Betrayed: Portraits of Strength

Betrayed: Portraits of Strength

I was recently a part of an event opening a photographic exhibition entitled Betrayed: Portraits of Strength by Tony Hoare. This exhibition opened on November 17 at theDock, a co-working space for social innovation. The evocative photos by Tony Hoare explore the lives of people who have been trafficked. The exhibit continues at theDock until Jan. 5.

A colleague of mine, Suzanne Nievaart, helped organize the event in collaboration with the International Institute of Child Rights and Development. I would like to share an article Suzanne has written about the event.

- Dr. Kathleen Manion, Associate Faculty, School of Humanitarian Studies

Human Trafficking exhibit opened in Chinatown

“We took a taxi for a long distance... He took me into a room that had a bed, table and a chair. I asked him again: ‘Where is Edna?’ Then he said: ‘Don’t you know that I bought you from her?’ It was as if someone took a knife and stuck it in my heart…I stayed in that room for a year. It was a brothel. I saw many teens and Liberian women working there. I worked day and night…When you are in this situation, you are traumatized. All the time they are threatening you.” – Ruth from Sierra Leone

For some, the memory of that betrayal evokes a deep bitterness and sorrow, and others have a difficult time recovering from that betrayal. Still others overcome the betrayal, though they never forget it, in a way that makes them stronger and more resilient.   


(Photo: Vanessa Pattison)

On Tuesday, November 17, co-working space TheDock was transformed into a veritable gallery, displaying haunting, high-quality photographs of human trafficking survivors. Betrayed: Portraits of Strength, displayed at theDock until January 5, tell stories hailing from Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, and Mexico.

Photographer Tony Hoare tells their stories through images, text, music, and film. He interviewed and photographed hundreds of people around the world over the past five years. Tony describes his experience of the interview process:

“Everyone here that you look at… and whose story that you read… each one of them has a common theme. That’s why I asked each one of them: “That’s really courageous of you to come forward, why did you do it?” People talked about the fact that it was one of the most significant things that they ever went through in their life and they really wanted to tell that story in the small hope that somebody else would see it, and recognize that it was something that was going on in their lives… they have a lot of courage… they are remarkable people.”

(photo: Tony Hoare)

Tony Hoare: Human trafficking around the globe

The human trafficking survivors and their stories hooked Hoare while he was in Bangladesh, and transformed the successful outdoor adventure sports photographer to a humanitarian advocate, canvassing the globe to collect stories of human trafficking survival and resilience. He volunteered with organizations that were working to combat human trafficking around the world.

In Bangladesh, he worked with Young Power in Social Action, which assists people who have been trafficked for their labour; he met children who had been trafficked in order to harvest their organs; he went to Sierra Leone to interview young men who had been child soldiers. He spent several months in Mexico, with Casa Alianza, an organization that helps children living on the street.

Everywhere, he encountered women, children, and men, who were survivors of sexual exploitation. For most, the stories evoke sadness for the circumstances of the survivors and the hardships they went through. Although Hoare felt compassion, more importantly, he also felt admiration when he photographed them. For Hoare, they are stories of inspiration, revealing the marvel of human resilience.

Each person he spoke to found the strength and courage within themselves in order to escape very dire circumstances. This exhibit gives you a glimpse into the lives of people who have been tricked into forfeiting their freedom. He encourages the viewer to read their stories, and ask yourself: “are similar things happening here?” 

Tony Hoare (Photo: Bill Beatty)

Domestic workers and sexual exploitation in B.C.

Hoare confirms that in Canada, there is a robust human trafficking industry, primarily focused on sexual exploitation and domestic workers.  For that reason, Hoare’s photographs were commissioned by the B.C. Ministry of Justice, the Office to Combat Human Trafficking, because we have a significant problem with trafficking right here in British Columbia.

“Why did they ask me to show pictures from Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, and Mexico?” asks Hoare, “because the stories are really similar to the way that it happens here. People will always find ways to exploit vulnerable people. That’s the common thread. By screening some of these stories, and looking for the links to how it might happen here, there are definite parallels.”

The exhibit was first shown in collaboration with the Learning Centre in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. Hoare had invited a group of 25 community members from the downtown eastside to come in and curate the exhibit. They chose which images should be included. They were asked, “how relevant are these portraits to your lives?” The portraits themselves were deemed irrelevant, but once the stories were added, they saw how similar they were to their own experiences and lived realities.

