Alejandra, was 27 years old when I meet her in the Cd.Juarez Brothels she charged 130 pesos for encounter approximately (7 US dollars). Alejandra was beautiful she had big green eyes and was adorned with different tattoos and spoke the English language with proficiency. She shared with us that she lived in Tijuana, then in San Diego, but thereafter was deported back to Mexico. She was diagnosed with colon cancer. Like so many of the women working in the Juarez brothels, she does not receive medical care. Though she has already exceeded her two-year life expectancy, Alejandra coped with the physical pain by self-medicating using mainly heroin and crack. She died recently after I took the photograph leaving her four children behind.
HOW DID I GET HERE?
I am a Philadelphia-based artist who was born and raised on the Mexican/American border. I had long wanted to do a body of work which focused on the global issue of human trafficking and prostitution. Over three years ago, I was afforded the opportunity to capture a series of photographs centering on the lives of prostitutes. The specific setting is unimportant because it is representative of the ravages that are visited on women by the prostitution industry around the world.
In presenting this series, my goal is to depict and expose the adversity exploited women must overcome in their daily lives and show the other side of prostitution; the side the industry does not want you to see.
I discovered that the majority of the women in the brothels I visited are not from the towns in which they work. Rather, they come from other countries in search of a better life. Many of them arrive with their families but are left behind or abducted. Out of all the brothels I visited, I only met one woman who was originally from the town in which the brothel was located. The majority of the girls have long, complicated histories, ranging from child abuse to single parenthood. However, many of them are open about their past for they believe they have already lost everything, and their only reason to live is drugs. As a result, they no longer feel the pain and humiliation of their current circumstances.
As I continue to revisit same brothels now for over three years I am sometimes welcomed by some of the same women. It saddens me to see how their bodies had deteriorated due to their drug abuse (primarily heroin) and how the youngest girls, who had only begun to prostitute themselves a year ago, had completely transformed - they are now bitter drug users. It also breaks my heart to learn that several of them were killed and one was missing.
I want to emphasize that I like these women, and I want others to understand their circumstances and see them as women who deserve to be acknowledged and helped. They have no health care and no access to rehabilitation. If they cannot attract clients, they go without food. I am carrying out this project because I want to document a difficult reality that must be exposed.
In doing this, I hope to raise funds for Las Madres Oblatas a religious organization that helps prostitutes get sober and find jobs throughout the world, including Colombia, New York and Africa.
This series and experience has greatly humbled me and allowed me to be grateful for my own life. It has also given me a sense of responsibility to create awareness and to help. I hope that my exhibit it will have an impact on you as well, and give you awareness to want to make a difference.
Due to the delicate nature of this body of work and out of respect for the women who I photographed, I have chosen to show this series only in the art community and in cultural and educational spaces.
Monica is 40 years old and has five children, all fathered by different men. Her mother takes care of four of the children; Monica sold the fifth child because her mother refused to care for her. She is addicted to heroin and was sent to prison for murder. Strangely, when she arrived at the court for sentencing, the judge was not present. As a result she was able to avoid time in prison. She attributes this fortunate turn of events to “La Santa Muerte,” to whom she pays homage with a tattoo on her back and with daily rituals.
Sylvia is 36 and has three children. She suffered a back injury but did not receive medical treatment. As a result, she is permanently disabled and relies on crutches. Still without proper treatment for her condition, Sylvia self-medicates using a combination of pills, solvents, marijuana, and crack cocaine. One of her daughters is also a prostitute and the other two live with her.