‘Not Natasha’ is a series of work by photographer Dana Popa which focuses on women and girls from the Republic of Moldova who have been victims of human trafficking. The story of how the series was produced is as compelling and in some cases as disturbing as the work itself.
Not Natasha focuses on the thousands of women who migrate each year from Romania’s neighbouring Republic of Moldova which is one of the poorest nations in Europe. A high proportion of these women leave the country in the hope of a better life. An alarming number, especially the younger ones from poor families, fall into the trap of sex traffickers.
Professor Kevin Bales, a leading expert on global slavery, estimates the market value of human trafficking at 32 billion US dollars, the largest portion of which is generated from the forced prostitution of women and girls. Moldova has become the main supplier of sex slaves for the whole European continent. Each year, at least 500 women return to Moldova, broken and traumatised from this hellish experience. Popa’s work displays the hard authenticity and passion born of local knowledge and a strong sense of the complexities of the situation and its deep injustice.
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Popa photographed the women in a variety of environments that give stark and revealing context to their tragic stories. To balance the hard documentary facts of the message, the images in the series are filled with a sense of loss, reverie and foreboding. And there is a wider message about identity since the faces are rarely seen.
Natasha is a nickname given to prostitutes with Eastern European looks, and sex trafficked girls hate it. I photographed sex trafficked women after they had returned to Moldova to show how they managed to live in a world that knows nothing of their suffering, and with the huge shadow of fear that their mother or husband might find out and throw them out in the street. To respect their anonymity, these women’s names have been changed.
About the photographer
Dana Popa graduated in 2006 with an MA in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism from London College of Communication. She was awarded the Jerwood Photography prize for the first series of the project. Autograph ABP, a photographic arts agency that promotes cultural identity and human rights commissioned the rest of the project and published it as an artists book ‘Not Natasha’ available from www.autograph-abp.co.uk