MSNBC Undercover: Sex Slaves in America
Meredith Vieira examines human trafficking and prostitution in the U.S.
MSNBC Undercover: Sex Slaves in America
premiered Monday, December 3 at 11 PM ET/PT.
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It's a story that begins in the ruins of the shattered Soviet empire.
Sophia: I saw 10 girls. They just pushed me into this room and closed the door. They made all of us take our clothes off and took us out naked.
A tragic but all too familiar tale. Young women in eastern Europe chasing dreams of a better life. But lured instead into sexual slavery.
Sophia: These half-drunk men are examining me, and I realize my life depends on them.
Enticed by fake ads and phony employment agencies, with slick brokers promising good jobs with decent salaries.
A single mother we'll call Sophia left her son in Ukraine for a housekeeping job in the Czech Republic. Her enslavement was immediate.
Sophia: I never left this building after I got there. I was locked in one room the whole time, then I'd go to the bar. Then one client would pick me up, and I'd have to service him. And then I'd go back to the bar and then to the room.
Sophia says she was forced to have sex with up to 11 men a day. Her friend Natasha was sent to a neighboring brothel, owned by the village police chief.
Natasha: The brothel is on the highway, there were nine of us. We had to dance half naked in the window all the time. If we sat down, we would get fined. It's impossible to run away. There is nothing except highways and brothels. There are 25 brothels in this tiny village. There are no taxis, only one bus, and they don’t let anybody out.
These roadside brothels on an isolated country road near the Czech and German border are just a small part of a world wide marketplace. Young and attractive women from eastern Europe and Asia forced to work in the capitols of Europe, and the Middle East. It's a vast global crime and if you thought that the United States was not involved, think again.
Marcy Foreman: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, St. Paul, Minnesota, McAllen, Texas, it's, it's happened in, in almost every major community you, you can think of.
It happened in Detroit, and it happened to a woman we'll call Katya.
Katya: I was watching a lot of TV shows about human trafficking, and I could never believe that can happen to me. And when I get in this situation, I believe, and this can happen anytime.
2 years ago a 20-year-old university student signed up with a friend to study English abroad in a program that involved waitressing in Virginia Beach, but the girls would never reach Virginia. And they wouldn't be waitresses.
Bridgette Carr: They were met at the airport by Michail Aronov and Alex Maksimenko, the traffickers. And they were told that, you know what? Plans have changed. You're going to be going to Detroit. You need to get on this bus. So, they were nervous, but they thought, this is the plan, maybe my job is now in Detroit. They didn't even know where Detroit was. They didn't speak much of the language. When they got to Detroit, as Katya says, everything changed.
After a grueling 15 hour bus ride to Detroit, the men brought them to a hotel and asked them for their passports and money. Then they gave the girls the true and terrible terms of their employment.
Katya: They said, "You guys, because we brought you here, you should give us $12,000 each for everything, and then for paperwork, you're gonna give us $25,000," which for me was iYou guys got to work for us and give, give us money for three months."
Katya: They brought us clothes. It was strip clothes and shoes. And they say, you guys gonna work at the club named Cheetah. And you guys gonna work Monday to Saturday, double-shift, 2:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.
For Katya, a year of terror and abuse was about to begin.
Katya: Every morning, we wake up at 12:00. We have one hour to put our makeup, to eat breakfast and be ready for them because they was waiting for us in the car outside of our apartment every single day. We would go to work, work 12 hours a day there. And, and the end of the shift, 2:00 in the morning, they was waiting for us outside of the club in the car. We will sit in the car and give the money back. They drove us back to our apartment. Sometimes they rape us there. Emotionally, physically, they could do anything with us. That was every single day in my life for one year.
The two students were kept under lock and key and constant surveillance. The traffickers maintained control with intimidation and a campaign of terror.
Katya: I was threatened every single day. When we go, go into work, in the car, he was telling us, you're gonna have to make 1,000 a day. If you're not making this money, we'll find a way when you can make this money. That was really scary too. He was telling us that he can sell us to any country, to any person any time.
Bridgette Carr: I know of women who have been bought for $300, $400, $500. Once I started looking into the issue and realizing that I wanted to be an advocate for victims of human trafficking, it seemed like I couldn't turn around without trafficking hitting me in the face
Katya: Almost every girl who I knew was sexually abused, raped. It wasn't in front of me, but it was another room where I could hear. I could actually see after the girl was talking about that.
Bridgette Carr: Alex and Michail had keys to the apartment. And they treated both the apartment and the individuals inside it as their own property. Alex would walk in and tell some of the women, let's go. It's time to get in the shower, which meant, he was going to rape them. And you couldn't say no. And even if you did say no, he would still force you to do it. He would force you whenever he wanted, for some women, multiple times per week, every week, every month, sometimes spanning over years of time.
Michael Rataj: Do I believe that some of them had sex against their will? I don't believe any of the girls had sex against their will.
Michael Rataj Is Alex Maksimenko's lawyer and he admits…
Michael Rataj: They were laundering money. They did take a lion's share of the money that the girls made in the bars. They did hide it from the government. They did bring the girls here without the proper immigration papers. And of course the girls were forced to work in these bars. But in terms of them being bought and sold for like a cow or pig, you know, or a chattel, ok, or the allegation that they were routinely sexually abused, just did not happen.
Katya: The girl who was living with me, she was, I saw her body was, (stammers) um, violence. You could see the, um, how do you call, scratch and bites. It was scary to look at it. I was thinking, I'm gonna be next if I will say something. I'm just gonna stay as quiet as I can, go through it, for a next day, for a better future.
Later Federal Agents would question Alex Maksimenko’s about the women he controlled. When asked about the rape accusations, Maksimenko’s said it was his right. After all, he claimed to be their boss.