‘Start the Conversation’ With Survivors Magazine

Pamela Jew
The gallery space of Washington Mews features portraits of sexual assault survivors from Survivor magazine. The models worked with Survivor and the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault to face taboos around sexual assault.

Within the gallery space of Washington Mews, viewers were greeted by large-scale photos of women posing, laughing and smiling. What did these women all have in common? They’re all survivors of sexual assault.

The gallery, put together by Survivors Magazine, collaborated with NYC Alliance Against Assault to create a space to provoke discussion about sexual assault, often a taboo topic. Gallatin sophomore and Survivors director Maria Polzin commented on the goals of the event during its opening night.

“We’re not normalizing sexual assault by putting makeup on and dressing up these women,” Polzin said. “We’re starting the conversation to make people know it’s okay to talk about sexual assault, especially with those who have survived it,”

Last summer, Polzin completed an internship at NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. What started as an internship that combined her interests in human rights and helping others led to a realization of her personal connection to sexual assault.

“When I started working [at NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault], I didn’t have much of a connection to the cause other than I wanted to help,” Polzin said. “As I was working, I had resurfacing memories from five years prior of my case of sexual assault, which is common for many survivors. I loved how [the alliance] never called them victims — but rather survivors. There’s something so promising about that where there is a light after that dark time.”

Survivors has been in the works since August as Polzin has gathered her team — including LS sophomore Hannah Woldetsadik and Steinhardt sophomore Emily Gordin — and started work with advisors from the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. The team reached out to women from the alliance to be models in the magazine. Polzin invited a group of 10 sexual assault survivors to be a part of the series of photo shoots for Survivors.

“We let the survivors take charge of the [photo] shoot,” Polzin said. “They pick all the outfits, and we just provide suggestions. We want to make sure they’re completely comfortable and confident. They have complete control over the entire [photo] shoot — if they don’t like an element, we will fix it.”

Many of the models were in attendance at the launch and spoke to guests, asking them to engage with one another about sexual assault and how we can work to end it. One of the survivors, Lia, read a humorous poem, which reminisced on her first “makeout sesh” when she was 14. But then the poem turned to her having a distinct memory of her assault by her father.

Karen, another survivor and member of the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault, spoke about how she was held at gunpoint and raped in the summer of 1994. When she was taken to the hospital to be treated for her assault, her nurse was unsure of how to treat her. After this experience, Karen made it her mission as a nurse to treat victims of sexual assault with the proper care they need, and now she’s treated over 3,000 men, women and children who are sexual assault victims.

Polzin said they originally planned on only releasing one issue, but after the success of the launch party and more people wanting to advocate for the cause, they plan on releasing further issues. Survivors is available for purchase online and all proceeds go back to the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault and the making of future issues of Survivors.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 1 print edition. 

Email Pamela Jew at [email protected]



  1. Good effort, and it’s too bad that NYU doesn’t know how to appropriately respond to sexual assault. As a student who came to the Student Health Center Wellness Center in 2015 to report sexual assault, I was brushed off and spoken to in a derogatory tone by two staff members – Jessica Garet, LCSW, and Abigail Houck, LMSW. Neither of these “crisis response counselors” were trained to respond appropriately and neither did anything to help me or provide me access to any resources. We deserve better!

  2. I wanted to leave my response to this post as I feel so saddened to hear that this student left our interaction with such a negative experience. My career at NYU and now at Pace University and in my private practice is dedicated to supporting and being a sexual assault survivor advocate. I can not speak to what went wrong in this exchange but hope you received the support you needed.

  3. I can speak to it Ms. Garet. I called the Wellness Exchange at 212 443 9999 and was spoken to rudely on the phone by your best friend Ms. Houck the ‘crisis responder’. Then I visited in person and after waiting just over an hour to be seen, was greeted by yourself – you were pregnant at the time – you were quite rude, brusque, and dismissed my concerns, all while speaking in a hostile manner.
    You lack both the compassion and integrity to be in the social work profession and I sincerely feel sorry for any survivors who cross you. I graduated from NYU Nursing and am an R.N. now in my own right and am always kind to sexual assault survivors.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here