Photographer Donna Ferrato helped bring awareness to the epidemic of domestic violence in the United States through her raw and often graphic portraits of survivors of violence. But she fell into the work by accident after witnessing domestic violence firsthand.
“Behind Closed Doors,” one of TIME’s Most Influential Photographs of All Time, focused on a couple — then known under pseudonyms “Garth” and “Lisa,” but whose real names were revealed in a TIME Red Border Film to be Bengt and Elisabeth — who Ferrato had become friendly with during a photo project on swingers. At one point, Ferrato encouraged Lisa to wean herself off cocaine. But when Lisa hid the cocaine from Garth, he became violent with her.
“In the middle of the night, I could hear Elisabeth screaming bloody murder. I grabbed my camera and ran down the hall to see what was going on. When I went in, I saw him picking his hand up to hit hit. And I thought, if I take a picture, it will make him stop,” Ferrato told TIME in June. “This is a cautionary note for photographers who try to interfere in people’s lives. You don’t know what people are going to do. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The incident inspired Ferrato’s life work: showcasing the reality of violence that many women face on a daily basis. Her work appeared in TIME and other publications, and she published a book, Living With the Enemy, of photographs on the issue in 1991. Just three years later, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which was designed to improve the prosecution of individuals who committed acts of violence against women.
Of course, much progress still needs to be done on the issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 women and men will be abused by an intimate parter per minute in the United States. And the issue reentered the public eye as a number of professional athletes have been publicly accused of domestic violence in the past few years.
“I would say that being in the bathroom and photographing had an enormous impact on my mind, as well as my career. I don’t think I would have become such a serious — and, at times, angry — photojournalist,” Ferrato told TIME in June. “Allowing me to take these pictures has helped explode the myths around domestic violence and show that if any woman is being beaten in her home, that’s an affront to all of us.”
Read more about Ferrato here, and watch the full video above.