By Jayne Jackson

Jayne Jackson a MA Commercial Photography student from Arts University Bournemouth has created a fascinating photographic art series named ‘Asking for it’, which in a highly unique and clever way highlights victim blaming in cases of sexual violence. Using make-up artists, actors and historical photographic techniques, Jayne has created a series of ‘mugshots’ each representing a different decade and each depicting a reason to victim blame. Here she explains a bit more first hand about the project and how you can get involved online.

The most frequent question I get asked during interviews is….What motivated/inspired you to come up with ‘Asking for it?’ 

I usually talk about a newspaper story I read.  During a trial, a woman had her underwear repeatedly held up in court as evidence against her. Her alleged attacker was acquitted and she ended her life by suicide.  This was indeed the ‘ear worm’ that would not leave my mind at the time I started my MA.  

Here’s the but….  This story, feels like a far away tale, a tragic exception, something that happens to other people. The more honest answer is, I do have personal reasons for wanting to create social change in this area, so do friends, family members, colleagues, acquaintances… the truth, as Simone from STARS Dorset put it perfectly, is that ‘everyone has a story’.

This is clearly not to say everyone has directly experienced rape, but that assault and forms of sexual harassment, particularly (but not exclusively) towards women, are sadly more common than people realise. That’s why we must work harder for change and to address stigma against survivors.

Due to the sensitivity of the nature of the topic I had chosen, I spent over 12 months researching, interviewing and talking to specialists, before I ever lifted my camera.

Research led practice - Concept, audience and aesthetic

To maximize the impact of the project, I needed to give the reader an active role. Engaging them in with something recognisable, but subtly jarring.  I wanted people
to challenge the ‘crimes’. A degree of empathising with the subject was essential and images could not deliberately trigger trauma and ‘shut down’ reader interaction. I wanted to ‘change attitudes and victim blaming behaviours’. 

So what is VICTIM BLAMING and why does it happen?

I read a study by Feldman, (2019) which I felt summed it up well; ’victim-blaming doesn’t have to involve accusing survivors of directly causing their own misfortune. It can involve the simple thought that you would have been more careful, implying that the tragedy was at least partially their fault’.  

Since the #Metoo movement and thanks to wonderful campaigners, spokespeople and charities like STARS Dorset, a lot is being done to tackle this issue and offer support.  The 2019 Netflix series ‘Unbelievable’, for example, offers really impactful insight into the trauma that can be suffered by victims.

Something to remember, is that humans need to understand reasons why horrible things happen. Then we, and our loved ones can avoid those things and stay safe. The crunch is, this need fuels a tendency to blame the victim ... which marginalises the survivor, minimizes the criminal act, and makes people less likely to come forward and report what has happened to them.

In my opinion change cannot come fast enough, particularly in terms of the way sexual assault is handled by our legal system. A key opportunity lies in changing the perceptions of future jurors and breaking rape myth acceptance, to increase justice for survivors and crucially, convictions for perpetrators.

My series features an image captioned ‘didn’t fight back’.  Barista Helena Kennedy argues that there is a real paradox in the requirement for victims to evidence having ‘put up a fight to defend themselves’, despite rape-prevention education advising women to ‘not invite greater harm by fighting the assailant, who may have a weapon’.  She explains that  ‘consistent cross-examination’ is a ploy of defense counsel, denying how fear might paralyse the victim. The insistence a woman guarding her virtue would fight like a lion’ and pointing to any lack of physical evidence of bruising etc are further used to influence a jury.

Similarly, we know that ‘when experiencing and responding to extreme fear or danger, our memories are not processed and stored in the usual way’. As fellow humans we should expect that retelling a traumatic story may be difficult for people. ‘When the brain recognises similarities between our present situation and our past trauma (e.g. a colour, smell or noise), it can re-activate the fight, flight, freeze, flop or friend response, which is known as being ‘triggered’.  This is a common experience for people who’ve been through the trauma of sexual abuse, rape or any kind of sexual violence’ (Rape Crisis, 2019). This year I added ‘inconsistent story’ to my series, to reinforce to future jurors that this should be the expected situation for survivors in court.

Even before legal proceedings begin, victims face a huge amount of scrutiny and are given the impression they won’t be believed. This message of the responsibility lying with the victim is even embedded in preventative advice. For example, police insisting victims hand over their phones, or ‘urging women to go jogging in groups in order to avoid sexist abuse’.  I included ‘running with headphones’ in my series for this reason because ‘Headphones don’t rape women, nor do skirts, or dark streets, or clubs, or alcohol, or parties, or sleepovers, or school uniforms’ (Oppenheim, 2019).

A question I also often get asked is; Are your images based on a real person’s story? I’ve often had to resist the urge to scream YES, HUNDREDS of them. This isn’t a ‘them problem’ it’s an ‘us’ problem. Every time my work is shown, at least 2/3 people approach or contact me afterwards with their story and I’ve received emails from all over the world saying ‘this happened to me’ … 

So, we know sexual assault exists.  We can comprehend why people tend to victim blame, but it is clear how this behaviour impacts our legal system and survivors.  

Creating my ‘Asking for it’ project has highlighted to me that this situation is NOT inevitable. It has strengthened my belief that change is both necessary and possible.

Several studies have shown that people with greater empathy tend to view survivors of rape through a more positive lens. Crucially, education and busting rape myths leads to better understanding.   Thinking of survivors emotionally, ‘putting yourself in their shoes’ reduces negative judgement.  Art has a particular ability to offer this.

When my project launched in 2019, with STARS Dorset, we ran a week long exhibition in a shopping centre, where the public were invited to ‘judge’ the ‘crimes’ of victims themselves. Many people immediately saw that the blame lay completely with the perpetrator, but some did not.  Of this latter group, many gave feedback explaining how that the exhibition experience had changed their perception of blame in cases of sexual assault and rape. #notaskingforit

This year, I have set up a ‘shareable’ online version of this experience where you can be the judge, learn more and add your valued opinions to research in this area, at