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Visions & Voices
Visions & Voices

Visions & Voices
Black & White Photographs by Diverse Women Working in Various Aspects of the Sex Industry

An Arts-Based Qualitative Study by
Moshoula Capous-Desyllas
& Community Partner
Crystal Tenty


The subjective experiences and voices of sex workers are seldom heard and their needs are consistently defined and represented by non-sex workers throughout history, in society and within academia. Historical representations have contributed to the stereotyping and stigmatization of sex workers. Visual representations of sex workers by others have perpetuated stereotypical symbols of sexuality. Academic research is consistently being done ‘on' sex workers instead of with them, denying them of their agency.

The purpose of this project was to understand the needs and aspirations of female sex workers in Portland, Oregon from their own point of view through art. The research methodology of photovoice was used to bring forward the knowledge and experiences of sex workers' everyday lives through the inclusion of their photographic images and voices. This process entailed giving 35mm cameras to 11 diverse women working in different positions within the sex industry to take back & white photographs of their needs and aspirations.

After each woman took her photographs, individual dialogue sessions were held to reflect and discuss the images. The women were also invited to partake in two group dialogue sessions where they shared their photographs with each other and planned for an opening art exhibit of their visions and voices. The objective was to collaboratively identify important issues for female sex workers and to provide this information in photographic art exhibits to inform policy makers, influential community advocates and the broader public in order to advocate for social justice.

The photographic images presented in the various exhibitions, taken by diverse women working in the sex industry, illuminate issues around identity, sexuality, violence, love, death, privilege, class, power, race and respect. The traveling photographic exhibit uses art as activism to challenge ideas of sexuality, the human gaze, voyeurism, victimization, perspectives on sex work, and stereotypes and stigma associated with the sex industry.

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Project Facilitator Bios:

CapousDesyllasMoshoula-2.jpgMoshoula Capous-Desyllas received her Ph.D. in Social Work & Social Research from the School of Social Work at Portland State University. Her dissertation is entitled: "Visions & Voices: An Arts-Based Qualitative Study Using Photovoice to Understand the Needs and Aspirations of Sex Workers in Portland, Oregon." The featured "Visions & Voices" Photovoice Project is from her dissertation work where she collaborated with a community partner to bring the photographic images created by sex workers to various venues in the community. Moshoula's research interests include arts-based methodologies, community-based participatory research, commercial sex work, poverty, immigration and culture. She currently teaches courses in the Distance Option MSW Program in anti-oppression, social justice in social work, and human behavior in the social environment. Her passion lies in highlighting the voices of marginalized communities through the use of art as activism and empowerment.


CrystalTenty-CommunityPartner-2.JPGCrystal Tenty has been committed to effecting positive social change in her community for the last eight years through her political activism on college campuses and in the Portland community. Her passion for advocacy began in 2002 when she worked as a Student Advocate in the Women's Resource Center at Portland Community College through the Women's Leadership Program. She began volunteering with the Portland Women's Crisis Line's Sexual Assault Program in 2005 and has played an integral role in the development of the program's sex industry outreach services. She received her Masters of Arts degree in Conflict Resolution at Portland State University in 2009 and her thesis focused on sex work and moral conflict. She currently works as a Domestic Violence Response Advocate for the Raphael House of Portland.