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A local artist is using her lens to highlight human trafficking in a new exhibit unveiled Wednesday. For three years, Philadelphia artist Ada Trillo visited brothels in Mexico for a look at the dangerous lives of sex workers. A year-old woman named Claudia smoked a cigarette while defiantly staring into the camera. She was not wearing a bra or a top, but she did not shy away from the lens. Instead, she shared her story.
Claudia was raped by her stepfather starting at the age of 6 and continuing until she became a teenager. Her mother kicked her out of the house when she found out about the abuse.
Claudia turned to heroin for relief and sex for money. Claudia was just one of several dozen sex workers photographed in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, by Philadelphia-based Trillo over the course of several years. Initially, Trillo hoped to focus on immigration after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump began calling for a border wall and referring to undocumented immigrants as "rapists" and criminals, she said.
Trillo wanted to humanize the people of Mexico, but realized photographing border crossers would be difficult in the dark. A local social worker had another idea: Visit the brothels. Trillo was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Juarez, a degraded border city riddled with crime, poverty and narcotrafficking. It is also home to countless brothels. Many of the women photographed by Trillo exist at the intersection of drugs and prostitution — they have addictions to heroin, crack and other drugs, and some were sold or otherwise forced into sex work by parents or lovers.
They might get trafficked. They might get hungry, but they end up at the brothels at a very young age. Trillo spent approximately 15 minutes with each subject, roughly the same amount of time allotted to a paying customer.