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At 31, Shane had spent much of his life incarcerated. His facial tattoos, along with his criminal record, made finding steady work extremely difficult, and work that paid a living wage nearly impossible. After his last stint in prison, Shane was determined to turn over a new leaf and create a better life for himself. That life, as he saw it, would have to include Maggie, a woman 11 years his junior who was his sister's neighbor.
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The following photographs were taken between Sept. 2012 and Dec. 2012. At 31, Shane had spent much of his life incarcerated. His facial tattoos, along with his criminal record, made finding steady work extremely difficult, and work that paid a living wage nearly impossible. After his last stint in prison, Shane was determined to turn over a new leaf and create a better life for himself. That life, as he saw it, would have to include Maggie, a woman 11 years his junior who was his sister's neighbor.Sara Naomi Lewkowicz
At 31, Shane had spent much of his life incarcerated. His facial tattoos, along with his criminal record, made finding steady work extremely difficult, and work that paid a living wage nearly impossible. After his last stint in prison, Shane was determined to turn over a new leaf and create a better life for himself. That life, as he saw it, would have to include Maggie, a woman 11 years his junior who was his sister's neighbor.
Maggie and Shane's courtship was brief but intense. Shane called her every day from prison, and upon his release, they began to date.
Maggie had two children, Memphis, age 2, and Kayden, age 4. Maggie had separated from their father several months prior to beginning her relationship with Shane.
One month into their courtship, Shane had Maggie's name tattooed on his neck in large black letters.
Shane had been trying to make a career as a singer in a Christian rock band while providing for Maggie and her children.
While Shane's relationship with Memphis was decidedly less confrontational than his relationship with Kayden, he still found his new role as a caregiver to two small children to be challenge to his patience. "I'm just trying to do the right thing by them," he said of Maggie and her children. "I'm trying to be a father to them."
Shane's relationship with Memphis was far less conflicted than his relationship with her brother, Kayden. He would constantly lavish attention and affection on Memphis, while his interactions with Kayden were decidedly more ambivalent.
Within a few months of their relationship, Shane moved Maggie and her children to a trailer park in Somerset, Ohio. The location was farther away than Maggie had ever been from her family and friends before, and she said her feelings of isolation only increased over time.
Kayden lifted a chair and a toy truck over his head to show how strong he was.
A trip to the barbershop designed to provide a moment of male bonding for Shane and Kayden could not dissolve the tension between them.
Shane and Kayden had a strained relationship from the beginning, with Shane trying to exert a strong parental presence and Kayden resisting the authoritative efforts of a man he knew was not his father.
Maggie would often say that she could sense the competition between Kayden and Shane, and often felt that she was caught between their separate demands for her affection and attention.
Shane attepts to restrain Kayden so the barber could cut the back of his hair. "He needs a male role model. I'm trying to be that," Shane said.
The stress of Shane's unemployment and raising two young children on very little money often took its toll on the relationship. As the newness of their relationship wore off, they began to argue more frequently, usually about money or how Maggie focused most of her energy on the children rather than her relationship. "Why can't I be the most important one, for once?" Shane asked.
One night, after an early birthday celebration for Memphis at a local fast food restaurant, the two began to argue. Shane said his main source of frustration stemmed from the fact that Maggie paid more attention to the children than she did to him.
Shane and Maggie argued in their car. Maggie's inability to devote as much attention to Shane as she devoted to her children became a constant source of strife between the two.
Maggie and Shane took a rare night out alone together, singing karaoke at a local bar.
After a night out at a local bar, Maggie left after becoming jealous of when another woman flirted with Shane. Upon arriving home, Shane flew into a rage, angry that Maggie had "abandoned him" at the bar and then drove home with his friend, whose house they were staying at for the week. Maggie told him to get out of the house, that he was too angry and that he would wake the children.
Rather than subsiding, Shane's anger began to grow, and he screamed that Maggie had betrayed him, at one point accusing his friend (not pictured) of trying to pursue her sexually.
At one point, Shane picked Maggie up and flung her back into the kitchen as she tried to run out of the room.
As the fight continued to rage, Shane told Maggie that she could choose between getting beaten in the kitchen, or going with him to the basement so they could talk privately.
When Maggie refused, Shane began grabbing her by the face and neck, choking her. "You can either get beat up here, or we can go talk alone," he said. "Your choice."
As Shane and Maggie continued to fight, Memphis ran into the room and refused to leave Maggie's side. She witnessed the majority of the assault on her mother. As the two fought, Memphis began to scream and stomp her feet.
Shane continued to scream in Maggie's face as Memphis wedged herself between them. At some point, the toddler had stopped crying and began trying to soothe her weeping mother.
