Powerful Photos of Child Sex Abuse Survivors

3 minute read

Lorena Ros, a Spain-based photojournalist, has been documenting abuse of power in various countries around the world. Her first book, Unspoken, a testimony in pictures and words of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, brings her home to a widespread human tragedy that has rarely been photographed.

In the car, on our way to the train-station, my aunt asked me if I had mentioned anything to my mother about the ‘incident…’ I was shocked. It was something that had remained unspoken for years and I had blocked it out of my mind. My uncle and my aunt were afraid that “the secret” was about to be revealed to the family and they were trying to persuade me to be silent – as I had been for the last 30 years…

It was the summer of 2000 – a bomb was about to go off in my life, a bomb that would forever change my relationship with my family, relationships within the family itself and, of course, the rest of my life.

Five years later, I was selected as a participant of the World Press Master class and asked to develop an essay around the concept “Ordinary”. I decided to photograph survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, starting with my own city. Over the years I had focused on stories related to “the abuse of power”- it was a recurrent subject -In my stories I was seeking the truth; there was a story that was very close to us and widespread and yet hardly documented – it was very much a taboo subject.

In 2008, Raquel’s photograph was part of an exhibit in Barcelona (she was abused by her father for years, her mother never believed her and she was forced to leave home.) Raquel hadn’t spoken to her mother in years but invited her for coffee that evening. And without telling her where they were going, brought her to the exhibition. When Raquel’s mother saw and heard other similar stories, it changed both their lives for ever.

As I begun my work on child sex abuse, what first struck me was how vulnerable and fearless my subjects were. Opening their lives, talking about it, was the only way, I realized to fight child sexual abuse.

As I met more and more ‘survivors’, I felt that my essay on ‘Ordinary,’ could, should be a longer-term project, perhaps even a book. Through bearing witness, I was also telling my own story – something which I had never done publicly.

It has been an eight-year journey of growth both as a photographer and as a woman. A journey of self-discovery. Through the survivors I’ve photographed, I found the courage to confront my own ghosts and tell my own story. I realized that I was not alone. It was my life and my work coming together. It has been an often a painful exercise in honesty, a cathartic process of knowing who I am; to understand why I was drawn to the subjects I was drawn to over the years.

In many ways, Unspoken, my first book has helped me to understand Who I am? Why I take pictures and why I do it well.

Lorena Ros is a photojournalist whose work has appeared in Newsweek, El Pais And The Sunday Times Magazine, among others. Unspoken is available now.

Phyllis, 55, Charleston. Phyllis’s father was a janitor of apartments in Ohio. He would take her to the job sites as a young child, where he sexually abused her. As she grew older, Phyllis resisted and began to fight back when he tried to touch her. Her parents blamed Phyllis for being such a rebellious girl. Finally, she left home and went to live with a friend’s family. She lost contact with her family. Years later, as an adult, Phyllis finally confronted her father. He put the blame on her instead. They haven’t spoken since. When they buried her father, Phyllis remembers thinking: “He can never hurt another person, he can never hurt another woman or child”Lorena Ros
A house under construction, Charleston, South CarolinaLorena Ros
Miguel Angel, 23, Mataro, SpainWhen Miguel was sixteen, the priest in charge of his Catholic youth group began abusing him. He trusted the priest and believed that he could be the father figure he had never had. For Miguel, the emotional betrayal was the most hurtful part of the abuse. He suffered years of deep turmoil and blamed himself for not having stopped it earlier.Lorena Ros
Swimming-pool, Barcelona suburbLorena Ros
Mati, 48, El Prat, SpainWhen Mati was nine, her brother-in-law started sexually abusing her. A few years later, he also started abusing her seven-year-old-sister, Loli. When Mati was thirteen she told her elder sister about what her husband was doing. Her sister persuaded Mati not to say anything to anyone. And Mati kept the silence while the abuse continued until she turned eighteen. At a family gathering Dolores couldn’t contain herself and both sisters jointly confronted their brother-in-law before all present. The shocked family members, however, blamed the sisters for making up tales and took his side. Matilde and Dolores decided to break all ties with their family. Lorena Ros
Park with swings, Mataró, BarcelonaLorena Ros
Survivors of Childhood  Sexual Violence
Manuela, 44, Mataro, Spain. Manuela’s father had abused her repeatedly since she was eight. When she was twelve, she told her mother. Even though the abuse stopped suddenly, Manuela is convinced that her mother did not believe her or ever confront her father. The subject was never brought up again by anyone in the family. Years later, when Manuela was in her thirties and after a recent divorce, she was suddenly haunted by those childhood memories once again. She started her healing process by assisting other survivors. Today she has found further solace in spirituality.Lorena Ros
Survivors of Childhood  Sexual Violence
Woods outside BarcelonaLorena Ros
Survivors of Childhood  Sexual Violence
Claudia, 35, Barcelona, Spain. When Claudia’s mother died, she and her sisters spent a year at a relative’s house. Someone who lived there sexually abused her. Claudia was four years old. As soon as she moved out from her relative’s home, the abuse stopped. When she was in her early thirties, she read in a magazine the story of other survivors of sexual abuse, and this triggered her memory of what had happened to her as a child. She started to attend a survivor’s group and started the healing process. Now Claudia is happily married and lives with her husband and their two little girls.Lorena Ros
Changing-room, Sant Boi, BarcelonaLorena Ros

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