By Olivia Heersink
(Trigger warning: the following post contains images and dialogue related to sexual assault.)
From the innocence of adolescence through adulthood, women in our society are internalizing fear and silence. Most women begin their preparations for sexual assault at a young age, and are well-versed in the precautions they must take before they reach adulthood. In fact, avoiding being raped is an epidemic for women in our society. On average, there are 288,820 victims of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States, alone.
We teach women how not to be raped rather than teaching men about consent, respect, and mutual sexual expression. Not surprisingly, this strategy is ineffective at best. Every two minutes another American is sexually assaulted.
Sex crimes are unique because they are extremely private yet prevalent. Every sexual assault is unique to the victim; yet so many women, and sometimes men, have had similar experiences. Falling victim to a sex crime is an experience that makes the victim feel ashamed of something that happened to their own body.
While no two instances are the same, they are all personal and dehumanizing. Sadly, trends indicate that even after going through these horrible experiences, victims still feel afraid of social backlash for speaking out. Only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police, meaning that almost 2 out of 3 go unreported. It is quite possible that there is an entire network of women and men who have experienced similar situations, yet, because of the shame and judgment that frames our understanding of rape culture, they never have the opportunity to lock hands and truly fight together to put an end to the issue. If that is not an indication that our society has faltered somewhere, I don’t know what is.
Following Brock Turner‘s early release from jail after serving half of his six-month sentence for convictions related to sexual assault, rape culture has been at the forefront of many minds. Campus rape takes place in far more settings than the stereotypical frat house — and one photography series, “It Happens” by Yana Mazurkevich for Current Solutions, tackles this discrepancy by showing the range of environments in which assault takes place. It’s not just clubs and alleyways; in fact, it’s often not clubs and alleyways. It’s familiar places like bathrooms, dormitories, and classrooms.
Mazurkevich, a junior at Ithaca College, created “It Happens” as a follow-up to another one of her photography series, “Dear Brock Turner,” which condemned the culture of victim-blaming and privilege that surrounded Turner’s lenient sentence for three felony convictions (assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, sexual penetration of an intoxicated person, and sexual penetration of an unconscious person).
Each of the nine photographs in “It Happens” is accompanied by a statement from a survivor of sexual assault. Current Solutions and Mazurkevich hoped that the series would show “that sexual assault can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime, without warning and without reason.”
Women who have been the victims of sex crimes, especially on college campuses, are often expected to explain themselves. Victim-blaming is a weapon used to stagnate the social movement against rape culture. Victim blaming is not just about avoiding culpability—it’s also about avoiding vulnerability. The more innocent a victim, the more threatening they are. Victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. The idea that misfortune can be random, striking anyone at any time, is a terrifying thought, and yet we are faced every day with evidence that it may be true.
The problem is that every time someone is allegedly raped, we ask them how much they had had to drink, what they were wearing, or why they were there when the incident occurred. It is as if we are more concerned with why individuals can’t effectively prevent rape than we are with why people rape to begin with—as shown by the Stanford victim’s letter:
“I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name.”
The collaboration of Current Solutions and Yana Mazurkevich exemplifies the effort to shed light on sexual assault and injustices associated, as well as continue the dialogue further. The photography within this project provides the viewer with a personalizing element, as well as humanizes the problem, and in the context of sexual assault, survivor stories can inspire a will to act in ways that numbers simply cannot.
However, the sands of society are shifting. Women are making noise. We will not accept that “boys will be boys,” and we will require that men stand up and join us in our struggle—a struggle that they, too, are affected by. We will not live in fear of walking to our cars at night, of going out with our friends, of clothing our bodies to our liking, and of speaking out when we must.