Thursday, April 25, 2013

Witness to Domestic Violence

Several months ago, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, my friend and photographer extraordinaire became a witness to a largely hidden crime--domestic violence. She had been documenting one man's reintegration into society after stints in prison, but on one fateful night, she ended chronicling his attack on his new girlfriend, a young mother.

I interviewed Lewkowicz for Jewcy about the incident and the reaction to her photos, which were published in Time and on fotovisura--you can read it here--but I wanted to post a part of our conversation that was removed for length considerations from that piece.

When I asked her about positive responses to the photo essay, she responded thusly:

I’ve gotten a ton of emails from abuse survivors or people who work as advocates for abuse survivors. I got one message from a 21-year-old guy in Hungary who said that he had once seen a guy beating his girlfriend on the street and he hadn’t done anything, and in his discomfort he kind of laughed about it with his friends later on, to trivialize the event so his feelings wouldn’t bother him. He said, “You know, it’s not funny to me anymore. I looked at your pictures and I don’t think it’s just a problem for women or feminists. It’s a problem for everyone.” This one kid saw those pictures and it changed his attitude—what more can I ask for?

I had a guy write to me and he had been speaking to a group of veterans who are transitioning into civilian life and he showed them the essay because domestic violence is a huge problem in the military community. It is pretty comorbid with PTSD. He said that after he showed them the pictures, a guy came up to him and broke down sobbing and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I need help.” He told them that he had been beating his wife for a year since he’d been back from the war—I forget which front he was on. They sent him home with crisis counselors and sure enough, she had a fractured arm that she hadn’t had a cast put on because she didn’t want to get him in trouble. He ended up giving himself up and being taken into custody.

In some ways, only half the problem is solved. The chances that this guy is going to get proper counseling or proper psychological care that will really help him understand this stuff is nil. Which brings us right back to the problem that I first endeavored to document—we set people up to fail and then when they do, we act like we’re shocked. We as a society have to take responsibility for the monsters we have a hand in creating. People need to be responsible for their actions but circumstance plays a huge part in how people’s lives go.

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