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A photojournalist describes how she posed as a prostitute to follow the trade in human flesh. That's the funny thing about life. Experience comes in random, sporadic servings. It's only years later that the story takes shape.
I didn't intend to spend more than a year covering human trafficking. It ended up taking a decade. I didn't intend on reporting in more than two countries. So, how did I end up in nine? Before my trips, my mum used to ask: "It took us so many years to get out of poverty, why do you keep returning there?
I can say the same about the Balkans. Each time the plane landed, I was home. I understood the culture, the rawness of our ways, the dark humour of our days. But there is one thing I couldn't understand. What had happened to us? How did we start selling our own girls? How did we make profit from deceit and violence? At first, I was a photojournalist. I saw the world through the camera. And my idea was to return to my origins and find girls who had survived and escaped their traffickers and pimps.
I knew about the shame and stigma in our culture. I knew that once a girl was forced into prostitution, she could never return and expect her village to understand her ordeal. She was judged, trashed, discarded - even by her own family.
It took time to find women who had survived. I went to shelters; I met with lawyers and social workers. And when I finally sat there with one young lady, and took out my camera, I saw an indescribable terror in her eyes. I assumed that she was afraid of being photographed and recognised by those whom she had escaped. But that was far from the truth.