Criminalizing Survivors of Domestic and Gender-Based Violence

Donna Ferrato, 2022
Collect Pond Park
130 Leonard St, NY, NY, 10013
Ink on stainless steel

On view: June 25–Nov 20, 2022
Opening event: June 25, 2022 12pm-1pm
With a performance by the Gibney Move to Move Beyond Storytellers

The Wall of Silence was conceived of by photographer Donna Ferrato as a platform for provocation and education—a place to confront the realities of gender-based violence and to stand up for those who’ve been criminalized for defending themselves against their abusers. Surrounded by New York City’s highest courts, it asks to be seen and for you to see yourself within it.  

A place for all of us to reflect on the institutions built to protect us, especially for those who work within them — police, judges, lawyers, prosecutors, psychologists… While intending to uphold justice, the system has consistently allowed perpetrators to use it as a weapon, tying survivors up in complex legal battles and too often incarcerating those who fight to stay alive.  

For many survivors of gender-based violence, life becomes a personal prison with no hope and no help. Their voices are hushed, diminished, dismissed and those who are criminalized for their survivorship are also deprived of their liberty

The voices of the people who have been incarcerated, forgotten, or ignored must be heard. Their traumas understood. Action, taken. It’s time for the legal system to own up to its mistakes and live up to its promise of “justice for all.” Women, girls, trans, and gender non-conforming people deserve to be treated with equanimity and dignity.  

Together, we must end the criminalization of gender-based violence survivors in our lifetime.   

Rising south of Canal Street, between the NY County Family Court and the Criminal Court Building – the legendary Collect Pond Park – a place of serenity for all citizens, families, lawyers, judges, the diverse community of the criminal justice system.

Nestled among streets once roamed by early suffragettes and others who carried freedom’s torch, where the likes of Sojourner Truth strolled on Church St, Leonard St, Broadway, and Lispenard, From the mid-1880’s to now, the Collect Pond encapsulates the feminine spirit. The water source of the Collect Pond symbolizes the power of women and gender non-conforming people rising, those who defy criminal categorization. 

Even today the Collect Pond water continues to move under Leonard St, a force of nature bedeviling contractors and construction crews fighting to make it to the surface so it can gush forward like a geyser.

The Wall of Silence is made possible with the support and collaboration of the NYC Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

About the Artist

Donna Ferrato is an internationally-known documentary photographer. Her gifts for exploration, illumination, and documentation coupled with a commitment to revealing the darker sides of humanity, have made her a giant in the medium. Shedding light on the injustices of the patriarchal system and supporting survivors of domestic violence has been her life’s greatest work.

Ferrato first received critical acclaim for her work that captured the horrors of family violence. Her photographs of domestic violence and its aftermath have become landmark essays in the field of documentary photography, challenging social attitudes and putting a spotlight on the devastating impact of everyday violence. Her iconic book, Living with the Enemy, published by Aperture in 1991, is considered the first clear visual journey into the dark heart of domestic abuse.

In 1990 Ferrato lived with criminalized survivors of gender-based violence in a Missouri prison. One night she overheard two women whispering through their cell bars:

Carol Willians: "If a man leans on you, you're supposed to take it right?" 
Donna Ray Read: "You're supposed to because if you fight back…"
Carol Williams: "That's BS. If a man hits me I'll fight back." 
Donna Ray Read "Then you'll be doing 30 years like I'm doing. You're supposed to be able to say 'I'm going to leave,' but it's not always that easy or simple. He always had a sad story. And I always had a big heart. Now I wished I never had a heart at all…"

Ferrato continues to work on assignments and personal projects that illuminate stories of the feminine spirit. Her most recent book Holy received the Lucie Foundation award for best independent Photobook of 2021 and has been shown as an exhibition at international art galleries.

Photo: Donna Ferrato, Women at the Renz Correctional Prison. "When people kill their abusers it's invariable a last resort to protect themselves and their children from further harm," Superintendent Goeke. Christmas Day, 1990

NYC Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence

In the United States, 1 in 4 women experience abuse during their lifetimes. Globally, the United Nations reports that up to 70% of women experience some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime (according to country data available).

The Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV) develops policies and programs, provides training and prevention education, conducts research and evaluations, performs community outreach, and operates the New York City Family Justice Centers. They collaborate with City agencies and community stakeholders to ensure access to inclusive services for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence (GBV). GBV can include intimate partner and family violence, elder abuse, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking.

How are survivors criminalized?
Survivors are often arrested and incarcerated by a criminal legal system that does not sufficiently acknowledge past experiences of abuse as mitigating factors for acts of survival and resistance. These acts include: self-defense, securing resources needed to live or to flee an abusive situation, migration, “failure to protect,” removing children from abusive people, and being coerced into engaging in illegal activity by an abuser.  Survivors who are queer, transgender, gender-nonconforming, Black, Indigenous, people of color, disabled, immigrant, and undocumented are criminalized more frequently by a system that regularly denies their humanity and erases their experiences, especially experiences of violence.

Survivorship and criminalization overlap quite frequently for incarcerated women -- the ACLU reports that nearly 60% of people in women’s prison nationwide, and as many as 94% of some women’s prison populations have a history of physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated. This national issue was also reflected in a New York State Department of Correctional and Community Services study, where 67% of women who were incarcerated for killing an individual were previously abused by that same individual, and 90% of incarcerated people at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women had survived sexual violence in their lives.

Get Free and Confidential Assistance
Help is available for those experiencing DV/GBV in NYC.  NYC HOPE portal is an online directory of resources and services available across all 5 boroughs. Learn more here.

NYC Family Justice Centers (FJC) and many community-based organizations have advocates available to help you create a safety plan. Visit any FJC to get free and confidential assistance. Due to COVID most services and support for survivors are available by phone. Call your local FJC at 311 or visit the ENDGBV website.

If you or someone you know is in immediate need of support call the New York City Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE (4673)

About the NYC Art in the Parks
For over 50 years, NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program has brought contemporary public artworks to the city’s parks, making New York City one of the world’s largest open-air galleries. The agency has consistently fostered the creation and installation of temporary public art in parks throughout the five boroughs. Since 1967, NYC Parks has collaborated with arts organizations and artists to produce over 2,000 public artworks by 1,300 notable and emerging artists in over 200 parks. For more information about the program visit www.nyc.gov/parks/art.

Thank You
With deep appreciation, I thank all those that have supported this project since its inception including Fanny Ferrato, Margie "Migee" Soo Hoo Lee, Amanda Wilshire AWD Art, Annie Forrest, Kimara Lucius, Hannah Pennington, Tesa Arozqueta, Yasemin Ozumerzifon, Amy Miller, Alan Kwan, Michelle Kaminsky, Elizabeth Masella, Eva Green, Dorie Hagler.


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Donna Ferrato Photography

Donna Ferrato is an internationally-known documentary photographer. Photographer, activist, photojournalist. Living with the Enemy, Love & Lust, TriBeCa, Erotic Eye, Workshops, New York City-based. Stories of domestic violence and abuse, gender-based violence, women's rights, trans and transgender rights, portraits, rock'n'roll, guns'n'roses, nirvana
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