I Am Unbeatable: Donna Ferrato’s Commitment to Abused Women

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In 1982, photographer Donna Ferrato was commissioned by Playboy Japan to document the lives of a polyamorous couple in New Jersey. Though they appeared to have successfully balanced raising a family and owning a home with their open marriage, Ferrato soon discovered—and photographed—a physically abusive husband who routinely beat his wife. The horrific events inspired her to begin documenting domestic violence across the country, and over the last 30 years, Ferrato has visited countless shelters, police stations and hospitals in her search for stories; her seminal book on the topic, Living With the Enemy, was published in 1991.

Over the past five years, though, Ferrato has refined her topic matter, focusing specifically on those women who have left their abusers in a series called I Am Unbeatable. “I was so upset that many young women were putting up with abuse and romanticizing it,” she says. “I wanted to show how much better life became when the woman left the abuser.” The photographer became especially passionate about highlighting this angle when she saw that singer Rihanna had gotten back together with Chris Brown, an ex-boyfriend who brutally beat her the day before she was scheduled to attend the 2009 Grammy Awards. “It shows the confusion among young women in deciding to leave their abuser,” she says. “It was especially upsetting given how many young fans follow Rihanna’s every move.”

There are plenty of young people in Ferrato’s pictures as well; she realized that speaking to children of victims and incorporating their feelings into the series was just as important as showcasing the victims themselves. Ferrato is currently trying to raise money to turn her series in a book and film, with the hopes of inspiring women to leave their abusive partners. “People need to see a different picture—a picture of how much better these women’s lives are when they aren’t broken down by abuse,” Ferrato says. “And, at the same time, I want to recognize the bravery it takes for women to get away from abusers.”

Donna Ferrato is a photographer and activist based in New York. See more of her work here and support I Am Unbeatable here .

Donna Ferrato has documented domestic violence for more than 30 years. Here, she gives LightBox the backstory behind some of her most harrowing images. I heard Lisa screaming and things breaking. As soon as I entered the bathroom Garth raised his hand to slap his wife in the face. I took the picture because without it I knew noone would ever believe it happened. Saddle River, N.J., 1982.Donna Ferrato
An image from the contact sheet of the day when Garth beat Lisa. Saddle River, N.Y., 1982.Donna Ferrato
The contact sheet shows every frame of the first fight I witnessed between Garth and Lisa. The most important thing on my mind was to take pictures to prove that what I was seeing really happened. Without a photograph there would be no evidence. Donna Ferrato
Diamond called 911 early in the morning when he thought his mother was in danger. As the police arrested his father, he said "I hate you for hitting mom. Don't come back to this house." Minneapolis, 1987.Donna Ferrato
Janice witnessed the murder of her friend, Kim, whose husband stabbed her to death at the bus stop. Oakland, Calif., 1988.Donna Ferrato
A husband is arrested after keeping his wife a prisoner for a week while he used drugs and tormented her. San Diego, 1993.Donna Ferrato
Diane fought to help her husband as the police tried to take him out of the house for questioning. Inside the house, another battered wife jumped on my back trying to make me stop taking pictures. Donna Ferrato
Mary's daughters show the face of the man they called Daddy– the man who threatened to kill their mother.Donna Ferrato
The mirror of pain. Donna Ferrato
Counseling programs for abusive men teach them to take responsibility for their behavior, and to change it. Denver, 1986.Donna Ferrato
Mary's daughter shows her the strong woman she will grow up to be. Minneapolis, 1986.Donna Ferrato
Peggy's husband broke her arm. She, deciding to never give him the chance to hurt her again, left with her dog Lucky and hitchhiked to Santa Cruz where she was panhandling on the street. She had a positive attitude, no money, and the courage to leave her husband before she was injured again or killed. She and her dog exchanged a hi-five to celebrate how lucky they were to be alive, and, for the moment, safe. Santa Cruz, Calif. 1999Donna Ferrato
Diamond, Minneapolis, 2007Donna Ferrato
Margo inspired the Unbeatable campaign launch. Her story proved that a woman can break free from violence without much help or money. She knew she had to do this to save her own life as well as her daughters. 2012.Donna Ferrato

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