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Sex Trafficking: An American Story

Matilde Simas | Maine,, United States

Cary Stuart with 14 month old son, Jay, say good-bye to his father before going to daycare, Biddeford, Maine.

Trafficked into ‘the life’ at 23 years old, Cary Stuart spent the next seven years isolated, beaten, drugged, and frequently moved between states, forced to sell herself. Despite enduring the most difficult of circumstances, Cary emerged from the horrors of trafficking strong and determined to rewrite her story. The series follows Cary over a four-year time frame as she strives to reclaim her truth. The mother of two young boys, Tristin and Jay, Cary’s love and dedication to them are evident and one of the focal points of the project. She says her goal is to model confidence and self-worth, teaching her sons to respect and defend girls and women — and it’s this passion that sets Cary apart.

When people hear that someone was trafficked, it’s often assumed they were kidnapped and forced into labor against their will. Trafficking can be much more insidious.  People are often exploited by someone they already know.

In this photo documentary, we listen to the story of Cary Stuart, an American survivor of forced commercial sexual exploitation, who was lured into the world of trafficking by a romantic partner or, “Romeo Pimp.” In the series she reflects on her experience, the way it has impacted her mental state, and the ongoing challenges of working through drug addiction. Addiction to drugs can be both a vulnerability to trafficking, and a common tactic used by traffickers to make victims more compliant.

While the prevalence of sex trafficking in the U.S. is still unknown, we do know that women, children, and men are being sold for sex against their will in all 50 states.  In 2014, the Urban Institute studied the underground commercial sex economy in eight U.S. cities and estimated that this illicit activity generated between $39.9 million and $290 million in revenue depending on the city. 

As part of my ongoing work to spotlight survivors of human trafficking, this project profiles Cary, an American sex trafficking survivor, as she reflects on her experience, the way it has impacted her as a mother, and the challenges of reintegration into society. The project is based on the belief that taking charge of your own personal story can set the stage for how you see yourself and define yourself. In fact, according to mental health professionals, the stories people tell about their life experiences are the most powerful force for shaping identity.

MatildeSimas.com

Mattie@CaptureHumanity.com

617-750-1182

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