Why One Artist Is Recreating Sexual Assault Crime Scenes on Fraternity Lawns

Why One Artist Is Recreating Sexual Assault Crime Scenes on Fraternity Lawns

One in five women will be sexually assaulted during her time in college.

To some people, this statistic is shocking, alarming and downright sickening. To others, this statistic – these sexual assault victims – are nothing more than a number on paper. When it comes to effectively spreading an important message – especially one as heavily covered as that of sexual assault incidents on college campuses – the presentation of hard facts and numbers often leave audiences feeling detached and isolated from the issue at hand. Visual representations can help take those hard facts and numbers and make the scenarios, the victims, and the tragedies that those statistics represent more tangible for the audience.

Violet Overn, a recent graduate from New York University, has created a series of photos entitled “Fraternity Houses” to visually represent and highlight the reality behind sexual violence on college campuses. Overn is the subject of each photo in the series, but she never shows her face to the camera. Instead, Overn can be seen lying down on several fraternity house lawns affiliated with the University of Southern California, appearing as though she is unconscious. She chose to style each of the photos as though it were part of a crime scene documentation. All of the cups and lawn decorations sprinkled throughout the shots were collected from the houses on USC’s frat row. In one photo, Overn is lying vulnerably on the porch of a fraternity house, curled up into a ball with her face obscured by her unruly hair. In another photo, Overn’s body is strewn across a tarp in the lawn, surrounded by red solo cups.

Each photo in the “Fraternity Houses” series represents the vulnerability of victims before, during and after the sexual assault. Alone, intoxicated, unconscious – these are all commonalities shared by a majority of victims who report being sexually assaulted on college campuses each year. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Overn explained that depicting the tragic solitude of sexual assault was incredibly important to her, as she knows women who have had to cope with the trauma alone.

“I wanted to start a conversation, start a dialogue and give a voice for victims who are forgotten or silenced,” she told the Huffington Post.

Overn also wanted her photos to demand that perpetrators be held accountable for their actions, in light of the infamous case at Stanford University, where Brock Turner was arrested for assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Overn felt strongly that Turner was granted a privileged treatment by the criminal justice system, receiving a sentence of just six months in county jail after being convicted of three sexual assault charges back in March. Of this lenient sentence, Turner only ended up serving three months and was released early for “good behavior.” Overn hopes that her photos will inspire feelings of discomfort, so that others will become more conscious and aware of their own actions.

Already, Overn’s photo series has received backlash for its raw depiction of sexual assault. Some feel that Overn is targeting fraternities and male athletes and trying to paint them as the “bad guys” on college campuses. In a statement released by Overn, she explains that her goal is not to misrepresent fraternities, but rather to change the culture of sexual assault in the Greek system:

“I am aware that sexual assault and sexism happen beyond the Greek system, but as an artist creating artwork I’m focusing on one part of the larger problem, an institution thats traditions make it feel above the law and entitled to male power. We have to spark the initiative to provoke change for male dominance and sexual aggression to not be more prevalent within fraternity brothers and male athletes than any other student on campus. My goal is to change the institution as a whole, to have equal rules for both sorority and fraternity members, to have women not feel pressured or be taken advantage of, for women all over college campuses not have to worry about wanting to go to a party or have a drink, to have fun, to socialize, to walk home.”

Image Courtesy of Getty Images.