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Donna Ferrato And Her Pictures Of Domestic Violence

By: Ella Wang

Donna Ferrato is a photojournalist and activist known for her pictures, which illuminate heartbreaking stories of domestic violence. Most of her works advocate for women’s rights and expose the mistreatment towards them.

One of Ferrato’s best known pictures is of “Rita,” whose husband was beating her in front of their son. Ferrato was originally on a mission to capture a picture of domestic violence for a magazine cover. In 1985, Rita’s portrait, with two swollen, black eyes, ran for the cover of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Nine years later, Rita reappeared on the cover of Time. In the end, Rita sued and divorced her husband, and was finally free from her chains.

Another similar work, “Behind Closed Doors,” takes place in New York, 1982, shooting yet another instance of domestic violence. Ferrato met a wealthy couple, Elisabeth and Bengt, in a swingers club, and the couple agreed to let her live with them to document their typical love life.

After a few months of living together, Ferrato suggested that Elisabeth stop taking drugs, which had been interfering with their love relationship. However, when Elisabeth hid the drugs from her husband, Bengt, 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 her. And I thought, if I take a picture, it will make him stop,” Ferrato told TIME.

However, this didn’t make Bengt stop; he didn’t care who was watching. As he was about to go for another strike, Ferrato stopped him and said, “What are you doing?… You are going to hurt her.” Bengt brushed her arm off and said, “she is my wife and I am going to teach her that she can’t lie to me.”

This moment sparked Ferrato's life purpose: to become an advocate for women and children experiencing abuse and to influence action against this in the community. She then became obsessed with photographing domestic violence towards women and children. She was encouraged to change the lives of women and everyone’s perspective on domestic violence.

“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,” said Ferrato in an article from TIME. “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.”

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