Sexual assault is a particular kind of violence that is perpetrated not only against the physical body, but against the mind and personal identity. It steals one's agency and objectifies a human being in the most oppressive way possible.
According to RAINN, someone is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes in the United States. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetimes. Those odds are even higher on college campuses.
With those horrifying statistics in mind, a group of NYU students is working towards launching a new zine called Survivors, which they hope will serve as a platform for victims of sexual assault to narrate their own stories and reclaim their identities through photography.
Maria Polzin (director) and Emily Gordin (photography) chatted with Konbini about their plans for the budding magazine, as well as, in Maria's case, her own personal experience as a survivor of assault.
Konbini: Tell me about how this idea was incubated and took off...
Maria Polzin: This past summer, I interned at the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. At the time I started there, I didn't consider myself a survivor, but the more I learned about the sinews of consent, the more I came to terms with the fact that my consent had been violated in my past.
This really messes with one's identity because you realize how much affect it has had on your life – but one of the ways I gained control over my identity and representation is doing photo shoots with amazing friends like Emily.
I realized how many talented friends I have that are passionate about issues like sexual violence. Now, our team continues to grow as we meet survivors and work with them to create their own, individualized photoshoots.
Emily Gordin: For me, it was also about the aspect of creating a publication that combines a medium like fashion photography with a cause, rather than just pure aesthetics or art.
Estimates tell us that 1 in 5 women nationally will be victims of sexual assault during their undergraduate careers – what kind of impact do you hope this project to have on your NYU campus?
MP: Our main goal on campus is to create conversation, and we're already getting really meaningful feedback. Since we released the GoFundMe page, four students have come to me and opened up about being victims of sexual violence.
They all said they feel less alone and that is the goal: to show students that there is a community that supports them even if campuses often put their own reputation over this issue.
EG: Another thing I noticed is the interest in the medium we're using. It won't be a bunch of articles stating facts, it's going to be photos of actual people with emotion and their individual stories. So we're playing with empathy rather than logic...
You talk about "fashion as power" – what does that mean to you personally, and also as far as the magazine goes?
EG: I'm planning to study ethics of representation in media. And basically, after being introduced to this world (I work at a modeling agency), I've been seeing a lot of the same.
There aren't enough stories in Vogue talking about social issues and I feel like fashion is such a highly regarded field that it should be (and sometimes is) used to promote causes. But we definitely need more of that.
MP: One of the first things people wonder when a woman is sexually assaulted is "What was she wearing?" We want these survivors to feel like they can show as much skin or as little skin as they want, and feel empowered in doing so.
Victims have to remind themselves for the rest of their lives that the assault wasn't their fault. And fashion is a way to reclaim that – to remind ourselves that we can look good in whatever the fuck we want, and we still don't deserve to be violated.
Who's going to be featured in the zine, and what's the photographic focus going to be? How are you going to represent them?
EG: It will not necessarily be about them reliving their trauma, rather representing themselves how they choose to. I'll step in to pick out a wardrobe but under their discretion.
When it comes to the photos, our plan is to have a conversation. It'll mostly be me and them, one-on-one really. We discuss what kind of emotion they want to portray and what we should focus on – one survivor said she wants it to be raw, possibly cry for the photo, while another said she wants to laugh and be positive.
MP: One of the things we talked about before this project even started is being sure to let go of all preconceived notions about what the survivor may or may not want.
Could you share what the election of Donald Trump, an accused sexual predator, means for you both personally?
MP: Alright so, I understand as a reporter you must say "accused" sexual predator, as he has not been convicted of any charges. But whether or not he is convicted, he is a sexual predator.
The things he said about women's bodies and minds, particularly his liberty of "grabbing them by the pussy," already confirms he is a sexual predator. Someone can be violated just by language – catcalling for example.
So many people feel unsafe in response to him, and we are glad we're able to offer a community of safety and support. We will not tolerate it, despite what our "president" says.
Representation matters. If you'd like to support this project and want to make a tangible difference in the lives of survivors, please consider donating to their GoFundMe campaign.