In order to raise awareness on how widespread and unspoken violence against women and domestic violence of all forms are, I partnered with my friend and photographer Darcey De Los Reyes (check out his amazing work here) to channel the emotions of processing violent trauma through a visual creative medium.
The girl in the photos is by the ocean. She is bare, in many ways, from her clothes to her lack of makeup, to the rawness of her emotions. We chose this setting and these conditions precisely to eliminate the taboo of showing women in their natural, pure state because even after a violation, a woman is pure. This shouldn’t be a question. The purity of a woman is not measured by the type of clothing she wears or the activities she engages in, but by her soul and spirit, kindness and inner strength.
I know some people may find these images “sensual” or even “provocative”. Why wasn’t the female figure more covered? Precisely because in pivotal moments of our lives, we don’t hide any part of our true selves.
When I experienced the attack, I was wearing long pants, a sweater, no makeup, and my hair was tied back. Still, a man chose to see me as nothing but an object avoiding submission and, therefore; an object subject to his aggression. So I simply have no patience for outward judgments on when and when not a woman deserves to be respected.
Because the answer to that is always.
Here we go through the visual depictions of processing the emotions of violent trauma. If you have been in this situation, I hope you can find comfort resonating in a shared, though completely undeserved experience. Know you are not alone. If you have never, and I hope you never will experience such an event, I hope the emotions can evoke a sense of solidarity in you and inspire you to look out for others and yourself just a little bit more. No matter what, we ask you to stand up for respect and always choose non-violence.
*** Warning: The article includes a photo of my injured eye. It was taken a few hours after the attack at the hospital for medical records. My face, which needs to be considered “pretty” given my profession, in the blink of an eye became grotesque, disfigured and temporarily disabled. Both extremes are my face just the same, and I want to show it to you in its truth beyond my own control. If this is something that will trigger emotions beyond your capacity, please do not read on.
SOFT • OPEN
First, you are who you are without inhibitions. You are trusting. You don’t expect the worst of people and in fact, see the best in them. You are the princess of giving the benefit of the doubt. Your gaze is gentle, maybe a little shy. Your dreams are big. You see the world in bright color.
People come and go. You are welcoming. Your smile is inviting, like a cozy cottage on a rainy day. Like many women, you are naturally open-hearted and trusting towards your friends, family members, and strangers.
SUSPICIOUS • CONCERNED
But intuition doesn’t lie and when you feel something is starting to negatively interfere with your inner peace and daily function, you know you should listen. You notice warning signs, but still give the benefit of the doubt. You plan to stand up for yourself if things get really bad, but you don’t think they will… You hope, you pray they won’t.
But they aren’t getting better, either. You take distance, you exercise caution, you don’t feel as free as before. The bubble wrap that you used to pop on purpose for a little silly attention now scares you, you try to only step on the deflated bubbles to not make any unnecessary sounds. Your home is not a safe haven anymore, and a rustling sound behind you or an unknown phone number on your screen trigger imaginations even J.K. Rowling would love to tap into.
You go about your life not fully realizing that irrational and aggressive people will not heed your concerns or requests and it is better to be overly prepared than taken by surprise.
But you don’t expect anything to happen. It happens to people, but not to you. You know there’s no weakness in asking for help in advance. In the end, you will be safer than trying to deal with it all by yourself. But you’re a tough cookie so you don’t tell anyone. Besides – verbal harassment isn’t that bad, right? Maybe they’re just having a bad day, I mean, we all do.
You rationalize an irrational mind, and that is where the true danger starts.
SHOCKED • SHAKEN
You didn’t see it coming, how could you have, yet everyone who knew him knew he was a stalker, unemployed, an illegal immigrant with nothing to do all day, a drug addict, homophobic, short and mousy-looking and insecure about it, from a culture that notoriously deprecates woman’s value in relation to man’s, and everything else that could possibly indicate an unstable person and threat to your safety. But you never. saw. it. coming.
He had been in your house all weekend, and he harassed you verbally that day again. Right there on the street. You stood up for yourself. For your standards, you got ‘kind of mean’. You even said, “this is not Turkey, you can’t just insult a woman and control her in her home!” and you immediately regret this statement because, is it racist? I don’t like to generalize! Even in that situation, you evaluate yourself on your integrity. But he just laughed, “Ya in Turkey things are better”. He made your blood boil to the point of you saying one thing you think isn’t nice, but you call no names, make no accusations. All you ask is: “respect me in my house, stop messaging me, leave me alone“. He calls you a transvestite, says he will rape and kill you, that he will do whatever he wants to you. He grabs you by the collar…
It’s like how you feel when you read the news about some absurd act of violence, terrorism, or rape. It seems unbelievable that humankind is capable of such atrocities and yet, they happen on a daily basis. And then, something happens to you, and everything changes.
