A year and a half ago, I was raped. I felt like I was in a deep pit, choking, starving, dying. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t work. I questioned my safety. I questioned my choices. And, I questioned my life. The shock, the shame and disbelief were all too much. Where is safety? What is safe? How do I survive this? In trying to make sense of this experience, I picked up my camera and started shooting.
These photographs reflect the first year journey of surviving life after trauma.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, Every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. 1 out of every 6 American women and 1 out of 33 American men have been victims of rape.
I often wondered how I can break the cycle for myself and for others. Conversations are happening, but not much has changed. Rape is the only crime where victims carry more blame than the perpetrators.
Rape is also not just an assault of the mind and body but also of the voice. Our current culture of victim blaming and shaming has bred systems and institutions that not only permit the cycle of sexual violence, but also allowed for the silencing of victims.
Silenced by trauma, I found my voice through photography. Photography became an instrumental tool for me to embrace and value my story. It has allowed me to process in new ways. It has allowed my voice, which I thought was forever silenced, to be heard. Most importantly, it has allowed me to connect with others when I thought the world had abandoned me. For the first time in a long time, I felt seen and heard.
Anja Niedringhaus courageously covered conflict for many years. She sacrificed her life in the pursuit of reporting on the frontlines. The work that I have produced is both similar and very different from hers. I also work in challenging situations to cover trauma. My focus is on the internal conflict of sexual trauma that started with myself and now have branched out to others. Although this work is different from what is typically considered. I found that there is more than one kind of bravery in photography. There is bravery from risking your life to work in dangerous locations like conflict zones, but there is also the bravery of working on deeply intimate stories where you are exposing yourself emotionally and psychologically. I believe this is just as brave and often just as difficult. I hope to be considered for this award to enable more conversations on the violence against women.
BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 9, 2018: On October 2018, I received a phone call from my assaulter. It was not an admission of fault or an apology. It was a phone call to tell me how he felt his actions were justified. The phone call was so devastating that I crashed my car into the garage and broke my side mirror. I looked at myself in broken pieces.
BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 16, 2018: When I told my husband I was assaulted, I said, "I will go to therapy for a couple of months and put all of this behind me." By November, I have been seeing my therapist every week for four months. At the end of this session, I broke down in my car and realized the work has only just begun.
BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 9, 2018: On a torn piece of paper, I wrote down the details of my assault. For my husband, when you are ready.
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 12, 2018: I am holding on to my lifeline, waiting for things to get better.
COLUMBIA, MO- FEBRUARY 24, 2019: This was the first time since the assault that I travelled alone to a place where I knew noone.
COLUMBIA, MO - FEBRUARY 22, 2019: "You are safe. You are safe. You are safe." - my mantra to calm myself down.
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 18, 2018: Maia and Akira follow me wherever I go, urging me on.
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 29, 2019: These are snippets of my past life, torn down and ready to be rebuilt.
BALTIMORE, MD - MARCH 26, 2019: I had to call out from work multiple times in the past year. I take it a day at a time.
BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 1, 2019: "I knew you were strong but now I can see how truly strong you are. You have been challenged more than anyone should have to endure, but I can see the determination and strength in you that will get you through it all. I knew you were special, but now I know just how amazing you are. I can never explain to you how wonderful you are, or how much you mean to me, or the extent to which you have helped me grow. But please know you are the most amazing person I have ever known. Please know I love you for all you are." - Letter from Ian
BALTIMORE, MD - FEBRUARY 2, 2019: I spent a lot of time behind closed doors that I started to notice the comings and goings of light. Raising my hand to meet the sun, I remind myself that I am still surviving.
BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 11, 2018: I am a survivor, a wildflower.