Around half past midnight, the police arrived after receiving a call from a resident in the house (pictured at right). Maggie cried and smoked a cigarette as an officer from the Lancaster Police Department tried to keep her separated from Shane and coax out the truth about the assault.
Shane hugged Memphis goodbye before being arrested. He insisted he wasn't a bad person and that Maggie had been trying to leave the house and drive drunk with the children in the car.
Shane pled with Maggie not to let the police take him into custody, crying out, "Please, Maggie, I love you, don't let them take me, tell them I didn't do this!"
An officer from the Lancaster Police Department photographed the bruises on Maggie's neck from where Shane had choked her. "You know, he's not going to stop," the officer told Maggie as she wept. "They never stop. They usually stop when they kill you."
Convincing Maggie to be examined and sign a protection order took a great deal of coaxing from the officer. "I don't want to get him in trouble," she wept. "You aren't getting him into trouble. He got himself into trouble. I know Shane. He's a good guy, but he knows better than to do this," the officer replied.
Overwhelmed by her nerves and the shock of the abuse she suffered, Maggie became sick to her stomach.
Maggie tried to pull herself together as she prepared to drive with her children to her best friend's house for the night.
Kayden, who had slept through the assault, was disoriented and began to cry when he awoke. Memphis remained calm and seemed mostly concerned with comforting her mother. "Don't cry mommy, I love you," she said over and over.
Maggie wept on her best friend Amy's sofa after the attack. "I hate him so much," she whispered.
The day following the attack, Maggie had to grapple with what would come next for her and her children. She had no source of income, no childcare, and was afraid to return to the home she and Shane shared to retrieve her possessions. She expressed intense fear that Shane would be let out on bail and come after her, and called the jail several times to make sure he hadn't been released.
Maggie sat in front of her best friend Amy's house and smoked the morning after the assault, while Kayden and Amy's daughter Olivia, age 3, played in the window.
Memphis sat on the floor of her aunt's home crying for Maggie after having woken up from a nap. She witnessed most of the attack on her mother. "I want her to know that it's not okay for someone to treat you that way, that you don't ever deserve to be treated that way," Maggie said.
In the days following the attack, Maggie had time to reflect on what had occurred and decided to make an official statement to the police. She said she had resumed communications with her estranged husband and the father of her children, and was considering moving with her children to Alaska, where he is stationed with the Army.
Overwhelmed by frustration at a long flight delay, as well as by the prospect of transporting two small children all the way to Anchorage, Maggie closed her eyes and tried to calm herself down. Her grandfather had been given special permission by the airport to come to the gate to help her care for Memphis and Kayden. After a flight delay that lasted several hours, they were told the flight had been cancelled and were sent home. They flew to Anchorage the following day.
Memphis stood in front of an illuminated advertisement at the Port Columbus International Airport, waiting to fly to Alaska with her mother and brother to be with her father. Memphis' father is a soldier who is currently stationed in Anchorage. "I want us to be a family again," Maggie said. "[He] has been so understanding about everything, he wants to take care of us. I'm really lucky."
Maggie and Memphis, March 3, 2013. More than three months since the assault, Maggie has moved her family to Alaska to try to repair her marriage and give the children a chance to be closer to their father. Maggie and her husband met at 14. She said theyÕd been on and off since eighth grade, yet they always seem to find their way back to one another.
Maggie and Kayden, four, share a moment in the apartment they now share with Maggie's husband, Zane.
Because of his deployment and his period of separation from Maggie, Zane had only met his daughter Memphis once before she moved into his home in Alaska. He has embraced his new responsibilities as a father.
Kayden’s relationship with his father was diametrically opposed to his relationship with Shane. The two acted like playmates, but Zane had very few problems getting Kayden to respect his role as a parental figure. “He just respects Zane,” Maggie said of Kayden. “He didn’t respect Shane. He never really liked him.”
Maggie sat on the bathroom floor and cried after arguing with Zane. The two had fought with some regularity over her relationship with Shane, and although he had said he forgave her, Zane often had a difficult time letting go of his resentment. “I’m tired of apologizing,” Maggie said. “[Zane] cheated on me, I left him. It was a mistake. But when does it get easier?”
The couple had argued the previous evening, and in an apparent attempt to make amends, Zane had offered to paint Maggie's toenails. They didn't exchange many words, and they didn't discuss the argument or offer apologies or excuses — they simply sat together as a movie played in the background.
The morning after their argument, Maggie and Zane embraced in bed. The two have a host of trust issues to work through, as well as their own traumas to move past. "We've been together since we were 14," Maggie said. "It's hard not to have baggage after six years." Maggie is hopeful that she and Zane will be able to move past their problems, saying that somehow, they've always managed to find their way back to each other.
The following photographs were taken between Sept. 2012 and Dec. 2012. At 31, Shane had spent much of his life incarcer
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Sara Naomi Lewkowicz
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Photographer as Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence

