Woman Rising

Woman Rising

Image details from the series Woman Rising: Surviving Human Trafficking © Matilde Simas

At the core of this work resides the belief that visual storytelling has the power to change the world. Woman Rising: Surviving Human Trafficking is a multimedia and civic engagement project that strives to educate communities on the atrocity of human trafficking and encourage them to support survivors as they heal and rebuild their lives.

“I want to know who I am and live free.”

When reading the above quote, it sounds more like a human right than a life goal, but for Cary Stuart, survivor of sex and human trafficking, it is just that. Living free is something that presented as a distant dream for her not too long ago, but it is one she achieved and now uses to advocate for the freedom of victims such as herself.

The last five years have seen a staggering rise in the number of people trapped in modern slavery throughout the world. Woman Rising gives this monstrous institution a face through Cary’s brave representation of what it means to be a victim and a survivor. Personalizing human trafficking in this way can influence and educate people in a way that mere data or academic discussion simply cannot. Cary’s vulnerability and bravery, which is so eloquently captured through the visuals of both this film and the accompanying photography will evoke a visceral response in viewers. The time for increased awareness, heightened response, and activism to end the crime that is human trafficking is now, and Woman Rising seeks to spur that activism on.

It is a pervasive and powerful stigma that attaches itself to victims of human trafficking for the purpose of being sold for sex – prostitute, whore – but it could not be further from the brutal truth that enshrouds them. Much of society, including a large portion of law enforcement, look at these people as willing participants, people who actively chose and continue choosing this lifestyle while having access to all the freedoms you and I enjoy and take completely for granted. The truth is, twenty-three-year-old Cary had plans to go to college while she stood outside one evening, plans to live her life and achieve her dreams. When a man named Ramie pulled up in an impressive vehicle and offered to fast track her modeling career, to take her to New York immediately and give her access to a vast world awaiting her, she jumped on the seeming opportunity.

As chronicled in this film, it was while Cary was incarcerated under charges of prostitution that she and Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking Co-Founder, Sgt. Farris first crossed paths. Her willingness to open up to him and share the horrifying details of her captivity as a victim of sex and human trafficking, helped the Portland Police Department see her for what she and others like her are in actuality – victims and survivors.


• Please contact Matilde directly if you are interested in sharing this story.
• Watch the Woman Rising: Surviving Human Trafficking film trailer.

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Matilde Simas is a visual journalist based in Boston. She graduated from Suffolk University with a BS in Psychology and Women’s Study and attended Rhode Island School of Design to study digital photography. Matilde’s work as a photographer, guided by her primary role of humanitarian, has taken her around the globe. Her work’s primary focus is human rights, with the goal being to leverage storytelling to inform, provoke discussion, and ultimately inspire action. She achieves this through public speaking and exhibiting her work in galleries and public spaces.

mmsimas@yahoo.com • www.matildesimas.com