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To Intervene or Do Your Job?

by on November 18, 2014

I thought that Sara Naomi Lewkowicz’s photo story about domestic violence for TIME was quite disturbing — and powerful. It’s scary to look at the fear in Maggie’s eyes as Shane pushes her around, and to see how abusive he is toward her. I think part of the reason that the series is so striking is because this isn’t something we see images of often — usually domestic violence occurs behind closed doors. These photos give a face to domestic violence, and it’s scary to see that. It’s a testament to how important journalism can be, and how journalists need to stay on their toes – the photographer went in expecting one story, and came out with quite a different one. There is some dissent on this story — should Lewkowicz have put down her camera and intervened? I really recommend reading this Salon article which talks about how the public seems to be blaming everyone except the perpetrator. She’s quoted in an article as saying that that intervention could have gone very badly as she would have been putting herself in danger and possibly putting Maggie and her 2 year old daughter Memphis in even greater danger. What do you think that you would have done as a photojournalist in this situation? It occurred to me that Shane may have been even more violent without the camera present; either he entirely forgot about it or he thought that what he was doing was okay to be photographed. Do you think Maggie could have been in even more danger if Lewkowicz had stopped shooting?

TIME later published an update video, including interviews with Maggie from Alaska. I think it was good journalism to follow up on Maggie’s situation and see where she was, considering the story was so harrowing and people might be concerned or interested. Obviously Maggie consented to it and felt that there was value in continuing to share her story. That video was published in March 2013, when Maggie was trying to repair her relationship with her husband and the father of her children. What do you think of this update? I personally am curious about where Maggie is today, and how she is doing now. However, I feel there is a point where you need to give a person privacy. Maggie is not a famous person who chose to be in the spotlight. She is a domestic violence survivor who is quoted as saying she shared her story in the hopes that it might be able to prevent the same thing happening to another woman. Should she be left alone now? What do you think of this? Do you think it is ethical to have given an update on her story? What about giving a second update – where do you stand on that?


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  1. This is a very interesting situation. There are so many nuances and factors that, if tweaked just a little bit, could have changed everything. For example what if it was me in Lewcowizc’s situation? Would a man made the dynamic different? Would Shane have attacked so ruthlessly? I feel very strongly and certainly that I would’ve intervened instinctively and on principle. Considering :Lewcowizc is a trained photojournalist and I am not, perhaps her instincts were to immediately document what was happening, and that is not necessarily a negative virtue. I think that as a woman (I have no idea what she looks like) up against Shane, who is an intimidating man, perhaps she would’ve put herself in a very dangerous position. And she mentioned how the police told her that it was better for her not to intervene. I think they’re probably right in this case. I think it would’ve incited Shane to a elevated level of madness.

    As for the update for Maggie’s story, I have no issue with it. I think that Maggie’s story is an intriguing human interest piece on many levels and she seems to be a good sport and agreeable to the idea of telling her story in order to spread awareness about something that is so hush-hush in this society. I say good for her. Her mother died of an overdose when she was just a little girl. And then she had two children as a teenager. There are many layers to peel back from Maggie’s life that are very interesting. Whether she would be consenting to that deeper, updated probing would be entirely up to her.

  2. I agree that I would not have intervened, especially since the police said that it is better not to. However, I would’ve felt insanely uncomfortable standing by while Maggie was being abused, it would definitely be an inner struggle to document that. Lewkowicz was doing her job and it must have been hard for her to not step in, but in order to do the best job she could, she had to distance her feelings from the situation at hand.

    I also agree that it is good that Maggie’s story was updated. I am sure a lot of readers wanted to know what ended up happening to her- I certainly would. It is a story people will talk about and wonder about, so the update is actually a great idea and I do not find it unethical. I think it is good that Maggie could agree to this in order to spread awareness of her situations so that hopefully it can be talked about more, and helped more.

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