Feb 27, 2013

Updated: June 25, 2013

On June 25, 2013, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz won the 2013 Ville de Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Award for her work documenting Domestic Violence, to be awarded later this year at Visa Pour l'Image in Perpignan.

Photographer Sara Naomi Lewkowicz has continued to document the story of Maggie and her life since November 2012, when she was the victim of a violent attack by her now ex-boyfriend Shane. In an assignment for TIME in March 2013, Lewkowicz visited Maggie and her family in Alaska to document their life as they continue to move on from the incident. Click here to jump to the newest images added to the story and here to see a new multimedia video produced by Lewkowicz for TIME.

Sara Naomi Lewkowicz Sara Naomi Lewkowicz

Domestic violence is often shielded from public view. Usually, we only hear it muffled through walls or see it manifested in the faded yellow and purple bruises of a woman who “walked into a wall” or “fell down the stairs.” Despite a movement to increase awareness of domestic violence, we still treat it as a private crime, as if it is none of our business.

During my time as a freelance photojournalist and as a Master's candidate at Ohio University, one of the biggest challenges of my career came in November of 2012, while working on a project about the stigma associated with being an ex-convict. Suddenly, an incident of domestic violence unexpectedly became my business.

I had met Shane and Maggie two-and-a-half months before. Southeastern Ohio was still warm that time of year and brimming with small regional festivals. I had gone to the Millersport Sweet Corn Festival to shoot my first assignment for an editorial photography class. Almost immediately, I spotted a man covered in tattoos, including an enormous piece on his neck that read, “Maggie Mae.” He was holding a beautiful little girl with blonde curls. His gentle manner with her belied his intimidating ink, and I approached them to ask if I could take their portrait.

I ended up spending my entire time at the fair with Shane, 31, and his girlfriend Maggie, 19. Maggie’s two children, Kayden, four, and Memphis, nearly two, were not Shane’s, but from her then-estranged husband.

Shane and Maggie had started dating a month prior to meeting me, and Shane told me about his struggles with addiction and that he had spent much of his life in prison. Maggie shared her experience losing her mother to a drug overdose at the age of eight, and having the challenges of raising two small children alone while their father, who was in the Army, was stationed in Afghanistan. Before they drove home, I asked if I could continue to document them, and they agreed.

I intended to paint a portrait of the catch-22 of being a released ex-convict: even though they are physically free, the metaphorical prison of stigma doesn't allow them to truly escape. That story changed dramatically one night, after a visit to a bar.

In a nearby town where Shane had found temporary work, they stayed with the kids at a friend's house. That night, at a bar, Maggie had become incensed when another woman had flirted with Shane, and left. Back at the house, Maggie and Shane began fighting. Before long, their yelling escalated into physical violence.

Shane attacked Maggie, throwing her into chairs, pushing her up against the wall and choking her in front of her daughter, Memphis.

After I confirmed one of the housemates had called the police, I then continued to document the abuse — my instincts as a photojournalist began kicking in. If Maggie couldn't leave, neither could I.

Eventually, the police arrived. I was fortunate that the responding officers were well educated on First Amendment laws and did not try to stop me from taking pictures. At first, Maggie did not want to cooperate with the officers who led Shane away in handcuffs, but soon after, she changed her mind and gave a statement about the incident. Shane pled guilty to a domestic violence felony and is currently in prison in Ohio.

The incident raised a number of ethical questions. I’ve been castigated by a number of anonymous internet commenters who have said that I should have somehow physically intervened between the two. Their criticism counters what actual law enforcement officers have told me — that physically intervening would have likely only made the situation worse, endangering me, and further endangering Maggie.

I have continued to follow Maggie since the abuse, and I've also begun working closely with photographer Donna Ferrato, who first began documenting domestic violence 30 years ago.

Since that November night, Maggie has moved to Alaska to be with the father of her two children, who is stationed in Anchorage. In March, I will travel to Alaska to document Maggie as she tries to put the pieces of her family and life back together. My goal is to examine the long-term effects of this incident on her current relationship, her children, and her own sense of self. Devoted to revealing these hidden stories of domestic abuse, Maggie asked me to move forward with this project and to tell her story, because she feels the photographs might be able to help someone else.

"Women need to understand this can happen to them. I never thought it could happen to me, but it could," she told me. "Shane was like a fast car. When you're driving it, you think 'I might get pulled over and get a ticket.' You never think that you're going to crash."

The Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding to help victims of domestic violence, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and is now up for re-authorization. Read more about the law and why it's currently stuck in Congress.

Sara Naomi Lewkowicz is a photographer and first year graduate student at Ohio University in Athens.

UPDATE: Readers who feel they--or people they know--need assistance can call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

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