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How Photography Is Helping Abuse Victims To Love Themselves
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How Photography Is Helping Abuse Victims To Love Themselves

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Olga and Alina by Dasha Buben
"I wanted to make women love themselves by looking at photographs," says photographer, Dasha Buben. Image courtesy of the BBC

When you first take a glimpse at them, the portraits may appear to be presenting regular women from anywhere around the globe. Even so, in actuality, these photos by Dasha Buben have the agenda to report a different tale.

The women in the photos are actually domestic abuse survivors from Belarus, wherein, as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) suggests, 3 in 4, men aswell as women, have been subject to some form of violence at home.

This includes Alina, who said, "I felt like I was a sexless body, that only exists to be beaten,"

When she was younger, Alina was made to wander the streets around her home for many hours to evade the abuse she received from her younger brother.

Alina stated that, "As a child, I had a traumatic brain injury and my brother used to repeat: 'what a shame you didn't die then',"

"My mother would always stand up for my him. I was afraid he would hurt or kill me... Eventually I started hurting myself with a blade."

'To make women love themselves'

Alina endured this misery up until January '17, when she didn't return home. Alternatively, she took up refuge in Radislava - a non-government organisation that provides temporary accommodation for domestic abuse victims. It was in this place that she decided to participate in Buben's photo project.

It was Buben's aspiration to work with a make-up artist and hairdresser to aid domestic abuse victims in regaining their self-confidence and helping them to feel empowered through the power of portraiture.

According to the BBC, the former editor of photography at a local magazine, Dasha, said "I wanted to show that there is a solution,"

"To make women love themselves by looking at photographs, but also making them look as natural as possible."

Prior to this shoot, Dasha consulted with a psychologist, and worked towards helping the women to feel comfortable. However, their were various challenges that she had to overcome.

Dasha stated, "Women came and turned away from the camera. They were scared. I had to shake their hands and talk to them to make them feel safe"

Alina recollected, "I was embarrassed when they looked at me. Embarrassed of my awkward poses and my body, because I am slightly overweight"

Disclosing information about herself was a huge feat for her.

"In daily life I am an insecure, unattractive girl in a stretched jersey. [At Dasha's shoot] they did my hair and make-up and made me realise that I can also look pretty."

'the kindest eyes she'd ever seen'

The 43-year-old Elena said of the photographs, "I am not really like this. Less beautiful,"

Following a period in which her partner physically abused her, Elena abandoned Vileyka, her hometown, with her 11-year-old son.

She now works two jobs in Minsk to ensure her son's well-being.

"At the beginning [of the photo shoot,] I felt so tired I could only sit," she says. "But then found myself making some poses and enjoying it."

Domestic abuse victim Elena
Elena says she looks at her photograph whenever she needs more confidence. Image courtesy of the BBC

Elena remembered, "The photographer said that I had the kindest eyes she'd ever seen. And then she started to cry. And so did I,"

Photo shoots help make the problem more visible

In Belarus, there is presently no particular law against domestic violence.

Courts have been able to implement restraining orders against apparent perpetrators since 2014.

More and more victims are coming forward, according to the country's first national helpline.

A lot of activists are suggesting that many of the victims evade informing authorities since they are afraid that their identities will not be protected, or that the potential retributive methods would be ineffective.

The victim of domestic abuse Olga in front of the portraits

Olga said her "children started to respect [her] more". Image courtesy of the BBC.

Olga Gorbunova, a Radislava director who has spent around 15 years researching the problem, has said that creative projects such as these are excellent for making the problem more visible.

Gorbunova suggests that social media platforms can play a very important role in the rehabilitation process, particularly when domestic abuse victims post images from the photo shoot and attain dozens of "likes" and comments.

Olga herself is an individual of whom was subjected to familial violence as a young person, and said "No matter how hard our psychologists worked with the victims, spontaneous and sincere reactions from the Facebook users often had a stronger and more positive impact on women"

Much work ahead

Photographer Alina
Alina hopes to become a psychologist so that she can aid other victims of domestic violence. Image courtesy of the BBC.

In her career that has spanned 13 years, Dasha described this photography project as one of her most challenging. At the project's close, Dasha trimmed her hair "to release the stress and negative emotions".

Dasha said that "The aim with making the portraits was, first of all, to offer psychological therapy and a process of self-acceptance, along with a chance to develop self-confidence,"

"But there is still much work ahead."

Alina aspires to improve the way she perceives herself, her self-image.

She says, "I can accept my body but not completely. And now I have to find and accept who I am,"

In the short-term, her goal is to become a tattooist - to conceal a scar she has as a consequence of self-harm.

Though she admits that "this is just a hobby to make some cash,"

"My real dream is to become a psychologist to help domestic abuse victims like me."

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