Yana Mazurkevich’s photo series, “It Happens,” comes with a warning: “The following images may be triggering to survivors.” Even for those who’ve never experienced sexual assault, the images are jarring. There are nine, and in each one a victim makes direct eye contact with the camera while they’re groped or restrained. The assailants’ faces are never visible, and each image is paired with a statement: “It happens suddenly.” “It happens unexpectedly.” “It happens with anyone.”
Mazurkevich, who’s a junior at Ithaca College in New York, originally created the project for an art class, but she agreed to publish it with Current Solutions, an organization working to end domestic violence and sexual assault. She said she’s gotten mixed reactions from the images, which have been widely shared. “Victims of sexual assault say the images are very triggering to them,” she said. “And that’s been a painful experience because it’s out of my hands. At the same time this is not an easy topic, and it will never be an easy topic. And I think for change to occur we have to talk about things that are uncomfortable.”
At least one of the photos in the series — the one that depicts a young woman lying next to a dumpster — was inspired by Brock Turner, the 21-year-old who was recently released from jail after serving just three months of his six-month sentence for felony sexual assault. But the rest, Mazurkevich said, are based on real stories of sexual assault told to her by her friends.
She recruited models to pose for the photos, and although the scenarios they depict don’t necessarily correspond to her friends’ stories, the quotes in each photo do. Mazurkevich said she tried to make the photos as inclusive as possible, but in the end, there’s no way to encompass every scenario: “I could capture thousands more images, and that still wouldn’t be enough.”
As a sexual assault survivor herself, there were times while shooting the project that Mazurkevich felt uncomfortable. But she didn’t let it stop her from getting her message across. “I wanted to create something that would force people to realize that this is an actual issue,” she said. “It’s right there for you to look at. You can’t ignore it.”