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Gender, Violence Against Women
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North America
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Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, US, Relationships
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This project will capture the range of people affected by sexual abuse and trauma. By photographing the intimate lives of a diverse array of survivors, I believe my photographs will demonstrate the scale and scope of people affected and in turn, can help alleviate potential misconceptions about who the victims of sexual violence actually are.
Annie Flanagan

2013 — student

About Annie Flanagan

I know three people who were raped in the past month; they feel alone and silenced. We must erase this silence. We must empower them.

We grew up with gum in our hair, cigarettes in our hands and sex on our minds. 

I was confused. It seemed that every time Hannah and I hung out days would pass before I was able to see her again. When we did get to hang out, there would be new bruises from obscure incidents. I didn't get it. I was pissed that she wouldn't stop seeing him for me. I was angry that she was choosing him over us. 

She has been my best friend for ten years, and therefore has been a consistent focus for my photography. When we were 20, we did not speak or see each other for two years because she was in a domestic violent relationship and neither of us knew how to handle it. It was during those two years that I began to think critically about sexual abuse and domestic violence. 

As soon as Hannah left her boyfriend we reconnected. Her recovery was extremely difficult, as she suffered from severe Post Traumatic Stress Condition. During her first years of recovery, she would not sleep for days at time and began pulling out her body hair, until she had no eyebrows, eyelashes or hair on her head. 

“My life became worse before it became better,” Hannah said, “and Annie's ongoing multimedia project continues to be a positive outlet for me. I am still recovering, but being able to actually see the progress I have made helps me to continue down a positive path. I lost the person I was before that relationship and Annie’s project has allowed me to put the pieces of who I am back together.” 

The extent of sexual abuse in this society is far greater than we realize. The victims live in silence. Giving them a voice is important. 

This is a global epidemic. Yet, these are not obvious photographs. In my experience, being sexually abused never leaves you, but it is never present, either. My hope is to convey something of what that experience has meant to their lives. 

I recognize that it is not possible to photograph past events, nor do I intend to constrain my work to photographing actual acts of sexual violence. What my project will capture instead, is the range of people affected by sexual abuse and trauma. By photographing the intimate lives of a diverse array of survivors, I believe my photographs will demonstrate the scale and scope of people affected and in turn, can help alleviate potential misperceptions about who the victims of sexual violence actually are. 

Through people like Hannah, I will show how this complicated societal tragedy affects a person's ability to regain strength in remaking their lives. I will tell stories of how the effects of these experiences do not stop once the abuse stops. I will consciously create images that speak to the resilience of the survivors. I will emphasize the importance of support.

It could be through the eyes of the young man, living in the Midwest, who is practicing his lines for his next audition. It could be the teenager in her bedroom, talking on her cell phone while her baby nurses on the bed. Her laundry is piled up, her curtains ripped and her carpet stained. It could be a young woman taking a shower; shampoo and body wash bottles line her shower floor. She is thinking of how she will never wash it all away. 

Too often society imagines victims to be a particular profile. With sensitive eye, I will examine how this epidemic spans across all levels of society. Capturing their personal stories through audio and video as well, will enable me to connect this layer of the work to the specific personal and powerful ways people have been affected. 

With the help of the Alexia Foundation, we can work toward gaining a better understanding of how to confront and navigate through such difficult obstacles. I hope approaching the work in this way can not only reduce the stigma of sexual violence for victims, but that it can also elevate policy discussions about this social issue. I believe that through telling these stories, we can empower those who feel silenced. 

Oh, and this week the National Domestic Violence Hotline announced it expects to reach it's 3 millionth caller, one year earlier than anticipated.

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Hannah, then 16, smokes in my neighbors backyard. Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation
Hannah,19, hangs out with her friends Sofie, Danny, Alex and Jennifer, one a summer night. 

"I wasn't allowed to have friends," Hannah said. "It kind of felt like my friends were upset that I lied about it to them. These were people I have known for years, and I told everything to, and all of a sudden I was lying about the most important thing that was happening to me in my life at the time, and I think that just kind of built a taller wall between me and my friends." Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation
Hannah, age 22, six months after she left her abusive partner. 

"He would like switch between verbally, just verbally abusing me, and doing things like digging scissors into my face and taking his thumbs and pushing my eyes back into my head, um, pulling my arms in weird positions into my back so it would feel like my shoulder was going to pop out of my socket," Hannah says as she recalls her violent relationship. Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation
Hannah's journal entry during her recovery. Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation
Hannah Age 26. 

"I very quickly feel into like, depression is not even to the right word…At night I wold get out of bed, I would just sit out side and be like what do normal people do. I forgot how to do normal people things. I mean, it was like, literally like memory loss, even things like shower, I didn’t remember how I used to shower. And some of that can be attributed to injuries I got form my abuser, because he liked to fuck with my shoulders a lot for some reasons, and he twisted my arms so badly one night that I couldn’t reach my back to like, put soap on my bad, so I had to like wash differently." Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation
Hannah, Age 26. 

"One of his main things was repressing my sexuality and shaming me for it until my sexuality wasn't even part of me anymore," Hannah said, "I've been able to reclaim my sexuality as part of me, and a large part of my life and not feel ashamed for it. I don't have to be ashamed of my sexuality, I shouldn't be ashamed for it and now I feel excited to explore my sexuality. Everything I pushed away in a dark corner while I was with him." Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation
For a while Hannah was having extreme anxiety about going out with friends. Most nights she would stay home. She would frequently question whether or not people wanted her around. 

Here, Hannah spends Christmas at the bar with friends from high school. Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation
Hannah with her boyfriend Joe. They moved in with each other soon after Hannah left her abusive boyfriend. Joe was one of Hannah's main supports during the initial years of her recovery. Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation
Hannah smokes in a New York City hotel during the summer of 2006. Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation
Hannah, then 19, listened to pop radio while driving from New York City to Washington, D.C. Annie Flanagan/Alexia Foundation