ALEXIA FOUNDATION: “The Motel, Part 2″ A Women’s Initiative Grant Update

October 20th, 2013

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This was originally posted to the: Alexia Foundation’s blog on 10/15/2013.

(Caption: Lisa in an interview room while in jail. She was arrested for prostitution and spent a week in jail, just long enough to suffer through the physical effects of heroin detox.)

I happened to drop in one evening when Lisa wanted to do a movie and dinner in Jane’s motel room. Lisa wasn’t there yet, so I accompanied Jane to the grocery store across the street.

Jane left home at 13, spent the last of her teenage years in Mexico, and has four children with an abusive husband. She has another child with a boyfriend who spends more time in jail than not. She’s got a crack habit. And she’s got a soft spot for Lisa.

This wasn’t always the case. As we walked through the produce aisles, picking avocados for fresh guacamole, Jane confessed she’d been pretty mean to Lisa. I don’t remember the details, but it seems that on the street, especially with drugs, you don’t have much more than your reputation.
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ALEXIA FOUNDATION: “The Motel, Part 1″ A Women’s Initiative Grant Update

October 15th, 2013

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This was originally posted to the: Alexia Foundation’s blog on 10/11/2013.

There’s a series of low-slung motels along Pacific Highway South. They sit side-by-side, their balcony-style hallways shouting distance apart. Every day, thousands of cars stream along the median-split thoroughfare, passing weathered signs and week-long specials.
I visited one motel regularly, looking for Lisa, the girl in the robe. Since she hung out in the area, I did too.

In August, hundreds of cops descended on the motels. They drove up with armored vehicles, wore black tactical gear, and shut the motels down. The cops said the motels were “crime dens.” The owners allowed residents to sell drugs and prostitution – the phrase needs reworking, another work to make it clearer – to sell drugs and to commit prostitution, something like that, taking a fee for each visitor, each transaction.

I’d heard complaints about the owners and their fees. But the people living there, many who were self-admitted addicts, didn’t see much choice. It was part of the lifestyle.

What follows are a series of vignettes from the place I frequented while filming “The Long Night.”
Some names have been changed.

Jane waiting at the motel, her room busy.

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ALEXIA FOUNDATION: “Lisa, the First Detox” A Women’s Initiative Grant Update

June 20th, 2013

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This was originally posted to the: Alexia Foundation’s blog on 6/19/2013.

Mid morning, I forget the day, and she texted. ALL CAPS. I used to have a regular work schedule, but with some of the late nights I’ve been keeping it’s been hard. First it was riding with the cops, on a 5pm to 1am shift, but recently I’ve been following Lisa, the young woman in the robe.

She seems to live in three hour increments, which is about the longest she’ll go between getting high. She’s doing nearly three grams of black a day, often cooking the tar-like heroin with a couple crystals of meth. The clockwork of her habit supersedes all other things; daylight, food, shelter and especially me, the tag-along journalist she sometimes lets into her life.


Lisa grabs a last smoke before entering the detox center.

Catch as catch can. Sometimes she reaches out, only to disappear. Sometimes I find her, walking, working. This time she was making a big move. She’s got my number, because I’m persistent, but had lost the number for the Genesis Project, a drop in center started by police for people like her.

When we arrived, she was fidgeting at an outdoor table, amazingly still there. She hadn’t slept in the past couple of days and had been “around,” essentially drifting between friends’ motel rooms and different dates. With the rain, she didn’t have a lot of those. She has a few regulars, but Lisa primarily prostitutes from the street. She’s been doing that for six years, when she was turned out by a pimp at 13. He’s in jail now, for murder.
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ALEXIA FOUNDATION: “Graddon” A Women’s Initiative Grant Update

June 17th, 2013

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This was originally posted to the: Alexia Foundation’s blog on 12/21/2012.

The meeting was set up, but not in an “are you available” fashion. The communications officer simply said when it would be.

I arrived at SeaTac City Hall on time, then sat outside a locked door observing a receptionist behind thick glass. Waiting. It was December 4. A mini-summit was happening behind closed doors.

Prior to my request to report on their department’s work on domestic minor sex trafficking, a commercial video production team had worked with them on the same subject. And it got messy. If I were to over-simplify, I would say the film crew got too involved. So when I asked about documenting the work of the department, I felt the need to underscore that I am a journalist, not a participant. I observe.

Major James Graddon

That was in September, and I was growing nervous about being able to tell the story I had proposed for the grant. There was an internal investigation and media policies were being revised; I might not have the access I thought.

My proposal is based on the story of a cop who creates a shelter for prostitutes. He was exasperated by prison’s revolving door. Because some were asking for it, he wanted to find a way to help get the women and young girls he was arresting out of “the life.” He started talking to them, listening to their stories, and came to realize for many they didn’t have a choice; they were living in fear, being run by pimps.
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December 10th, 2011

With an eye toward prison reform, writer and academic Pete Brook analyzes prison photography from behind his desk. After three years, he decided it was time to get out, on the road, and meet the people he’d written about. Especially the prisoners.

Pete is clear that he isn’t a photographer. Instead, he writes for’s RAW File and runs his own blog where he dissects photography about the prison system in America. I knew him peripherally through the photo community and through introduction several years ago by a mutual friend. I like what he does, so when he put out an ask to help make a Kickstarter video, I offered to shoot it and Seattle Times staffer Erica Schultz edited it with Pete in an 11 hour binge.

Prison Photography has built a community over the years. There’s no money involved, so for Pete to get on the road, he had to ask for help. The Kickstarter campaign began. By using social media and crowd-sourced funding, he successfully raised more than he thought it would cost to make the grand American tour, meeting photographers in person, visiting prisons, and seeing education programs at work.