I remember hitting the pavement after the fourth or fifth blow.
You don’t see people the same way. You get attacked for speaking out. Your former friend defames you on social media. She calls you a whore, fat, crazy, insane, a piece of garbage – all because you left the place of danger that she continues to nurture.
Not even the police feels truly on your side because “we are dealing with homicides and murders. In the scheme of things, this is not a big deal“.
So a man can beat a woman to the point of hospitalization and it’s not a big deal.
Yes, everything changes.
The country you once thought was great crumbles before your eyes.
Your liberal stance on immigration starts to waver as your assailant is untraceable and easily hidden due to his lack of papers.
Your interactions with men are strained. You can’t imagine having one touch you. The only male eyes you can look into without terror are those of your father and brother. They are now the only men in the world you honestly believe will not hurt you.
You lose your faith in the system. The law. The police. You question your friendships. Your own body. The choices you have made.
You don’t know why, but you feel ashamed. Like something was taken from you that you can never get back.
You can’t sleep at night and food has no taste. The world fades to monochrome and your walls go up so high only the sound of gentle music you use to band-aid the silence of solitude can enter.
You drag yourself to court, to the police, like a puppet going through the necessary motions, perpetually replaying his face over and over in the screen of your memory.
You know you will never be the same again.
LIBERATION • DETERMINATION
And then suddenly, you overcome everything you thought you couldn’t, you stop worrying every time dark falls, you’re no longer afraid of living.
Yes, you have changed forever, but not in a bad way. You are stronger. Forget that, you are tough as f*ck.
You don’t take shit from anyone.
You stop caring so much about those who judge and dislike you without knowing you because you’ve been through hell and back and petty shit doesn’t faze you any more. You stop looking at others based on their professions and appearances. You know that everybody has an untold story, everybody has emotional impressions that are unrecognizable from the outside.
And you’re grateful. You’re grateful for the people who truly care about you, for the moments of pure joy you’ve been given in this life, for the health you’ve been restored. You count your blessings with an intensity you never have before. You internally smile at happy babies, doting parents, cheesy couples and wild teenagers, happy they have a sense of freedom you know that you, as you gain it back step by step, will never again take for granted.
Still, men who look like him or have his accent will always send a shudder down your spine. You avoid the places that remind you of your trauma. His place of origin, which was once at the top of your travel list, will probably never be a destination for you any longer but that’s ok – there are so many more places to go.
Everything that once made your life worse, you start to weed out. You value yourself more, your time, your health. You recognize you have a choice in who you have in your life. You understand you have the right to take distance from people if it brings you closer to your true self.
It’s like a hazy curtain has fallen and you see the essential for the first time. People’s opinions don’t matter that much anymore, because through all this, you finally know that you know yourself better than anyone else, and you always have been, and vow to always be your own best friend.
With time, you become wilder, freer, more determined than ever. You’re not motivated to prove others wrong, you’re motivated to prove to yourself that you passed yet another test of life and are nothing but blessed because clearly God gave you a pair of limited-edition supreme balls (in the figurative sense, of course, meaning Joan of Arc-style courage and chutzpah.)
You continue to only wish well to all people. Lokha Samasta Sukhino Bavanthu – May all beings in the universe be happy, always. Yes, even him. His actions were motivated by the demons inside of his own troubled mind, you know if he had been at peace he would not have hurt you. You stop feeling anger, just pity.
Most of all, you protect yourself. The minute you feel someone is crossing a line, you’re out. You waste no more time. Some call it being jaded, you call it protecting your soul.
You know the right people will make their way in slowly. And if you are alone 99 breaths out of a hundred, that’s ok, too.
It feels just fine to be the one who loves you.
You look at life as if it were the most precious gem, and feel you have, at a tender young age, discovered a secret that many wait lifetimes to uncover:
You are, and
Time is, and
– and like water flows in perpetuity, it always goes on.
Changing the System
In the United States, the burden of obtaining and serving a restraining order against a dangerous person lies on the victim. Furthermore, if the injuries do not leave permanent damage or disfigurement, the attack is only charged as a misdemeanor, leaving the assailant free with a warning and fine at most (if he can be found). We don’t prioritize safety in this country nearly enough – and as much as I love the United States for many reasons, I realize why it is still a country where every human must really look out for themselves. I hope we can change our mentality little by little to naturally want to look out for one another, too. A big reason why crime rates are so low in East Asia (Korea and Japan specifically) is because your ‘face’ or reputation in the community and how you represent your family are paramount to your survival and happiness. I believe we can learn a great deal from collective mindsets. No matter what, I believe in the power of giving, sharing and caring now more than ever.
I am linking some helplines and informative websites below:
Help End Violence Against Women