After Brock Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a Stanford University fraternity house — and after he was given a six-month jail sentence widely seen as too lenient, then released after serving just half of it — a student at Ithaca College unleashed her frustrations through a series of visceral photographs meant to expose the horrors surrounding sexual assault.
The project by Yana Mazurkevich depicts sexual-assault dramatizations:
A woman pinned down on a bathroom counter.
Another shoved against a brick wall.
A man about to be victimized in a locker room.
“This is not a comfortable topic,” Mazurkevich said.
The 20-year-old Ithaca junior said her recent “in your face” photo set, as she describes it, is intended to bookend one she released over the summer on the topic of victim-blaming. The new set, titled “It Happens,” focuses on diversity — race, gender and sexual orientation — to show that sexual assault can happen with anyone, to anyone, at any time, Mazurkevich said.
“Sexual assault is not something that just happens to women,” she said.
The images show young adult models — both men and women — acting in dramatized situations meant to illustrate moments leading up to sexual assaults.
In each photo, the victim is looking into the camera, communicating an unspoken “cry for help,” said Mazurkevich, who is a cinema and photography major.
The faces of their attackers are never seen.
Mazurkevich said on Facebook that the new photos were published partly in response to Turner’s recent release from a California jail.
The photos, she said, are intended to act as a public service announcement that “aims to continue the conversation on sexual assault, as well as to raise a huge finger to Turner and his 3-month jail time.”
Those images showed women holding up signs “representing victim-blaming statements like those made by Brock Turner and his father in court,” according to the organization:
“I should have expected this to happen.”
“My skirt was too short.”
“I shouldn’t have been walking alone.”
“I was being too friendly.”
“I should know how to protect myself.”
Current Solutions also published Mazurkevich’s second series, with anonymous stories from survivors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have reported being raped at some point during their lives; about 1 in 20 men and women reported other forms of sexual violence.
A 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 20 percent of young women who attended college during the previous four years said they were sexually assaulted. But the circle of victims on the nation’s campuses is probably even larger, The Post reported:
Many others endured attempted attacks, the poll found, or suspect that someone violated them while they were unable to consent. Some say they were coerced into sex through verbal threats or promises.
In all, the poll found, 25 percent of young women and 7 percent of young men say they suffered unwanted sexual incidents in college.
As The Post’s Nick Anderson wrote when the poll results were released:
College sexual assault, a long-hidden problem, emerged as an issue in the 1980s along with the term “date rape,” describing a certain kind of sexual crime involving friends or acquaintances. The date rapist — someone who ignored a “no” or never sought a “yes” — contrasted with the stereotype of the rapist as a predator lurking in the dark.
The issue has gained new urgency in recent years as the number of reports of forcible sex offenses on campus has surged. The Obama administration has opened civil rights investigations of more than 110 colleges and universities for their handling of sexual-violence complaints.
Survivors are pressing colleges for some measure of justice, such as expulsion, even when offenses are not reported to police. Accused students, bewildered by the scrutiny of sexual encounters they thought were consensual, complain that internal inquiries are stacked against them.
Overhanging the debate are questions about the extent of the problem. President Obama, relying in large part on a 2007 federally funded study of students at two unidentified public universities, said last year that “an estimated one in five women has been sexually assaulted during her college years.”
Skeptics call that statistic misleading, citing a 2014 study from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics that found college women were victims of rape or sexual assault at an annual rate of 6.1 per 1,000. Non-students, the BJS said, were raped or sexually assaulted more often than students.
Indeed, campus sexual assault was already the subject of a contentious national conversation when the Turner case triggered widespread outrage, particularly after his victim, known only as “Emily Doe,” wrote a 12-page impact statement calling his sentence “a soft time-out.”
“You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” she wrote, adding: “The damage is done, no one can undo it. And now we both have a choice. We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or we can face it head on. I accept the pain, you accept the punishment, and we move on.”
The outrage swelled further with the news that Turner was set to be released three months early for good behavior.
The prosecutor had pushed for a six-year prison term, but Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to six months in county jail as well as probation and ordered him to register as a sex offender — a decision that led to calls for the judge to vacate the bench.
Persky has recused himself from hearing criminal cases and requested to be moved to another court, though there are still calls for his removal.
Mazurkevich, from Washington, D.C., moved with her family from Belarus to the United States when she was a child. During her freshman year in college, Mazurkevich was victimized in her dorm room at Ithaca in New York, she said.
“After the experience, I felt gross and disgusting,” Mazurkevich said in an phone interview, adding, “I took it all out on the series.”
[Warning: The following images may be graphic to some viewers. Note that the subjects are models; they are not the sexual-assault victims or attackers.]
Mazurkevich said the final picture from the recent batch was intended to show Turner “the biggest middle finger I could give him.”
That photo shows a female model with her clothes partially torn away, lying facedown behind a dumpster — much like Turner’s victim was apparently found, intoxicated and unconscious behind a trash bin.
Mazurkevich said the image was also meant to spark a broader conversation about sexual assault. “It’s been in the shadows, and people weren’t really talking about it until now,” she said, crediting the Turner case for bringing the issue to the forefront — to the point that Vice President Biden wrote a letter to Turner’s victim.
Since the photos went public, Mazurkevich said she has been hearing from sexual-assault survivors who are telling her their stories.
There have also been discussions about displaying the photos in galleries, she said. And schools have contacted her about using the images.
Still, Mazurkevich said, she has been subject to backlash from critics, some saying her photos look more like pornography than art.
“Those are the people who are close-minded and ignorant on the topic,” she said. “It makes sense because it’s an uncomfortable topic to talk about, but in doing that, you’re opening your eyes and critically thinking about it.”
The purpose of her project, she said, is to pull people into the scene — to make them feel like actual bystanders to the crimes, to force them to realize that the situations are real and wrong.
“I wanted to show it in a very raw and explicit way,” she said. “I really wanted to depict it as though you were taking a still image of an actual sexual assault.”
This story has been updated.