The Robe – Women’s Initiative Update from Tim Matsui

There was one girl, recently, whose story hit me little harder. She was giving a guy oral sex when they walked up to the car. She was 19 and high on heroin. Although she’s a pimp-less ‘renegade,’ she was turned out by a pimp at 13. She picked up the heroin along the way. She now bounces from motel to motel, selling herself to pay for the rooms and her habit, everything she owns fitting into a pink school bag.

They took the guy to jail and they took her to the Genesis Project. The aftercare center is only funded enough to function part-time. They turned on the heat, the lights. Seinfeld was on the TV. Two on-call volunteers came in. She was hungry and chose a frozen chimichanga from the well-stocked kitchen, using the plastic fork and knife like an 8 year-old. They gave her a long, terry cloth robe.

“I’ve never worn a robe,” she said, a little incredulous, her voice dulled by the heroin.

“Why?” she asked. “I don’t even care about myself.”

“Well do me a favor and keep that one,” Brian, one of the detectives and co-founders said. “And then when you leave here, I want you to take a big old bag of clothes.”

She clasped her hands in from of her face, as if to pray, and started to cry.

“It’s ok,” he said. “This is why this is here, because we care about you.”

“I want you to feel at home here,” he continued. “I want you to feel like you can come here any time you want, go in the fridge and grab yourself something to eat, because this is yours….your family just increased by about 120 people.”

“We do this because we care about you guys.”

“Why?” she asked. “I don’t even care about myself.”

Before leaving, I knelt beside the couch. I reintroduced myself, reiterating that I was documenting the cops and the center. I reassured her she wouldn’t be identifiable, but gave her the option, if she wanted to speak with me later. She offered to sign something then, but it was too soon, and she was still high.

She’d come in wearing a short tube dress. To warm up, they’d given her a long sleeve t-shirt and pajama bottoms to go with her robe. She lay on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, eating peanut M&M’s, and watching Family Guy.

She turned back to me.

“Do I look normal?” she asked.

I nodded.

Leaving the Life” is a documentary project by Tim Matsui on grassroots efforts to address Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST). This project is funded by the Alexa Foundation’s Women’s Initiative Grant. See more posts from this project here.

6 thoughts on “The Robe – Women’s Initiative Update from Tim Matsui

  1. Tim, your work is beautiful and moving. To take on such a dark, ugly issue like human sex trafficking and somehow humanize and personalize it is a real gift. I’m now following the Genesis project in addition to your work. Thank you for the heart as well as the skill you bring to your photojournalism.
    ~ J D Abbas

    • JD,

      Thank you for listening and taking the time to respond. As a storyteller I see myself as a conduit between the people whose lives I am witnessing and the audience we want to reach. Words like yours help me see the connection I am making and that these stories are being heard.

      Again, thank you.
      Tim

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