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]