When Ric Bienstock brought Sex Slaves to Channel 4 and the CBC she knew there would be a big response to the film. But, according to Bienstock’s experience, broadcasters don’t take much heed in the filmmaker’s opinion on how impactful the film will be. Though she had faith, even she didn’t expect what happened next. What happened was Channel 4 was inundated with calls from people who wanted to help the women featured in the film. These initial calls translated into CDN$20,000 in donations to date.
Sex Slaves, produced by Toronto-based prodco Associated Producers, is a doc about the sex trafficking industry that preys upon women from the former Soviet Union. After watching these women from the Ukraine, Russia and Moldova suffer as they’re lured from their home country with the promise of a job, only to have their passports taken and their bodies beaten and forced into a sex trade, audiences responded with compassion. While many donated money to The Poppy Project, a London-based charity that provides shelter and support for trafficked women and was featured in the film, many people who called wanted to give aid directly to the women they’d just watched go through hell.
Since Bienstock and the crew from Associated Producers were the only ones in contact with the women they decided the best thing to do was to set up a trust account and post donation information on their own site and the websites for each network the film appeared on. Some people sent $500, but most donations were in the realm of $20 or $50. Associated Producers has been able to send the CDN$20,000 they’ve received, along with the accompanying notes, to the women who appeared in the film, particularly in Moldova and Ukraine. With the money she received, one woman was able to buy a house near a city where she can find work.
‘They have been so overwhelmed by the notion that strangers who don’t know them are sending money for them. One of the women, Tania, has sent letters in Russian back to the donors to say thank you and that it’s changed her life. We’ve been translating those letters and sending them back to the donors and sometimes that precipitates a new round of donations,’ says Bienstock. ‘We’ve unwittingly turned into an organization.’
Sex Slaves is re-airing on CBC Newsworld on Sunday, September 28th at 10pm.