The Year to Cheer for Women’s Rights

The Year to Cheer for Women’s Rights

IN 1968, WHEN I was in college, I got my first camera. It was a small, cold machine that felt incredibly powerful — not like a gadget or a tool, but like a grenade, with the power to blow the lid off something big.

By the early 1980s, I was living by my wits in New York City and was involved with anti-war photographer Philip Jones Griffiths. We had a child. The life was full of good things. It revolved around our love for photography and for the darkroom. I was working the NYC nightclub scene for New York Magazine and the Soho Weekly News. One night, on assignment at a swingers’ club called Plato’s Retreat, I met a couple from Sweden who seemed to have achieved the American dream. They were rich and sophisticated, with five children and a New Jersey mansion next-door to Richard Nixon. They invited me to their home to see how their swinging lifestyle meshed with their family life. But the longer I stayed with them, the more I saw the cracks in the happy façade. One night turned into hell. The husband attacked his wife in front of me, and I took my first photograph of domestic violence.

I began to work on more and more stories about women trapped in similar situations. I rode with the cops and lived in shelters. I lived in maximum-security prisons with women who had killed in self-defense. I learned incredible things from women who were not accustomed to anybody listening to them. They shaped my outlook.

Today, the issues that compel me as a photographer are women’s rights — too often misunderstood and in jeopardy now more than ever.

In 2012, I met a woman named Sarah Augusta through an Internet connection with her parents. At the age of thirteen, she had been seduced by a man who convinced her it was time to make a family with him. Once he gained control over her body, he owned her mind. Twelve years later, she faced the truth: if she stayed any longer, she would end up dead. That realization gave her the will to leave.

From my perspective, Sarah was the keeper of the keys. She was determined to live free of cruelty. I had to see how she did this, and to learn from Sarah how a woman is able to pick herself up, in spite of serious physical injuries, depression, and poverty — how she finds her voice and is ready to fight for her rights. In 2014, the photographs of Sarah Augusta were exhibited at Vanderbilt University in a show that became the official launch of the “I Am Unbeatable” campaign.

Traditionally, battered women felt shame because society blamed them for domestic problems, from the courts to the churches, even their friends and families. “What did you  do to make him like that?” This kind of thinking is passé; women today are realizing that they don’t have to feel ashamed. Domestic violence is not their fault. I want to cheer on this new consciousness. Change is in the wind. The irrepressible female spirit is rising stronger and brighter than ever.

This week, I met another extraordinary woman through the Internet. Ariana Flores Gordon contacted me after seeing the new miniseries “This is Conflict,” which featured a documentary about my work. After reading an article on the Huffington Post by comedian Beth Stelling who went public about her experience with her abuser, Ariana decided to write a powerful post about her own experience with domestic violence and how difficult it is to be honest about bad relationships. “Before we can really respect others, we have to start with respecting ourselves,” Ariana wrote. “For me, part of that respect is being honest with myself… I choose peace and nonviolence. But I will defend myself, by any means necessary, if my life is threatened, by anyone. That is my human right.”

Many women are having these epiphanies: they know their worth and they refuse to live with someone who does not respect them. Isn’t this something that merits a collective cheer?


Hear Donna’s 2016 interview with Sandi Klein here.

Donna Ferrato
Donna Ferrato
You’re in for a riveting, eye-opening, disturbing conversation with Donna Ferrato. The internationally acclaimed and awarding-winning photojournalist is behind the groundbreaking documentation of the hidden world of domestic violence. Her book, Living With the Enemy, went into 4 printings and along with exhibitions and lectures, sparked a national discussion on sexual violence and women’s rights. This is a conversation that should not be missed.
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    I have contacted donna and anybody who will listen but no answer so people will just print a 1 sideed story….I was never contacted about any of this.

    Well I dunno where to start I am the father and person that was with Sarah Agusta for 12 years that was good I thought until the last year I am frankly shocked at all this because Sarah and I fell in love at early stage in life and she wasn’t 13 she was 15 and I was 18 (at the time I didn’t know her age) she got pregnant and had our 1st child at age 16 we had relations 1 or 2 times and she got pregnant so after I found out her age she was already pregnant anyways we stayed together and as any young couple had ups n downs but I have never ever put my hands on on her ever I am not a pig punk guy who has no morals I have 2 sisters that can beae up till this day cause I don’t hit girls or women I respect all women and if I ever get into a situation I leave. Sarah found somebody new and diffrent and instead of being civil she desided i wanst gonna be therw father and he was and she did whatever to make it just that. This is a bunch of made up stuff for public eye I dunno where any of this is coming from I am a honest man who works hard every day I Dont drink smoke or do any drugs test me anytime and had my kids taken from me because of these lies I haven seen my boys in 3 years now and it’s sad they are my Lil buddy’s well now they are going on 15 and 13 and I want so bad to be in there life and can’t judge says no cause some reason they hate me now the lived me n didn’t want to be away from me now they hate me??? Wow Sarah has moved on as have I my son’s haven’t met there new step brother yet and are missing out on a lot of his young life it’s not fair and sad that somebody is that angry because I tried to get the kids to live with me I never tried to take them from her I have never and still do wish her no harm just pray my boys are OK doing schooling OK and not into bad things or around bad influences and if u want the truth Donna don’t hesitate call or email me come by n see me and my family I have and never have had anything to hide I am the one who was abused not her and thats the truth..

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    linda troeller

    Donna has kept the legacy of her great inspirational courage to shoot photographs of women in abuse and has gone further to keep the topic alive for many years, and defiantly kept the project on a front burner and the Aperture book viable.
    We are contemporaries in photography time-frame, so while she worked on that topic I did a book with Scalo called Erotic Lives of Women that celebrated women’s gains in sexuality in 30 countries and the NYTimes Book Review called it “one of the best of the decade.” Yet when I came out last year with Orgasm Photographs and Interviews with Daylight on women’s first experience and strongest I could barely hold onto my courage as college administrators banned my book, my talks ware canceled as they might inspire sexuality. Everyone pointed me to the Museum of Sex, and yes I had a signing there rather than a museum.
    Donna has encouraged me to do what I feel is my mission – to inform and new info on orgasm. Finally at the Society for Photographic Education Conferene March 12 2pm RedRock, Las Vegas, I am the Image-maker speaker with practically the first chance to talk on my topic in USA, except for the article Huffington post wrote last August.
    I am so pleased to see people still contact Donna, as she now is quite wise in laws, still has a cunning eye for photos and access from her many exemplary awards to bring stories to light. Congratulation on this interview, so well poised yet so strident. Donna is a guide to me forever as for many other women.

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