Professional competition, Portraiture, Finalist, 2020: 'Sephora' by <a href="https://www.rouvre.com/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Denis Rouvre</a> (France)
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Professional competition, Portraiture, Finalist, 2020: 'Sephora' by Denis Rouvre (France)

Image Description: My name is Sephora, I live in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One morning, a prophet came to our house and accused me of being a witch. At Mama Olangi’s Church, I went through all kinds of exorcism rites, with the agreement of my aunt who made me fast every day from 6 am to 6 pm. She hit me, I had become the slave of the house. I was no longer even allowed to sit beside her children: she was afraid that I would "eat" them or that I would initiate them.

One day my aunt made me sit by her side. She suddenly became very loving and maternal and served me food. I had doubts and managed to spill a glass of water in the food. In his anger, cruel confessions escaped from his mouth: "If you had eaten, you would have ended up in the morgue today."

I ran away and went to live on the street. I've been on the street since the age of 10. One day, boys older than me approached me. I refused to follow them, they took me by force and raped me, I became pregnant. Today I have two five year old twins.

Series Name: Unsung Heroes

Series Description: 'Unsung Heroes' is a project about violence against women around the world. In 2019, with support from international humanitarian association Médecins du Monde, I visited five continents and met more than 100 victims of violence. The women agreed to testify, their faces uncovered, in front of my camera. Some subjects had suffered violence linked to displacement following the war in Syria and in Colombia, others had survived domestic abuse, or the use of collective rape as a weapon in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Still more had faced moral violence, sexual exploitation, or discrimination against gender identity in Nepal, Cameroon and Uganda.

The women I met are shadows that enter the light. The bruises and creases on the surface of their skin tell a story. Added to this are the voices, the words, the intimate experiences of violence that were shared. I wanted to show the suffering experienced by these women, but also their strength and resilience – in short, their ability to get up and fight again.