Much like the downtown eastside experience, Dr. Kathleen Manion, an associate faculty member at Royal Roads University in the School of Humanitarian Studies, invites the viewer to find ways to make a personal connection with the portraits. Manion is an advocate of changing the narrative, away from the tragedy and victimhood that we often see in the mainstream media, towards one of resilience and survival found in Hoare’s portraits. Rather than a one-dimensional criminal activity, seeing trafficking survivors in a broader context allows the viewer to make the connection to their own lives.

Kathleen Manion (Photo: Bill Beatty)

International instruments

Kathleen Manion’s academic studies have focused on the issue of human trafficking on the global scale, and in particular, its impact on children. It is estimated that there are between 800,000 and 1.2 million children trafficked worldwide each year. There are a number of international instruments designed to suppress the global trafficking of people, which Manion describes as “a traumatic, exploitative practice”.

The Palermo Protocol was ratified in 2000, by a broad coalition of countries, to define trafficking as “having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.” It was agreed that trafficking occurs without the consent of the individual.  Broader agreements were ratified to protect children under 18.

Manion reminds us that the international policies must not mask the personal stories of the people in these portraits, which connect us to their humanity:

“They are stories of people who have gone through terrible situations, and have been betrayed by the people that they cared about, they have been betrayed by the systems that should be there to support them, at the local, national, and international levels.”

She asks the viewer to take some time to think about the stories and how they relate to you, and how does that create a connection between all of us, and what might we be able to change in order to see a different world? 

Michele Cook/IICRD (Photo: Bill Beatty)

Human strengths and resilience lead the way to change

The International Institute for Child Rights and Development (IICRD), also housed at theDock, celebrates Hoare’s exhibit as its focus on human strengths and resilience resonates with their approach to working with vulnerable children around the globe. Their experience with children exposed to trafficking, among many other child protection issues, builds from the strengths that they needed to overcome the terrible things that had happened to them, as revealed in Hoare’s stirring stories that accompany his portraits. IICRD has developed strategies to support children and families by starting from their strengths and resilience, to build partnerships, and create positive changes in their lives and communities.

Those who braved the storm on November 17 to attend the opening at theDock were not only rewarded with a rich discussion on human trafficking led by Tony Hoare, Kathleen Manion, and IICRD, but also with delectable pastries by La Tana, a local, organic Italian bakery housed at the entrance to Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown, just downstairs from theDock.

This exhibition is part of an ongoing project. Tony Hoare is interested in gathering more stories from different countries, especially stories within Canada. His challenge is to find survivors of human trafficking willing to share their stories. They can contact Tony Hoare confidentially at

The exhibit can be viewed at theDock - Centre for Social Impact, 300-3 Fan Tan Alley, until January 5, 2016

For more information see:

(photos: Tony Hoare)

 About Tony Hoare: Over the last two years, through his work as a humanitarian photographer, Hoare has gathered stories of people who have been victims of trafficking and who, with strength and courage, have gone on to create better lives for themselves. Hoare works with locally grown organizations that support people victimized by others.  The stories are raw and heartfelt. The stories are from Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Mexico. Hoare’s project is ongoing with future stories that will come from Europe, the Philippines and Canada.  For the Canadian stories, Hoare is seeking volunteers who have experienced human trafficking. Your story can be told in your name or using a pseudonym to remain anonymous. If you have been betrayed, Tony would like to hear from you. He can be reached at

theDock - Centre for Social Impact is a coworking space for community builders, social entrepreneurs, creatives and engaged people. The coworking space is curated to stimulate informal collaboration, hosting events and making connections, with the aim of increasing the impact of its members through more efficient connections. The growing list of members shows the diversity of individuals and organisations who moor and mingle at the Dock.

About the author: Suzanne Nievaart is a Victoria-based writer trained in both the social sciences and the arts. She holds an M.A. in Latin America Studies and a B.Sc. in Social Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Amsterdam. She has over 20 years of experience in the performing and visual arts, and over ten years of experience in research, writing, and visual documentation in collaboration with NGOs, community-based organizations, and indigenous communities in Chile, India, the Netherlands, and Canada.

(Photo: Bill Beatty)