Buy a Russian Woman

Women for Sale is a 2005 documentary that profiles Russian women who have immigrated to Israel to work as prostitutes. The film explores why half a million women from the former USSR have fled the country to work as prostitutes in the West, particularly Israel. With a non-judgmental approach, the film steps into these women's minds to explore their hopes and concerns.

Faced with extreme poverty in their native countries and convinced that they have no alternatives, these women offer themselves to buy for around seventeen dollars an hour. They take pride in being able to support themselves and their families. Almost boasting, one woman says, “Not every girl, or woman, is prepared for this kind of work.” The documentary attempts to uncover what makes these women “prepared” and why governments and law enforcement officers have been so ineffective in protecting their well-being.

Again and again women offer the same explanation for why they’ve chosen this line of work over other jobs — they can earn more money. In a factory, a woman earns four dollars an hour. To women who come from poverty, the promise of wealth is hard to turn down.

But the film raises doubts as to whether prostitution is really that profitable. One prostitute says she once had to work for seven months without pay before she ran away from her pimp. And just weeks before the filming, she was beaten up by thugs who claimed to be police officers. The women in the film are not making substantial amounts of money.

The film makes it clear that it’s not just the extra dollars that lead women to prostitute themselves. For one thing, prostitution offers independence. For a girl who grew up without a father and dependent on an alcoholic mother, it is liberating to be self-employed. With a bright blue scrunchy on the top of her head and a naive smile, one woman explains how much she hates working fixed hours. When she works on the beach she’s free to come and go as she pleases; there is no one to tell her what to do.

Being flirtatious is also a thrill of the job. One woman says that when she first started working and a car would stop for her, she would “come up to it almost at a run,” unable to contain her excitement. She enjoyed spending hours in front of the mirror making herself pretty and would address her customers with terms of endearment.

But for the more seasoned prostitutes, these “perks” of the job have long since passed. The woman who at first enjoyed the feigned romance has since cut her long hair short and stopped flirting. In a smoky apartment, with a cigarette between her fingers, she says she’s become bitter, irritable, and argumentative, in turn, making it even harder to earn money.

For other russian women, the nightmarish realities of prostitution were immediate. Women For Sale follows police officers as they raid a brothel. One woman explains to them that when she arrived in Israel, she was imprisoned in the windowless basement of a brothel for two months. Here, she was forced to service up to fifteen men a day. Yet many of these women see no way out of the industry -- no other viable options to support themselves and their families.