While photographing an ex-convict’s struggle to reintegrate into civilian life, photojournalist Sara Naomi Lewkowicz found herself a witness to domestic violence:
I intended to paint a portrait of the catch-22 of being a released ex-convict: even though they are physically free, the metaphorical prison of stigma doesn’t allow them to truly escape. That story changed dramatically one night, after a visit to a bar.
In a nearby town where Shane had found temporary work, they stayed with the kids at a friend’s house. That night, at a bar, Maggie had become incensed when another woman had flirted with Shane, and left. Back at the house, Maggie and Shane began fighting. Before long, their yelling escalated into physical violence.
Shane attacked Maggie, throwing her into chairs, pushing her up against the wall and choking her in front of her daughter, Memphis.
After I confirmed one of the housemates had called the police, I then continued to document the abuse — my instincts as a photojournalist began kicking in. If Maggie couldn’t leave, neither could I.
Eventually, the police arrived. I was fortunate that the responding officers were well educated on First Amendment laws and did not try to stop me from taking pictures. At first, Maggie did not want to cooperate with the officers who led Shane away in handcuffs, but soon after, she changed her mind and gave a statement about the incident. Shane pled guilty to a domestic violence felony and is currently in prison in Ohio.
The incident raised a number of ethical questions. I’ve been castigated by a number of anonymous internet commenters who have said that I should have somehow physically intervened between the two. Their criticism counters what actual law enforcement officers have told me — that physically intervening would have likely only made the situation worse, endangering me, and further endangering Maggie.
Like the work of Donato Ferraro, Lewkowicz has provided us a rare and intimate view into domestic violence through Shane and Maggie. Lewkowicz faced some criticism for not intervening, and while many of us would feel compelled to defend a victim, I think it’s equally compelling that Maggie is letting Lewkowicz show us her story. Domestic violence so often happens behind closed doors, and there’s courage here on the part of both the photographer and subject to help show other women (and men) who find themselves in this circumstance that they aren’t alone. These images, while challenging to see, are also shot with great empathy and care. This work is important.
View all the photos here.
Women may be afraid of strangers, but it's a husband, a lover, a boyfriend, or someone they know who is most likely to hurt them. According to a U.S. Justice Department study, two-thirds of violent attacks against women are committed by someone the woman knows. In the United States, one of the most dangerous places for a woman is her own home. Approximately 1,500 women are killed each year by husbands or boyfriends. About 2 million men per year beat their partners, according to the F.B.I.
There is no excuse for abuse.
Is there a profile of men who batter their partners?
Most experts say there is no one profile of men who batter or beat women. Domestic violence crosses all social and economic boundaries. According to Dr. Susan Hanks, Director of the Family and Violence Institute in Alameda, California, men batter because of internal psychological struggles. Usually, men who batter are seeking a sense of power and control over their partners or their own lives, or because they are tremendously dependent on the woman and are threatened by any moves on her part toward independence. Some men batter because that's the only way they know how to be close to or relate to a partner. Some men grew up in violent households, where they watched their mothers abused by their fathers and where they themselves were abused. Some men become violent under the influence of drugs or alcohol, although the substances themselves do not cause the violence.
Why don't women leave abusive relationships?
Leaving a relationship, no matter how abusive, is never easy. Women who leave relationships often have to opt for living in poverty. That's a very difficult choice to make. There are many social, cultural factors that contribute to encouraging women to stay and try and make the situation work. Often, violence is a familiar pattern for the woman, as well as the man. In addition, women often love the men who abuse them, or at least love them initially. Men who batter are not 100 percent hateful, but they can be loving and attentive partners at times. Some women remain emotionally and/or economically dependent on the batterer despite the fact that she faces continued abuse if she stays with him. Women are at highest risk of injury or violence when they are separating from or divorcing a partner. Women can be very intimidated by a partner and the consequences of her leaving. It takes a long time for a woman to give up hope in a relationship and to recognize that the only way she can be safe is to leave him.
Why don't men leave relationships that are supposedly so unsatisfactory to them?
If we listen to men who abuse their wives, what we hear is how terribly inadequate these women are for the men. At the same time, we know that abusive men are tremendously dependent on their partners. Fear of rejection, emotional withdrawal, and/or abandonment are major factors that actually cause these men to be violent. Men who batter women are often psychologically incapable of leaving the relationship.
What is the cycle of abuse?
A cycle of abuse occurs in some families. The family's life becomes a cycle of violence. Life begins to revolve around anticipating violence; coping with actual acts of violence; or recovering from the violence. Ironically, a family can become tremendously close in the recovery phase. The man who was terrifying and intimidating turns into a remorseful, needy, and dependent man. The woman who was battered then will feel sorry for the man and recommit to him in a fantasized hope that the abuse won't happen again. But the cycle of abuse will begin again, often becoming worse. The cycle of abuse can only be broken with awareness and professional help.
How does domestic violence affect children?
Children are traumatized by witnessing violence in their family. The children in these homes are at high risk of being battered themselves by either the batterer or the victim. In addition, the long-term effects of witnessing such violence can create a cycle of violence that spans generations. We know that many men who are abusive witnessed their mothers being abused and many were victims of physical abuse themselves. We also know that women who come from a family in which they witnessed their mother being battered are more susceptible to developing what is called "battered women's syndrome." Such women may come to believe there is nothing they can do to get out of an abusive relationship. Both men and women who come from abusive homes may come to view the violence they have witnessed as normal, and carry it into their own relationships as adults.
Can men be the victims of domestic violence?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 95 percent of the victims of domestic violence are women. The National Crime Victimization Survey consistently finds that no matter who initiates the violence, women are 7 to 10 times more likely to be injured than are men. It's important to realize the climate of intimidation and control that occurs in abusive families. Most men will say they are not afraid of the woman with whom they live, even if they had also been hit, scratched, or punched by her. However, you'll often hear that women are terrorized and live in constant fear of being battered by the man with whom they live. The difference in strength and physical size puts a woman at more risk than a man.