Click here or below to read more and see a scene cut from the video.

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March 15th, 2011

Several months ago I entered the Link TV ViewChange contest, looking for another means of distribution for a story I felt needed to be told. As a finalist, I found Srey Neth’s story would see the distribution I hoped for. I think it is a great example of independent distribution leveraged by social media.

Yesterday, Link TV told me they’ve compiled half-hour episodes from the ViewChange entries. Srey Neth’s story will air in the “Crossing the Gender Gap” episode.

The film will air Wednesday, March 16th at 8:30pm PT/ 11:30pm ET and Saturday, March 19th at 6:30pm PT/ 9:30pm ET on DIRECTV 375 / DISH Network 9410. Srey Neth: Victim to Survivor will be part of an episode featuring inspiring stories of women fighting poverty, disease, and oppression in the developing world.

The film is also available to watch at and Link TV is planning to disseminate my film through other outlets as well such as Snag Films, WGBH’s “World” Channel (which is carried on 150 PBS stations), and other international stations.

Many thanks again to Transitions Global and Srey Neth who offered me access and their trust to tell an important story. (where the “Crossing the Gender Gap” episode will be available online, starting later today) (Srey Neth video on

@ViewChange (twitter)
@LinkTV (twitter)

And don’t forget my Facebook Page and Twitter Feed!

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Media: Walter Astrada’s Project on Violence Against Women. Location: India

October 1st, 2010

MediaStorm_UndesiredI watched producer Eric Maierson sorting through hundreds and hundreds of images by photographer Walter Astrada as he did the initial work for the newly released MediaStorm piece “Undesired.”

Not only is Maierson an excellent producer, having watched his two pieces “Three Women” and “The Party,” I knew he had the voice to produce Astrada’s strong work. I only regretted I wasn’t working on the project, and that I would return to Seattle before having the chance to meet Astrada in person, when he came into the MediaStorm office.

I have much respect for Astrada’s work, particularly his portfolio from Guatemala. It is strong, visceral, and pointedly focused on the issue of violence against women. Having extensively worked in this field myself, I appreciate another photographer’s dedication not just to a single story, but to the issue as a whole.

In 2009 he won the Photojournalist of the Year NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism. He won in World Press Photo in 2006 and in 2008.

Read about Astrada, his work, and how he does it, online at the British Journal of Photography here and here.

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August 26th, 2010

In early 2008, I visited the Children’s Surgical Center on the outskirts of Phnom Penh at the request of one of its US-based supporters. I was working for a few NGO’s while in Cambodia and using the time to continue my personal work on human trafficking. At the Center, I found a woman who recently had acid thrown upon her. I forget the circumstances of the attack, but her grand daughter was also covered by the indiscriminate spray, and had already died. The woman was feverish with infection, her breath rapid and shallow, and the doctors fought a losing battle. Blood transfusions seeped out of her damaged skin faster than they could replenish her fluids. Her adult children watched over her, fanning her, slack-faced and in shock. A few days later the woman died.

I had heard of acid attacks before, but hadn’t thought about it in Cambodia. Although barely quantified at the time, readily available acid in Cambodia’s violence desensitized and traumatized society meant acid attack was an increasingly common method of settling disputes or seeking revenge.

Not long after I met the acid attack victim in 2008, I visited the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity to photograph the survivors who were making a new life for themselves. Although horribly scarred, I found the women engaging, fun, and full of vitality.

A couple of days ago the NY Times published this piece on acid attack in Cambodia.

Click through the jump below for images from my visit in 2008.

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July 31st, 2010

I’m typing on an Apple MacBook Pro while data backups are running in the background; gigabytes of images and video are flitting from Seagate to Lacie to Netgear hard drives. I have a Belkin router, a Comcast modem…I have all the accouterments of technology I need to capture content and publish in a digital world. What I don’t have is peace of mind.

I’ve spoken about and written about this before and, increasingly, so are many others. We are talking about conflict minerals, those metals essential to the electronics industry and our everyday conveniences. These metals also pay for ongoing war and sexual violence. As a consumer, I feel powerless to affect such a global issue. But, it is becoming easier to see how our role in the killing and what we can do to stop it. Like many things, it starts with transparency and accountability, through knowledge and conversation.

Jobs_EnoughProjectApple CEO Steve Jobs, as reported by Wired, recently responded to a customer about conflict minerals in Apple products. The customer wrote:

“Are you currently making any effort to source conflict-free minerals? In particular, I’m concerned that Apple is getting tantalum, tungsten, tin, and gold from Eastern Congo through its suppliers.”

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I’m a Mac…and I have a Dirty Secret

June 28th, 2010

Brian Storm posted this to his Twitter feed; my partner, Luciana, had mentioned it to me. And, because I talk about this when I give presentations (even pointing to my computer and holding up my iPhone), I thought it was worth a post all on its own.

Consumers–us–we buy products but many of us don’t ask our retailers to talk to the manufacturers to ask them to track their materials all the way down the supply chain, and to do so with a high level of transparency. That means, when we buy our electronics (or tomatoes or chocolate or…whatever) we often have no idea if slave labor, human trafficking, or war have tainted the products we buy.

It is a big challenge, but I believe corporations can hold their suppliers accountable, working with them to ensure there are viable and profitable options for them to supply conflict and slave-free materials for consumption. I believe the biggest part of the challenge is for consumers, like me and like you, to begin asking for this.

I wish I could point to my Mac and say “This is certified slave and conflict free.”

But I can’t. At least, not yet.

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