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For eight weeks, Louisville survivors of sex trafficking took photos of random objects — a doll splayed out in the street, an ordinary plant sitting on a table, all the things that had called to them. Those photos were then put into a film, which is being shown Feb. 20 at the University of Louisville followed by a panel discussion on sex trafficking in Louisville.

The film is 20 minutes and silent; it’s meant to evoke emotions in viewers. Quotes from the photographer survivor accompany each photo.

Jennifer Middleton is an associate professor at the Kent School of Social Work and the director of the U of L Human Trafficking Research Institute. She said the photographer survivors would meet each week to go over each photo and talk about why they took it. They also picked which photos to include in the silent film.

“What we found in the meeting was that when a survivor would show a photo and talk about it, all of a sudden, all of the other women would lean forward and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can relate to that,’” Middleton said. “So it really served as a way to connect them as a community.”

Middleton said the photographer survivors also want to show the short film in schools. Recently Middleton and others met with officials from JCPS to discuss screening the film in local high schools and middle schools.

“The survivors really said these middle school-aged young people need to hear this message too,” she said. They said “I was in middle school when this started happening to me and if someone had been talking about it had had has informed me about it what it really was, then it might have prevented me from going down this path.”

If JCPS agrees to let the film be screened in schools, Middleton said there would have to be a facilitator to help guide discussions afterwards — and also someone who could help if a student said they were in a sex trafficking situation or were worried about a friend.

Middleton also said her team is transcribing audio from the discussions survivors had about the photos. That data will be put into a report and submitted to the Kentucky Attorney General to help inform investigations and support in relation to how technology and transportation are used in sex trafficking.

The film and panel will start at noon on Feb. 20 in the Chao Auditorium at Ekstrom Library on the University of Louisville Campus.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.