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Sex in Strange Places

Back to ‘Our Films’
52 minutes
Joyce Trozzo, David Fuller, Lottie Gammon
Executive Producer:
George Carey and Brian Woods

In this three-part investigative BBC THREE series, presenter Stacey Dooley travels to Turkey, Brazil and Russia to meet young people who are trading on their looks and sexuality for a living and investigate the darker side of sex work.

The demand for sex is universal; the price paid by those who buy and sell it is not. What do the attitudes of punters, police and the public towards the sex industry tell us about the places Stacey visits? From VIP call girls, flown first class and earning thousands of dollars a night, to street corners where every car that stops could carry a rapist or murderer; sex workers, clients and brothel owners reveal the realities of working in this hidden and often dangerous world…


Stacey begins her journey in troubled Turkey. As the European gateway to the Middle East, it is a secular nation infused with conservative and religious attitudes to the largely taboo subject of sex. Surprisingly, on paper Turkey is the most liberal of the countries Stacey visits. Prostitution is legal and there are even state-run brothels. Sex worker Hulya (36) has been in the profession since she was 15 years old and talks about being a tutor figure to uninitiated men in a sexually repressed society. But that doesn’t dispel an overarching sense of terror amongst the women Stacey meets.

In a world where state registered prostitutes have ‘sex worker’ marked on their ID cards, escaping the past for a fresh start is not an option. For transsexuals the situation is worse. Though Turkey hosts the biggest gay pride march in the Muslim world, according to the campaign group Transgender Europe, six transgender people are killed here every year. Often rejected by family and in the workplace, many resort to inhabiting an underworld of illegal brothels where exploitation at the hands of armed gangs and corrupt police officers is rife.

The war raging in neighbouring Syria has added an even darker layer to this already highly stigmatised business. Istanbul now has more Syrian refugees than the EU. Many of these young Syrian girls and mothers rely on their bodies to scrape together a living. Stacey journeys to Gaziantep close to the Syrian border where several hundred ISIS fighters are believed to live in hiding. Here she meets Leila, a young woman sold into sex slavery by ISIS fighters. She’s desperate to tell her story but overwhelmed by the pain it has caused. This is Turkey like you’ve never seen it before.


Sun, palm trees, glistening seas and the joyful colours of carnival… This is one side of Brazil many recognise from picture postcards. In Episode Two, Stacey lifts the covers on Brazil’s steamy world of sex work. And all is not as it might first appear.

Beautiful, voluptuous and demure, transgender sex workers on Copacabana beach often cause confusion amongst unknowing male admirers. For others, their ambiguity is precisely the attraction. It is estimated that there are around one million transgender women in Brazil and the vast majority are believed to earn a living selling sex. Why do so many go into the sex industry despite the clear dangers involved? Vivacious samba dancer Barbara (28) and online porn actress Aninha (21) take Stacey into the world of trans sex work in Rio de Janeiro.

Prostitution is legally recognised as a profession by Brazil’s Ministry of Labour. But does this translate into greater social acceptance here? Stacey’s journey takes her from Rio’s infamous and gritty red light district to one of São Paulo’s most exclusive clubs. En route she meets the men and women who are paid to fulfil others’ sexual fantasies and investigates the reality of sex for sale in this reputedly macho society. How liberal is the country of “Order and Progress” today and what does this mean for its sex professionals and punters?


In this final episode Stacey braves the cold and icy streets of St Petersburg, a city filled with golden palaces and luxury lifestyles, to explore the extremes of sex work in the city.

Though prostitution is illegal in Russia, since the decline of the national currency it has risen exponentially – there are an estimated 3 million sex workers in the country. For a tiny minority working at the very top end it can be one of the most profitable professions for a young woman. Stacey meets established VIP sex worker, Avlora (24), who’s become accustomed to luxury holidays, private jets and designer brands – all whilst charging around £700 a night …nearly twice what the average Russian earns in a month. Nervous first time escort, Lilliana, may have reservations, but will the opportunity to make five times her daily salary be too tempting to pass up?

But it’s not all glamour and riches. Whilst many high-end escorts find a legal loophole to facilitate operations, others don’t have the same luxury. Stacey hits the streets and the brothels to talk to women who deal with corrupt police, robbery and abuse on a daily basis; for them it’s all part of earning a living. Stacey goes head to head with an MP to get the government line on police corruption and prostitution at the lower end of the market.

Relevant Organisations

Red Umbrella – Sexual Health and Human Rights Association in Turkey

Istanbul LGBTT – Human rights organisation

The Brazilian Network of Prostitutes

Grupo Gay da Bahia – defending human rights for homosexuals in Brazil

Davida – Prostitution, Civil Rights and Health in Brazil

Observatório da Prostituição – promoting prostitutes’ rights in Brazil

Silver Rose – human rights and advocacy for sex workers in Russia