UPDATE: Woman's City Club of Greater Cincinnati will present a free screening of the documentary "Coming Home from the Streets" followed by a panel discussion with women who have overcome addiction and prostitution here in Cincinnati.
The screening will take place at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 29 at Crossroads Church in Oakley. Light refreshments will be served.
CINCINNATI — They are women who have traded sex for money and drugs — or even food and shelter.
Some people call them prostitutes.
The Rev. Noel Julnes-Dehner calls them daughters, mothers and sisters — women who made the only choice they thought they had. Her documentary "Coming Home From the Streets" tells their stories. The film premieres Dec. 3 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
"The police call it 'survival sex,'" said Julnes-Dehner, an Episcopal priest and Cincinnati-based filmmaker. "I want people to care about the people who are in the movie and the people they represent and to put that caring into loving action to bring about redemption."
The premiere already has sold out. But Julnes-Dehner hopes there will be plenty of opportunities for local audiences to see the 27-minute film after it is available for churches, nonprofits and educational groups to show.
It's a film that will help everyone better understand the problem of prostitution and human trafficking, said Mary Carol Melton, executive vice president of Cincinnati Union Bethel. The nonprofit operates the program Off the Streets, which helps women who have been involved in prostitution find "safety, recovery, empowerment and community reintegration."
"Noel has helped put a very human perspective on a very human condition," said Melton, who has seen the film. "This is a population of women that is easily — not even just physically cast aside in society – but emotionally cast aside because people just feel like there's no way I could relate to that."
Melton said the film shows the women it features as "real people with real faces that have overcome real obstacles in their lives."
"When your life is going well and you've not experienced some of the real deprivation and some of the real desperation the women have faced in their lives, it's hard to relate to it," Melton said.
'It's Not a Choice. It's a Situation.'
For her part, Julnes-Dehner said the film is a story she has wanted to tell for several years. She was working on another film when the idea first came to her, though, and she works on one documentary project at a time.
She began working on "Coming Home" after finishing up her last film thanks to the financial support of Christ Church Cathedral.
Julnes-Dehner began preliminary interviews with people in January and started filming in April. It was finished by Oct. 4, in time for special programming that Christ Church Cathedral had scheduled to raise awareness about prostitution and human trafficking.
In addition to Julnes-Dehner herself, Melissa Godoy worked as cinematographer/editor on the movie. Both Bethany Dickerson and Michael Owens did the job of boom/gaffer.
The crew relied on advice from Cincinnati police officers on where to film and the right times to do their work.
"As the producer, I don't want to put anybody else's life in danger, including somebody we were filming with her permission," Julnes-Dehner said.
She didn't want a pimp to see a woman being filmed and to accuse that woman of "impeding their business or endangering their business," she said.
It was even dangerous to drive around for "b-roll," the film used in between interviews.
"A lot of people have guns," she said. "And you simply don't know how people are going to settle a score or feel threatened."
Still, she said, the risks were worth it to make a movie that Julnes-Dehner hopes will help open people's eyes.
"My eyes were half open," she said. "People say, 'What's the problem? She's selling, I'm buying.' First, it's illegal. Secondly, it's not really a career choice. It's not a choice. It's a situation.
"Something had to go really wrong for someone to say, 'This is what I'm going to do,'" Julnes-Dehner said. "And if you thought that was a good profession, then somebody in your life when you were a child was not dreaming big enough dreams for you."
Prostitution is something people survive, not choose, Melton said.
"We don't even refer to women in our program as prostitutes. We refer to them as survivors of prostitution," she said. "They are not what they've done to survive."
For more information about the film, click here.
Cincinnati Union Bethel does not charge women to participate in Off The Streets. The organization relies on donations of cash, consumable products such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant and hand sanitizer and gift cards to local grocery stores, drug stores and discount stores. For more information about the Off The Streets program, click here.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO this year.To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.