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Source: Tumblr

Source: Tumblr

Rape is so much more than just a violation of your physical body. It’s the toil it takes on your psychological and emotional well-being, your sense of self-worth that can be the hardest to heal. Survivors will reach that healing in a variety of ways. Some people talk to confidants, some seek therapy. And many others seek to regain the agency that was taken from them on the night of their assault. The creatives out there know that often, the best way to express yourself is through art. Nearly two years ago, we told you about Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia student who resolved that she was going to carry a mattress around with her on campus as long as she and her rapist attended the same school.

And while we would like for Sulkowicz’s story to be an anomaly, young women are often raped and violated on college campuses throughout the country. Sadly, that was Karmenife Paulino’s story too. According to Mic.com, just before her 18th birthday Paulino ran away from an abusive household. She thought she’d found refuge on the Wesleyan campus. But after being there for just two months, she was raped in the basement of a fraternity party.

Paulino thought she would find a haven in Wesleyan, instead she found herself crying in class. making efforts to avoid her rapist, studying the university’s sexual misconduct policies and filing reports and attending hearings.

Eventually, during her junior year, the man was expelled.

Recently, Paulino, now 22, a graduate of Wesleyan, returned to Wesleyan to assert her sexual agency and power in a photoshoot called Reclamation. In it, Paulino poses as a dominatrix in front of the very fraternity house where she was raped with men wearing chains, gags in their mouths, donning shirts that read “Frat Filth.” (In an effort to maintain an environment of consent, the male models had safe words and hand signals if they wanted to let Paulino they were uncomfortable with something she asked them to do.)

Paulino said the dominatrix outfit is particularly special to her.

“I’ve worn that outfit before many times. It’s what I feel the most powerful and the most vulnerable in and I wanted to wear it because women who are sexually confident are always demonized in these spaces and in society in general.”

But the photoshoot also contains a bit of levity.

“There’s something really powerful and beautiful about dominatrixes and just to be in front of these frat houses and to have these models kissing my feet and worshiping me — there’s an element of humor to it.”

Then on a more serious note, Paulino said she’s tired of Black respectability politics and people of color’s bodies being viewed as vulgar and ‘too much.’

Respectability politics played a huge role in her fight for justice as Paulino had to overcome the initial feelings of turning in her rapist, a Black man.

“When we speak we have to represent the entire community, which is horrible,” Paulino said. “Because my rapist was black it was really difficult for me to call my rapist a rapist. I felt like I had let my community down and like I was enforcing stereotypes.”

In addition to fighting for her own case and the photoshoot, during her last semester at Wesleyan, Paulino started a Survivor Support Network to help sexual assault survivors like herself. She said the campus was largely lacking in those type of resources. She called for more “safe spaces” on campus.

“Spaces are everything, especially on college campuses,” responded Paulino. “We’re not asking to be ‘coddled’ — we’re asking to be safe.” 

Since leaving Wesleyan, Paulino has relocated to New York City, where she hopes to work with survivors of color.

“I needed to take these spaces that had so much power over me, over my community, over everything, and then have that power completely switched and have it rest on my shoulders.”

You can check out all the photos from Paulino’s shoot, here. 

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