Mimi Chakarova is the director, writer and producer of the award-winning documentary The Price of Sex. She is also Mission Local’s multimedia advisor.
The Q&A is over. We are asked to clear the stage. There is a line of people waiting outside. As I’m walking toward them, a middle-aged woman in a red shirt intercepts. Her breath smells of popcorn, butter and gum.
“Your film… It really moved me. I mean, I haven’t been able to…” I feel what’s next. “I don’t know how to tell you…” Her cheeks are streaky wet. I hug her. She sobs quietly.
“When I was a little girl…” she tries again.
“It’s OK,” I keep embracing her, clearing a cluttered corner of my mind for the details of what she’s kept wrapped and locked for half a lifetime.
“My father … when I was nine … ”
I can spend hours answering questions about illegal sex trade and corruption. I can spend weeks telling the stories of the young women who survived. But one thing I wasn’t prepared for at these screenings was the pain of others. I didn’t realize the channels it would open — the silence and shame so many of us live with, and the need to tell someone who won’t judge or blame.
All of that is changing now, at this very moment. Women are fed up. When people used to ask if it’s possible to end sex slavery, I always said that the core reason for its existence is money. And so, if those who benefit the most are held accountable, if they lose their assets and ability to profit from the buying and selling of girls, then the supply and demand chain will be interrupted. After all, it’s strictly business for most. Like selling cattle or vegetables or anything that yields profit. Which brings me to the here and now.
When men in high positions are held accountable, when they are fired from positions they’ve dominated, owned, flaunted for more than 30 years, well, the message is a lot clearer. The rules of the game are changing. And that’s a beautiful thing for our daughters.
But if we look at women’s rights as something that not only affects American and Western women but women from all over the world, would we be able to see the same glimmer of hope across borders? In how many places are women forced to offer their bodies for the favors of men?
I was filming in Zimbabwe a few months ago and met women who faced that predicament daily. Feed my kids or starve. Risk HIV or go home to relatives who mistreat me for being a burden. Life for women is tough. The silence might have been interrupted here but then I think of all the young women I’ve met throughout the years who are still waiting for their moment — to tell their story. To be believed.
I remember the story of an immigrant housekeeper at the Sofitel in New York who alleged rape by a powerful and wealthy guest. She said that after the incident, she went into the room next door to start cleaning. Back then, I didn’t sit in front of my laptop wondering why. Nor was I surprised when the same woman was called a “prostitute” in another paper. Do you know how easy it is to discredit a woman with no power? As easy and automatic as tying your shoes. Call her a “money-hungry liar,” call her “easy,” call her “a desperate immigrant wanting a piece of the American pie.” Tell her she’s lucky to have a job. Tell her she should have kept her mouth shut.
Would our reaction be different now?