By Taylor Yocom
Numerous studies echo the statistic: one in four college women will experience a sexual assault by the time they graduate. This fear was felt in the University of Iowa community in early 2014 after numerous timely warnings filled the email inboxes of students, detailing various circumstances of the horrific event. Some of the perpetrators were acquaintances. Some of them were strangers. Worse—some of them were cab drivers. Tensions were high, and many young women took action. Coupled with proactive measures to change the rules and the culture of the community, girls went from point a to point b with a line of defense already in their pocket: rape whistles on their keychain. Talking to my peers, I was amazed at how commonplace these objects were. Girls put pepper spray where petty trinkets should be. Some even were gifted mace guns by their fathers. The connotation of these loaded objects being so casually used on a keychain baffled me. It was a constant reminder of the sensed danger looming around. I saw this as an opportunity.
Instead of a generic statistic floating around in the back of the community’s collective mind, I wanted to put faces to the problem. By using models with their own keys between their fingers, rape whistles, or pepper spray cans, I tackle the problem on a much more personal level. The neutral stance of the models position unifies the individuals in the series yet their own personal styles shine through. Shooting the models was a great opportunity to converse with the women about their fears and take on the community. Some were heavily involved in action to change the culture on campus. Some had overprotective parents who sent them mace. Some were terrified to walk home late at night after studying. Unfortunately, some were victims and survivors themselves. Through Guarded I hope to spur dialogue and change the perception of the response to the statistics: to see one in four as a person, not a number.
Project for Intermediate Digital Photography under Jeff Rich at the University of Iowa in Spring 2014.