Taylor’s SHINE Story: Seeing the light, using the light

Many high school graduates don’t remember their required health class—or only recall feeling embarrassed by the “body talk”—but for child sexual abuse survivor Taylor Ecker, it was a critical intervention. “That health class changed everything for me,” Taylor shares. “I was sixteen and I remember the topic one week was molestation. That was a new vocabulary word for me.” Learning what it meant to be molested caused Taylor to realize what her older brother had done to her when she was younger. “It wasn’t just a game, as my brother had convinced me.” That weekend, Taylor told her mother about the abuse. “I came forward when I did because of that health class,” Taylor shares.

That health class changed everything for me.

That moment was pivotal, but unfortunately Taylor’s family did not respond in ways that were supportive. “My mom was reactive, and made me feel like I had to explain myself. When my dad found out, he asked me if it was true and when I told him it was, he didn’t believe me. He said, if it really happened you would have told me in the moment.” By the time Taylor was a senior in high school, the disclosure had been pushed aside—and Taylor was left to navigate uncomfortable situations on her own. “I just felt stuck.”

Eventually, Taylor was successful in securing a PFA order against her brother, which meant he couldn’t see her or contact her for a period of time. But to this day Taylor does not feel at ease at family gatherings, fearing that her brother may show up unexpectedly. And the family’s tendency to avoid the issue has often left Taylor feeling that her voice is not important enough to be heard.

In addition to child sexual abuse, Taylor carries trauma from other experiences of sexual violence she has suffered as an adult. As part of her journey to find healing, Taylor has become passionate about victims’ rights. “Survivor advocacy has rocked my world and completely changed me,” says Taylor. “Now I don’t feel alone, and I’m connecting with other people who’ve been through the same things. We’re not bad people because bad things happened to us.” Taylor has lobbied for Marsy’s Law and in 2019 testified as part of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on laws to protect survivors of sexual assault. Through these efforts, Taylor has come to know that her voice is important enough to be heard.

Something that bothers Taylor is how often societal perceptions about victims repeat stereotypes. “Typically, the women who are raped or victimized in crime shows or movies are petite, quiet, passive girls between 17 and 22 years old.” But the reality is that sexual violence can happen to anyone, despite height, weight, race, or gender identity. One way that Taylor fights harmful stereotypes is with the camera. As a full-time photographer, Taylor feels a special connection to those clients who may have their own trauma to overcome. In addition to the standard wedding and family photography, Taylor specializes in custom boudoir photo sessions in a safe, supportive environment for female clients of all ages, sizes, and shapes. “I don’t know what they may have been through, but I want my clients to feel empowered in their own bodies,” says Taylor.

In her professional work, Taylor thinks a lot about privacy and perception. How does someone perceive a photo? What if the person looking at a photo perceives if differently than the person taking the photo? Who owns that photo? Who can have it and what can they do with it?

These questions have serious ethical implications—and in addition to empowering her clients she also wants to educate them. When taking photos of newborns, for example, Taylor encourages parents to think about their baby’s privacy. And those childhood bathtub photos? “I hate them,” says Taylor. “I feel so badly for every little girl and boy whose photo has been posted online for the whole world to see.” In addition to how a child might feel later in life when they see what pictures of them are shared publicly, Taylor fears that parents might give online predators information that could put kids at risk. “Make sure your house number isn’t in that photo of your kid’s first day of third grade,” she advises. Finally, Taylor wants parents to know how important it is to teach children the proper words to talk about their bodies: “No nicknames, no cutesy games—it’s penis and vagina. Teaching kids about their anatomy is so radical and empowering. That could have been huge for me as a child.”

As a photographer, Taylor is always paying attention to light. “Light is how I capture my subject, how I see the world. I have to know how to play with it, how to adjust it according to the situation. When it comes to taking photos, what’s more important than being able to create light is being able to see the light wherever it is.” When it comes to life beyond the photo frame, the same is true: in her own journey and as she advocates for others, Taylor constantly asks herself: “How can I take this light that I have inside of me and adapt it to this situation, to make sure I’m safe, others are safe, and the outcome is good?”

What’s more important than being able to create light is being able to SEE the light wherever it is.

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