The moment of domestic violenceThe domestic violence story we rarely hear about: When the woman gets away
Warning: Confronting content
DOMESTIC violence is too often shielded from public view.We usually only find out what really happens behind these closed doors when it’s too late — at a funeral or in a courtroom, as a man is charged with the murder of his partner.American photographer Sara Lewkowicz wants this to change. She believes this “private crime” needs to become everybody’s business.Ms Lewkowicz made headlines in 2013 when her photo essay Photographer as Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence, a stunning and shocking documentation of a violent fight between an Ohio couple, Shane, 31, and his girlfriend Maggie, 19,was published in Time magazine..The photos were taken on a night in November 2012, when the couple and Maggie’s two children, Kayden, 4, and Memphis, 2, from a previous relationship, were staying at a friend’s house.
Shane continued to scream in Maggie's face as Memphis wedged herself between them. At some point, the toddler had stopped crying and began trying to soothe her weeping mother. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied
As they had many times before, Shane and Maggie began to fight. He had previously pulled her hair and grabbed her neck, but that night was different. He attacked Maggie, throwing her into chairs, pushing her up against a wall and choking her in front of her daughter.
“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,” Ms Lewkowicz wrote in her essay.
As the police arrived and Shane was arrested, she kept taking photos. He later pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge and is currently in prison in Ohio.
“Women need to understand this can happen to them. I never thought it could happen to me, but it could,” Maggie told Sara.
“Shane was like a fast car. When you’re driving it, you think ‘I might get pulled over and get a ticket.’ You never think that you’re going to crash.”
When Maggie refused to go anywhere alone with him, Shane began grabbing her by the face and neck, choking her. "You can either get beat up here, or we can go talk alone," he said. "Your choice." Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied
As Shane and Maggie continued to fight, Memphis ran into the room and refused to leave Maggie's side. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowicSource:Supplied
After a night out at a local bar, Maggie left after becoming jealous of another woman flirting with Shane. Upon arriving home, Shane flew into a rage, angry that Maggie had "abandoned him" at the bar, and he screamed that Maggie had betrayed him, at one point accusing his friend (not pictured) of trying to pursue her sexually. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied
Speaking to news.com.au, Ms Lewkowicz said Maggie is now in a new relationship and moved to Alaska to start a new life, before moving back to Ohio, where she lives now.“We try to talk fairly regularly, but she has another baby now and she’s going to college. She doesn’t want to just be known as an abuse survivor,” she said.It’s a positive end to an abusive relationship which we don’t often hear about.Despite this, the Time magazine article earned Ms Lewkowicz both praise and criticism. Some argued she started a brutally honest conversation about the reality of domestic violence. Others said she was capitalising on someone else’s misery for her own artistic benefit.The questions came thick and fast — “Why didn’t you try to stop him? Why did you just stand there? How did you even end up in that house in the first place?”Ms Lewkowicz first met the couple at a festival, where she had gone to shoot her first assignment for a photography class. She was struck by the contrast of Shane’s tattoos against Memphis’s beautiful blonde curls and thought it would create an interesting photograph.They struck up a conversation and Shane revealed that he struggled with drug addiction for most of his life and had been in and out of prison. Ms Lewkowicz asked if she could document the couple and their lives, and they agreed.“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,” Ms Lewkowicz wrote in Time.