This famous photo series depicting a woman in an abusive relationship, has cracked open the shield behind which domestic violence often occurs. Picture: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz
This famous photo series depicting a woman in an abusive relationship, has cracked open the shield behind which domestic violence often occurs. Picture: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz

The story behind this tragic photo

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. [News.com.au has published all the images below].

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
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

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.

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.

As Shane and Maggie continued to fight, Memphis ran into the room and refused to leave Maggie's side. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowicSource: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 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."

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
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?"

Maggie cried as a police officer tried to keep her separated from Shane and coax out the truth about the assault. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied
Maggie cried as a police officer tried to keep her separated from Shane and coax out the truth about the assault. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied

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.

An officer from the Lancaster Police Department photographed Maggie's injuries. When Maggie expressed hesitation about filing an order of protection, the officer told her,
An officer from the Lancaster Police Department photographed Maggie's injuries. When Maggie expressed hesitation about filing an order of protection, the officer told her, "You know, he's not going to stop. They never stop. They usually stop when they kill you." Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied

"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.

She says she did intervene, by getting a friend to call the police, and says she would do the same thing over again.

"I'm not going to argue with people any more about my actions that night. I stand by them and frankly [Maggie] stood by them and she said I did the right thing. For sure, I would do the same thing again. I called the police and took the pictures," she said.

"A lot of people said 'How could you take the pictures?' But if you look at the pictures and feel upset, then you need to think about why you're more angry at the photos than the fact that this actually happened to someone.

"That shit was going to happen whether I was there or not. He's abused multiple women he's been with. This is habitual; this is not a one off. I prefer to have been there to be like 'This is what abuse looks like. It's really ugly and disturbing'. Figure out why you're so disturbed by it."

Overwhelmed by her nerves and the shock of the abuse she suffered, Maggie became sick to her stomach. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied
Overwhelmed by her nerves and the shock of the abuse she suffered, Maggie became sick to her stomach. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied

In Australia, at least one woman a week, on average, is killed by her partner. One in four Australian women will experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and that same number will experience emotional abuse by a current or former partner.

They are shocking statistics that speak to how common misogyny is all over the world, Ms Lewkowicz says. Fixing our global domestic violence problem starts with fixing how men and women relate to each other.

Shane pleaded with Maggie not to let the police take him into custody, crying out,
Shane pleaded with Maggie not to let the police take him into custody, crying out, "Please, Maggie, I love you, don't let them take me, tell them I didn't do this!" Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied

"It starts with the small stuff. It's not just teaching girls how to avoid physical and sexual abuse, but teaching boys that you don't have a right to a woman's body, you don't have the right to force a woman to do anything. You're not entitled to her," she said.

"If you're fighting with your girlfriend, you're not allowed to block her from leaving the room. Our idea of masculinity is defined by how efficiently can [men] dominate your environment? It's defined by 'Do you have control over all the things in your life?' 'Don't show emotion unless it's anger'. All those behaviours are toxic for men and they're toxic for women. They're just not good for anybody.

Maggie put Kayden and Memphis into their car seats to take them to her best friend's house for the night after Shane was arrested. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied
Maggie put Kayden and Memphis into their car seats to take them to her best friend's house for the night after Shane was arrested. Picture: Sara Naomi LewkowiczSource:Supplied

"It's been pretty unbelievable to see how often that stuff goes down and how many people suffer."

News Corp Australia


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