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Tunde was living with a street gang when she was trafficked by her boyfriend. The gang was regularly assaulted by police. We would live here. It was me, my sister, her boyfriend, my boyfriend, a whole bunch of us. During that time, she was trafficked by her boyfriend. A highway runs through forestland in Moldova. The car wash, however, is code for buying sex. Girls hide behind tree trunks and wait to be signaled — once it is safe to appear, they escort their clients into the woods for sex.
When photographer Annie Ling stepped out of her car on this very highway to photograph the odd line of buckets, she was suddenly surrounded by a few men from the area. They spoke indecipherable Romanian, and soon, a few more joined them in conversation.
A few words were calmly exchanged while Ling tried to get through a roll of film. After one last look at the women peaking out of the woods, Ling and her friend headed back to the car. For her work Awhereness , Annie Ling, a Taipei-born photographer from New York, spent two months traveling through parts of Romania and Moldova to meet with the survivors of sex trafficking and listen to their stories.
Using a medium format camera, Ling tries to eschew sensational images and instead approaches her subjects with a sense of quiet, acting as a listener. Through her project, she focuses on where trafficking happens and how people overcome this chapter in their life. As a victim of police brutality, Tunde and her gang of homeless kids were routinely taken to a forest outside the city, tied to trees, beaten and left to fend for themselves. Revisiting this forest near the end of winter, Tunde found wildflowers scattered and peeking through the dead leaves, and she began to pick them up one by one.
For nearly an hour, she quietly went about gathering a bouquet, gently pacing the ground and reflecting. So I would get horrified as soon as I saw the car pull up. Or they would come take you by force. It was really bad. Today, she is happily married to a different man, but two of her children were taken from her by social services. Tunde, her husband, and a third child live in poverty, and they are struggling to make ends meet each month.