Survivors of gun violence are sharing pictures of their injuries and crime scenes: ‘This is our reality’

Rachael Joseph with an image of her Aunt Shelley’s crime scene at a recent demonstration. Courtesy of Rachael Joseph
  • Survivors of gun violence are sharing pictures of their injuries and crime scenes.
  • They are using the hashtag #ThisIsMyLane.
  • Doctors recently used the hashtag to share gruesome pictures in response to a tweet from the National Rifle Association telling doctors to “stay in their lane” and mind their own business when it comes to gun violence.
  • INSIDER spoke with three activists and survivors whose tweets went viral.
  • Warning: This post contains graphic images.

Kate Ranta didn’t hesitate to post the images.

When she uploaded the pictures and a few concise words to Twitter under the hashtag #ThisIsMyLane just before going to bed on Monday, she wasn’t expecting to go viral quite literally overnight, Ranta told INSIDER.

On November 2, 2012, Ranta was shot by her ex-husband. Since then, she’s been an activist speaking out against gun violence and violence against women.

Although she’s told her story before, she said she’s never seen it resonate online quite like it did when she posted with the #ThisIsMyLane hashtag.

“The hashtag, while it was originally started as a place for the medical community to come into the conversation – which we’ve needed for a long time – I think my twist on it was, as a survivor, this is also my lane” Ranta said. “This is my lane, and I’m staying in it, because I lived it.”

Doctors originally used the hashtag to push back at the NRA

Initially, medical professionals were using #ThisIsMyLane to send a message to the National Rifle Association, the most powerful gun lobby in the country.

On November 7, the NRA told doctors to “stay in their lane” in response to a paper published by the American College of Physicians about policies that could reduce the number of firearm deaths and injuries in the US.

Just hours after the tweet was published, a gunman entered a bar in California and killed 12 people. In the midst of this, doctors pushed back against the NRA using the hashtag #ThisIsMyLane, saying that gun violence is their business – and is very much a part of their work.

Read more: The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting has reignited a debate over whether places of worship should have armed security

For reference, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 36,000 Americans died from injuries from guns in 2015, the most recent year the organisation has data for. Everytown for Gun Safety reports that 96 Americans die from gun injuries every day.

Seeing this conversation resonate within the medical community and beyond, Ranta said she felt compelled to join in.

“I felt like this was finally the hashtag, because the medical community was also sharing the gruesome photos of the things that they see when they’re treating gunshot victims,” she said. “So I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to show my scene, because this is real, this is what happened to me.'”

‘This is my lane, and I’m staying in it, because I lived it’

On Tuesday, two of Ranta’s friends and fellow activists also shared their stories using the hashtag.

Kimberly Brusk, the founder of Women Against the Violence Epidemic and who lives in Atlanta, shared photos from when she was abused and shot by her ex in 2009.

“I and several survivor friends saw that doctors were speaking out, and they often can’t show our pictures without our consent. And because so many of us die, we that are living need to show the honest truth of what gun violence looks like,” Brusk, who has been an activist fighting gun violence since 2010, told INSIDER. “Every opportunity that we have to do that, I think that any of us that can should. I understand not being able to, but if you’re able to, the country’s become far too desensitised to gun violence.”

Rachel Joseph, the executive director of Survivors Lead, which is based out of Minneapolis, shared photos of her Aunt Shelley’s crime scene.

“My aunt Shelley was the heart of our family,” Joseph wrote. “She was slaughtered in a courthouse bathroom because the NRA thinks background checks at gun shows are too much trouble. #ThisIsMyLane.”

Like Ranta, this wasn’t the first time Joseph had shared photos of her aunt’s crime scene, on the internet or otherwise. In March, along with other members of Survivors Lead, Joseph brought a poster of the crime scene to a Minnesota Legislature session.

“We just held space in the public safety committee to let them also live with the images of their inaction and see how this is impacting our families,” she said. “If we have to live with these images, so can our lawmakers.”

Gun show loophole
Joseph and her Aunt Shelley’s crime scene. Courtesy of Rachael Joseph

It wasn’t Brusk’s first time either speaking about her experience online. Although it’s not always easy for her, Brusk said that speaking out is what makes a difference.

“I’ve had to [share my story] a lot of times. Over and over again,” Brusk said. “You still feel like you’re screaming and no one can hear you. It’s maddening how often the actual survivors of gun violence are left out of the conversation. We’re left out of decisions. We’re left out of legislation. And we’re not even at the table for debates about gun violence. Often, there’s not even a survivor on a gun-violence panel.”

Ranta said images of her injury and crime scene that she’d posted on social media in the past “hadn’t really seen much impact or gotten much traction.” At times, she said, they’d even been deleted off platforms for being too gruesome or graphic. But she continues to post them because she wants people to “bear witness to the violence that was perpetrated” on her and other survivors.

“You know what? This is our reality,” she said. “Anyone who’s been through this and survived, it’s like, this happened to me, and it matters.”

And as the hashtag continues to gain momentum, others are sharing their stories, too. Like Courtney Weaver, a 32-year-old vocalist and advocate who lives in Eureka, California.

“Trauma surgery has come along way so most people can’t tell that a third of my face is titanium and deduce that ‘it must not have been that bad’ – like when gun violence is reported on in the media and reporters cite ‘minor gunshot wounds,’ as if there is such a thing as a minor gunshot wound,” Weaver said of her decision to share her photos.^tfw

“I want people to understand the severity of my injuries and also see the humanity in my eyes, particularly in the photo of me in the crime scene photo of my face sitting up,” she told INSIDER.

Like the other women, Weaver shared her story to raise awareness for a side of gun and domestic violence they feel isn’t talked about enough.

“I believe this latest viral trend is a much-needed perspective on a taboo subject,” she said. “There are so many pressing matters regarding violence these days – hate crimes, domestic violence, and state violence- and it’s important for people to comprehend that violence does not occur in a vacuum, it is intersectional and influences us on the interpersonal, community, and national level.”

Brusk agreed that the hashtag feels particularly impactful. “I think doctors are on the front lines, and I wanted to show support for them,” Brusk said. “I think it was horribly disrespectful for the NRA to tell them to ‘stay in their lane’ when they’re on the front lines in a war that the NRA is actually inflicting on the American people. Gun-violence survivors are definitely on the front lines as well.”

Joseph echoed that sentiment, saying that it’s been validating to see doctors share their encounters with trauma, which is often left out of the narrative.

“I feel like survivors have really had to bear this alone. It’s very isolating, which is why so many of us become friends, like Kate [Ranta] and I,” she said. “Because no one understands but each other. So to have doctors take this viral and to share the images of the trauma that they’re also experiencing on a daily basis is really validating. It makes us feel not so isolated.”

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline or call its hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member.

UPDATE: November 14, 2018: This post was updated to include Courtney Weaver’s account.

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