A sophomore at BU, Jess Linnett never intended to make a statement as a model.
Modeling is a fun hobby she’s taken up in recent months. Her latest photo shoot, however, illustrates her healing process as a sexual assault survivor and also is a message of solidarity to other victims.
When first meeting Jess Linnett, the first thing one notices is her warm nature and constant smile she has on her face. She’s easy to talk to, and one can feel like they’ve known Jess for years after just chatting with her for half an hour. But like the 1 in 5 women in The United States who will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, it has been a long healing process for Jess. She was first assaulted at just fourteen, and it took years for her to fully express her true emotions about the attack, as is the case with many victims.
A few months ago, Jess began working with various photographers in Boston, modeling in different spots around the city. Modeling is not necessarily something she’s considering as a career, but nevertheless enjoys working with photographers to create something unique. One photographer with whom Jess has worked with before, Iam Nash, was talking with her a couple of weeks ago and said he wanted to do a more artistic, concept shoot that told a story. Jess said that Nash asked her if she had anything to say. Jess believes that models and photographers can tell extremely captivating stories, but there is only an authentic connection if the model brings their own personal stories to the table.
“I felt like I had something to say that I hadn’t said yet,” said Jess. Jess had seen a photoshoot recently of a model who had words written all over her body to promote a certain message, and liked that style. She and Nash ultimately decided on something similar.
Until now, Jess had never openly expressed the entirety of her emotion surrounding her assault when she was fourteen. Her friends and family know, and they have been providing support ever since, but this photo story is the first time Jess has expressed her feelings through a medium that reaches many others.
“I feel like I never had an outlet to express what it meant for me,” Jess said.
In most of the pictures, Jess has the word “mine” and “free” written all over her body. Jess picked these words due to their symbolic nature.
“I feel like so much of my own experience with the years after dealing with what happened was reclaiming that my body still belonged to me,” Jess said. “I feel like that’s something a lot of women who go through sexual assault end up dealing with.”
One of the messages that Jess is conveying with this series of pictures is the fact that no one has possession over you other than yourself. This was a hard project for Jess and it took quite a bit to elicit that emotion within herself, but in the end she said it felt really good.
As if the day was not already emotional enough for Jess, she ironically took all of these pictures on Nov. 8th, Election Day. All afternoon, she had spent that time getting in touch with an emotion she had not experienced since she was fourteen.
“Tuesday night was very difficult because I was feeling very vulnerable,” Jess said. “It was a lot with the photoshoot and the results of the election. I cried myself to sleep Tuesday night.”
Jess never planned on using these pictures to voice her political sentiments, however she felt that she had gained a lot emotionally from the pictures, so she believed others might as well.
In the months leading up to the election, several women had come out and accused President-Elect Donald Trump of sexually assaulting them. This created a media firestorm that sparked conversation amongst voters and between the Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump in the final debates. As a sexual assault survivor, this topic hit home for Jess, especially the day after the election.
“Wednesday morning the only people I could think of were the women who had to wake up that morning and find that the man who had assaulted them had become President of the United States,” Jess said.
Jess proceeded to post the following picture to her Instagram account on Wednesday morning after the election had been decided.
Overall, what Jess hopes that young women and sexual assault survivors take away from her telling her story through the pictures is that their sexuality does not define them. That was something Jess struggled with in the aftermath of her assault all those years ago.
“No matter what somebody else sees in you, that’s just a projection onto you, it has nothing to do with who you are,” Jess said.
Jess also believes there needs to be a more open and thorough conversation about sexual assault in The United States. She thinks that people need to look at sexual assault more in terms of the violent attack that it is rather than the sex itself.
“I think there is a huge stigma that women who have survived sexual assault are less than other women because of what happened,” Jess said.
It is people like Jess who are making a difference in terms of having an honest conversation about sexual assault in our society. Jess has undergone years of healing and personal growth since the assault when she was fourteen. It is still an emotional subject for Jess, but because of her illustrating her emotions and opinions through thought-provoking images, she has come to better terms with her herself and feels more confident than ever. If anything, Jess hopes that others survived sexual assault understand that they should not be afraid to talk to others about what they are thinking and feeling, and know that they are not alone. Jess had one final thought for those individuals:
“The only thing people should feel for you is empathy and understand what happened. It should be black and white.”