Domestic violence is an awful, ugly, brutal thing -- and it's usually suffered behind closed doors. It's a "dirty secret." But one photographer is bringing it to light with some very powerful images. The photographer, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, was documenting the life of a man who had just been released from prison. Her original intent was to show how even when someone is released from prison, the stigma is such that it imprisons him forever. She ended up documenting his relationship with his girlfriend. And one night he and his girlfriend got into a fight -- which turned violent.

After her subjects Shane and Maggie returned home from a bar, where they'd gotten into an altercation because Maggie thought he was flirting with another woman, they began arguing. Then Shane attacked -- throwing Maggie up against furniture and a wall and choking her.

Unbearably, Maggie's 2-year-old daughter, Memphis, witnessed the entire incident. In fact, she tried to break it up by screaming and stomping; then she got in between them as they continued to fight and tried to comfort her mother, saying, "Don't cry, Mommy. I love you." Little Memphis has just been imprinted with a scene that will never fully leave her psyche.

Police officers arrived and arrested Shane. He pleaded with Maggie not to let them take him away, saying, "I love you! Tell them I didn't do this!"

But he was taken away. Then an officer photographed the bruises on Maggie's neck. The officer told her: "You know, he's not going to stop. They never stop. They usually stop when they kill you."

Eventually, Maggie left Shane and returned to her estranged husband, the father of her two young children. Shane pled guilty to a domestic violence felony charge and is in prison.

The photographer has been criticized for not jumping in to try and stop the attack. But police officers told her this probably would have just escalated it -- and put her at risk as well. She says her "photojounalist's instincts" took over and she just kept snapping. She did, however, make sure that a housemate had called police.

Maggie agrees that Sara should have taken the pictures. She thinks their publication will help other women.

This is why I'm not a photojournalist -- I absolutely would have stepped in -- and possibly that would have been the wrong thing to do. In fact, I have stepped in between domestic violence. So I know I would have done that here. And possibly made things worse, but that just would have been my natural instinct, one I wouldn't have been able to control. At the very least, I would have grabbed the child out of harm's way. But the sad thing is that stepping in usually doesn't help anyway -- the woman usually goes right back to her abuser and how many times can you put yourself in harm's way for someone?

I do not judge the photographer for not doing so -- I think it was really important to see these images -- though I'm not sure about including the children's faces. They are too young to make the choice about whether this is something they want the world to know about.

What would you have done? What do you think the photographer should have done?


Image via DoodleDeMoon/Flickr