Voices for Dignity in Review Journal
Our goal with this photo shoot was to give journalists, bloggers, activists and others the visual tools they need to put a face on these hidden crimes, to enable them to share this message in a more powerful way – while sparing the exploitation and re-victimization of actual trafficking victims. The use of this photo by the LVRJ is evidence that there was a need for this, and we are accomplishing what we set out to do!
Voices for Dignity is mentioned on the front page of the Sunday, May 26, 2013 edition of the Las Vegas Review Journal. YOU CAN READ IT HERE The picture above the fold is of acclaimed fashion photographer Tolga Katas (my husband!) photographing model Dulce Ubaldo. Dulce and other courageous volunteers willingly chose not to not look like a model, but to pose as victims of trafficking and other forms of abuse.
This was a tricky task because the last thing we want to do is exploit women while trying to send the exact opposite message. The way we solved this was by giving no instructions on what kind of clothing the models should wear – these volunteers made their own decisions about how to appear, how to pose, even what kind of abuse they felt comfortable re-enacting.
We made sure all of it was 100% in their control because of the sensitive nature of the subject. After the photo session, we then waited before we posted them to make sure they were still comfortable with the idea after some time passed. We then showed the photos to the models and told them they could back out if they had any regrets at all.
No one model or participant expressed regret or remorse in any way. In fact, I have been chastised for not posting MORE photos – apparently I have been far more worried about how this might effect these men & women than they have been.
It is a crime that spans all races.
We have some photos with a Caucasian man and an African American female victim.
We have photos of a Filipino man who volunteered to depict himself as a pimp exploiting a Hispanic woman – model Dulce Ubaldo.
Below: A Caucasian man (Las Vegas photographer Michael Maze) volunteered to pose as a batterer of a Caucasian woman (model Stephanie Blanchard.) They were photographed by Trevor Blazso.
We have some photos with an African American man representing the exploitation of a Caucasian woman – model Keely Johnson.
I consulted with two psychologists before we went through with this, nonetheless all of it was gut-wrenching to me, but the volunteers were strong and resolved.
Even Las Vegas celebrity Amy Hanley came out to pose as a victim of domestic violence. Because she was one – in the past. This wasn’t easy for her either.
But now she’s a different woman living life according to her own terms.
Today we have a photo and a mention in the largest newspaper in Las Vegas – and that’s a step in the right direction. But it’s just a baby step.
If you walk into Contagious Studio right now, you will see a bag of clothes and girlie items sitting by the door – waiting for a call from a new girl friend I made who is still on the street trying to leave the game. She is a precious soul and a beautiful young woman whose arms are full of tracks and who cried real tears when we talked because feels she is worth nothing. Hourly she battles the desire to just end it all.
I feel her pain.
She takes drugs because it saves her life. If she can mask the pain she feels, and if she doesn’t die of an overdose, it will keep her alive another day.
According to emergency room records, 15% of all completed suicides are from prostituted women. There is no other single ‘profession’ or abuse demographic that even comes close to that.
How dare we treat these women like criminals and revile them for their ‘choices’ and treat them worse than dogs?
There’s no way in hell! These women are daughters, sisters, friends.
I met a mother named Joy, whose heart is broken over what has become of her daughter, but Joy is still there for her after all these years. The daughter needs and wants help, but they can’t afford it . She doesn’t even have any clothes left – everything she owned has been stolen on the street. And when a donation of clothing was made that gave the girl a flicker of hope to carry on, the woman donating the clothes had a change of heart and decided she didn’t want the clothes going to a prostitute who chose her place in life.
So my little bag waits at the door.
But this is nothing. Just nothing. She is vulnerable on the street, the perfect prey for a scavenging pimp. Studies show that 90% of all women in prostitution end up with a pimp.
I’m worried sick, and I just met her. Imagine the anguish of her poor angel mother.
Here in Las Vegas, the North American epicenter for human trafficking, we don’t even have a home dedicated specifically to help people like Joy’s daughter “leave the game.” Sure, there are shelters for battered women like S.A.F.E. House and Safe Nest, and there’s a free 5-day detox program and residential treatment for pregnant women through West Care, and there’s The Cupcake Girls who provide unconditional love and support to working girls, and there’s Salvation Army’s Seeds of Hope which is another great program, but guess what?
There’s no housing. According to prostitution expert Dr. Melissa Farley of www.prostitutionresearch.com, 89% of the women surveyed who were active in prostitution desperately wanted out, and the #1 reason they could not leave was because they did not have a place to live.
Our own survivor & spokesmodel Natashia has done absolutely everything right to turn her life around, and she’s till desperately seeking a safer place to live, a job and a car.
Joy’s daughter has no clothes, food or money and Joy’s husband won’t allow her to stay in their home because of her “choices” – so this pretty little girl – though an adult – is still on the street. And after years of paying for medical bills, court fees, and rehabs, Joy doesn’t have the ability to put her daughter in a hotel, let alone set her daughter up in a new place to live. But the two of them remain close.
It is not my place or desire to take away the power or dignity for those women who feel they TRULY have made the choice to engage in prostitution and have found it productive instead of exploitive. But even those women know they are the lucky few, and they are appalled by the way society collective turns a blind to the needs of women in prostitution.
When a woman goes missing, if she was over 18 and labeled a prostitute, law enforcement often used to put very little energy into a search. The case of Michelle Knight, one of the kidnapped women from Cleveland, is a perfect example. Things are changing, but there are 10,000 missing people reports filed in Las Vegas alone every year.
So if anything comes of this story at all, please remember the motto of Voices for Dignity:
Stop judging and start helping!
Contact me if you have an old car, clothes, a place to live, or the ability to buy gift cards for girls on the street.
Contact me if you would be willing to hire someone for at least $11 an hour – and get up to 90% reimbursed for a time!
Contact me if you are willing to model at our next event, or photograph, or donate design services or printing or if you have any ideas for fundraiser.
(We are not formally a non-profit yet, so any contributions would have to be a gift.)
Please, all of us, may we stop judging and start helping,
Christine Marie Katas
Founder, Voices for Dignity