Today’s Bad Bitch Award goes to Karmenife Paulino, a 22-year-old graduate of Wesleyan University. Raped at a fraternity during her freshman year, she reasserted her sexual agency in a photoshoot entitled “Reclamation,” where she poses as a dominatrix on fraternity grounds.

Black Girl with Long Hair reports that “the assault colored the rest of her experience, destroying a place she’d hoped could be a haven.” After her rape, writes Mic’s Marie Solis, Paulino “found herself crying in class, avoiding her rapist, poring over the sexual misconduct policies, filing reports and attending hearings until, finally in her junior year, the man was expelled.”

“Reclamation” employs BDSM imagery to suggest “Paulino’s ‘reclamation’ of power over her attacker.” Moreover, signaling the emotive power of geography, photographer Tess Altman shot Paulino “in and around fraternities on Wesleyan’s campus, including the very house where she was assaulted.” From Mic:

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“‘There’s something really powerful and beautiful about dominatrixes and just to be in front of those frat houses and to have those models kissing my feet and worshipping me — there’s an element of humor to it,’ Paulino told Mic.

She poses with men sporting collars, ball gags, and tank tops reading ‘Frat Filth.’ Holding their leashes is Paulino, clad in chains, a fishnet bodystocking and a harness.

‘I’ve worn that outfit before many times,’ Paulino said. ‘It’s what I feel the most powerful and the most vulnerable in and I wanted to wear it because women who are sexually confident are always demonized in these spaces and in society in general.’”

Before the photoshoot, Altman and Paulino spoke with their models to establish safe words and hand signals because, Paulino explained to Mic, “communication...establishes a culture of consent.” Indeed, the photoshoot also comments on the necessity of consent and safe spaces and “is a clapback at the vocal contingency who scorn college students’ calls for ‘safe spaces’ on campus.”

Via Mic:

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“‘Spaces are everything, especially on college campuses,’ responded Paulino. ‘We’re not asking to be coddled — we’re asking to be safe.’

And fraternities, she said, can be among the most toxic spaces on campus, something she found increasingly evident when she joined Wesleyan’s coed frat, Eclectic, where Paulino said racism and transphobia were rampant.”

Now Wesleyan requires that all fraternities allow women to pledge, and during the fall of 2015 Paulino founded the Survivor Support Network for those who have endured experiences similar to hers. However, noting that a majority of white students used the Network, Paulino argues that we must take a more intersectional approach to survivor support.

“When we speak we have to represent the entire community, which is horrible,” Paulino tells Mic. “Because my rapist was black it was really difficult for me to call my rapist a rapist. I felt like I had let my community down and like I was enforcing stereotypes.”

This photoshoot, which you can view in its entirety here, enabled Paulino to take a meaningful step past her painful college experience. Now she lives in New York City, where she continues to push forward and beyond.


Image via Tess Altman and Karmenife Paulino.