turkey is a notorious “middle-man” for the whole trade.  Some of the women are destined for places further away, such as the woman from Moldova in the film who was trafficked via Turkey to Italy, and some don’t make it past Turkey.  This has become a huge problem for women in the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  There is economic instability and dismal conditions.  This trade has now become big business and accounts for multiple millions of dollars. 
   The woman that I talked to in Istanbul had arrived there only a week earlier.  Her name was Rita and she was from Moscow, Russia, and had a friend that lived and worked in Istanbul.  Her friend called her and told her that there was a job in Istanbul for her if she wanted to come.  Rita graduated from college with a degree in Child Psychology.  I asked her why she was not working in that field and she told me that she could not get a job.  She said that she worked as a dancer because she could go anywhere and have a job.  She was a beautiful girl and could earn a lot of money in that line of work.  I had a distinct feeling that she was only telling me as much as she was allowed or could feel comfortable telling me in her present situation.  It was obvious that she was imprisoned.  There was an armed guard at the door in a basement bar.  She could be kept out of sight from everybody.  I am sure that she must watch what she said, out of fear if nothing else. 
     Russian Sex Worker in Taksim
   The video says that it is common for a friend to call and tell someone to come join them.  This often gets the victim to be willing, and once they get there they are enslaved as sex workers.  With a lack of jobs, any opportunity might seem like a good one.  Rita spoke of her ability to travel wherever she wanted in that line of work as if it was a daydream.  What reason would she have to tell me the truth?  What would I be able to do about her condition?  As it goes, she was right.  There was no reason for her to tell me anything too accurate.  I would not have been able to do anything and it would have only been a risk of something bad happening to her.  Her body language and choice of words clued me in.  It concurred with the information presented in the video.  She was a trafficked sex slave. 
    It was hard for me to witness such a beautiful, intelligent young woman in this condition.  This case seems to be a result of the lack of opportunity that was available to her at home.  There was nothing for her, so she had to leave to find something.  She was caught up in the horrible sex trade and became stuck.  The video showed little hope for these women to get out of their situation.  In some cases, families or loved ones back home might have the resources to find these women, but most frequently there is no way to reconcile what has been done.  Rita’s life, as many others, has been caught up in this horrible trade as a result of awful global economic disparities.  I was able to get out of my predicament with the swipe of a card and the use of a few Turkish Lira; if only Rita could do the same. 

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