In August we published a series of images from photographer and college student Yana Mazurkevich, who in collaboration with media platform Current Solutions found a creative yet powerful way to bring attention to the massive justice system failure in the notorious Brock Turner rape case.
Yana’s “Dear Brock Turner” series featured women holding up signs with well-known narratives often associated with rape and assault victims when they are blamed for the attacks. Statements that point to a victim’s outfit, the level of intoxication and more are sadly still presented as a defense in some assault cases.
Brock Turner, a convicted rapist, was regularly referred to as the “Stanford swimmer” in the press, as if that label somehow should exonerate him in the minds of the public. He was only given a 6 month jail sentence from a judge, and was only required to serve 3 months of it. At the time of publishing this, he is free.
What is even more hideous about this case is the clear difference between the treatment of white, male perpetrators of rape, and black men. Some of the statements given in court by Brock Turner’s family and friends included the fact that he had been so “affected” by the incident that he stopped eating steaks, and the zinger from his dad who claimed he should not be excessively punished for a mere “20 minutes of action”. Oh, we can’t leave out how the judge expressed he didn’t feel Brock would be much of a threat to society and that jail would negatively impact his life.
Are we missing something here? Yes, the fact that among the pity-party surrounding Brock there is a complete lack of acknowledgement that he committed a crime, against a woman who was unconscious, no less. While he is now free to live his life knowing the justice system was on his side, his victim did not experience the same treatment.
Which is why Yana’s follow-up photo series, titled “It Happened”, is important and needs to be shared. Published on Current Solutions’ Facebook Page, whose mission it is to help raise awareness about gender inequality, domestic violence, and sexual assault, this time the message was more broadly focused on assault stories, and included anonymous statements from victims who show that attacks can happen at any time, from anyone, TO anyone, and often without reason.
It has been shared more than 63,000 times on Facebook at the time of writing, and it has clearly hit a nerve among people who have been following this case.
“The inspiration behind the series was an accumulation of personal experiences and experiences that my friends have been through. There comes a point when it just pisses you off and you want to do something about it,” Yana told Buzzfeed.
She said the intention was to show victims as lifeless, as the attacks happen to them, but also in a very-life like and real way to emphasize the impact it has.
“This happens to real people, people close to you, people you know,” she said.
Yana says the overwhelming reaction to her work shows just how little the subject is dealt with properly, and that there is a cultural cry for reevaluating the justice system to better treat victims of assault. She is grateful to the people who shared their stories with her for the sake of this project.
“Conversation needs to happen, and I am extremely happy that so far people have been stepping out of their comfort zones to speak up and start one,” she said.
While our collective culture has a long way to go until we understand more fully the implications of victim-blaming and how it contributes to rape and assault, there is a sliver of good news from this Brock Turner fiasco. The California state assembly unanimously passed a bill which ensures prison time for rapists and those convicted of assault.
“Under current state law, those convicted of certain sex crimes such as rape by force and aggravated sexual assault of a child are ineligible for probation or a suspended sentence and must serve prison time. AB 2888 would amend the law to create the same punishment for those convicted of rape, sodomy, penetration with a foreign object and oral sex if the victim was unconscious or incapable of giving consent due to intoxication,” writes Emanuella Grinberg for CNN.com.
We’re not sure why the rape and assault of an unconscious victim was classified any less than the same crime being perpetrated toward a conscious one, but kudos to California legislators for at least taking a step forward to make a change in the justice system, which is far from where it needs to properly advocate for victims.
As we wait for the slow wheels of justice to turn, it is imperative everyday people use their platform and voices speak out in the way Yana Mazurkevich and Current Solutions are doing. You can see more of the images from the “It Happened” series below.