Last year, Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at a party at the Stanford University campus. His victim's testimony, which she read aloud to Turner in court, was published in BuzzFeed in June and drew national attention — and outrage — to the case. Turner was sentenced to a paltry six months in jail and probation. Last Friday, after serving only half the time he'd been allotted, Turner was released from a California jail, reigniting furor over his meager sentence.
Student photographer Yana Mazurkevich, one of the many people angered by Turner's early release, decided to channel her emotions into a powerful photo series depicting vivid encounters of sexual assault.
[Warning: Graphic images ahead.]
The photo series, entitled "It Happens" was published on Current Solutions, a platform that aims to raise awareness about sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and gender-based violence. Mazurkevich's project was an instant viral hit, shared by more than 60,000 people on Facebook since it was posted earlier this week.
Like many others, Mazurkevich was shocked when she heard that Turner was released so quickly — but she wasn't all that surprised.
"Our judicial system is absolutely rigged. There are thousands more Brock Turners that don't get a sentence they deserve," she told A Plus in an email.
The explicit nature of Mazurkevich's images was pursued on purpose; she wanted the photos to make people uncomfortable — as uncomfortable as talking about rape and sexual assault is.
"Sexual assault is not pretty," she said. "No one is going to put a pillow below your head and then rape you... The images are not supposed to be easy to look at, just like the subject itself is not supposed to be easy to talk about."
The photo series depicts same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and the victims both male and female.
The title "It Happens" is simply "because sexual assault 'happens,'" she said. "It happens to anyone, regardless of skin color or sexual orientation."
"Every single day a person's body is violated, and the big question is 'why?' I question why people do what they do. It's important to include that men and women, transgender, and gender neutral human beings hurt, one way or another. We're all human after all," Mazurkevich added.
One of the most unsettling parts of the series that the victims photographed stare directly at the camera, almost as if making eye contact with the viewer.
"They're confronting their viewer, their witness, and saying with their eyes, 'Please help. I don't know how you can, but you're here and you're watching. Please do something,'" Mazurkevich said.
The immediacy of eye contact that these photos convey serve both as a call for help and a cry for action, imploring the viewer to confront the realities that many college students face. (One in five women; one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center)
And it seems that that cry for action is being heeded, at least in California. State legislators recently passed a bill that orders automatic prison sentences and prohibits probation in cases like Turner's victim's, where she was unconscious and unable to give consent.
Turner's case has provided inspiration for Mazurkevich before, too. Her previous photo series on Current Solutions, "Dear Brock Turner," was a compelling criticism of society's tendency to blame the victim in sexual assault cases.
The final image in this series is Mazurkevich's direct, provocative statement on the Turner case.
"I photographed the last image of the series, with the woman laying behind the dumpster, depicting the victim that Brock Turner assaulted. Middle finger," she asked, "or what?"
Cover image via Yana Mazurkevich