Photographer Sara Naomi Lewkowicz didn’t intend to be taking photos of Shane violently assaulting his girlfriend Maggie, but that’s how things turned out. This Time photo-essay is disturbing and well worth your time. For me, the photos showing Maggie’s two-year-old daughter Memphis attempting to protect her mother are particularly heartbreaking.
I had met Shane and Maggie two-and-a-half months before. Southeastern Ohio was still warm that time of year and brimming with small regional festivals. I had gone to the Millersport Sweet Corn Festival to shoot my first assignment for an editorial photography class. Almost immediately, I spotted a man covered in tattoos, including an enormous piece on his neck that read, “Maggie Mae.” He was holding a beautiful little girl with blonde curls. His gentle manner with her belied his intimidating ink, and I approached them to ask if I could take their portrait. [...] Before they drove home, I asked if I could continue to document them, and they agreed. [...]
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.
After the photo essay, you should definitely read Amanda Marcotte’s analysis, “Photo Essay Shows How Abusers Manipulate Victims,” which is spot-on. Here’s a selection, but please read the whole thing:
The images of the fight itself are arresting and disturbing, but Lewkowicz does more than bear witness to domestic violence. She also chronicled the entire process of domestic violence and how an abuser sets up the opportunity to beat his partner. I thought it might be a useful exercise to go through these photos (with links, because I don’t have the rights to the pictures) and explicate the steps an abuser goes through in order to manipulate the victim into accepting abuse.
1) Whirlwind romance. Shane and Maggie had only been dating a few months, but already they were living together and Shane was aggressively trying to become the father figure to the children, even though the older one was skeptical of him. Abusers commonly try to rush things, because it’s important to them to lock the victim down. They know, if only subconsciously, that if they don’t have it all locked down and they give into the temptation to hit their partner, the chance of the partner walking away goes up. This also helps establish the romantic narrative that their love is “different” from other people’s—more passionate, more romantic—which makes the abuse easier to write off as overblown passion.
2) Create dependence. As becomes clear in this photo essay, despite Shane’s economic woes, he provided a roof over Maggie and her children’s heads and by leaving him, she lost her housing.
3) Isolate the victim from her support network. Again, this makes it harder for the victim to leave, because she has no one to turn to and nowhere to go. From the photo essay: “Within a few months of their relationship, Shane moved Maggie and her children to a trailer park in Somerset, Ohio. The location was farther away than Maggie had ever been from her family and friends before, and she said her feelings of isolation only increased over time.”