Documentary 'Private Violence': Why doesn't a woman just leave?

Cynthia Hill’s new documentary “Private Violence” answers the question that many ask when they talk about domestic violence: Why doesn't the woman just leave?

“By using film to portray not just the intimate aspects of domestic violence but the complexities too, we can hopefully help people get past the obsession this country has of blaming the victim,” explained Kit Gruelle, a domestic violence survivor and one of the advocates interviewed in the film.

“Private Violence” focuses on 30-something Deanna Walters, a woman kidnapped by her estranged husband and brutally assaulted for several days. The release of the film also coincides with the national conversation surrounding the video of NFL player Ray Rice knocking out his wife Janay in an elevator. She later defended him in a statement, and lambasted the media for the intrusion of their personal affairs.

“Janay did what a lot of women do, they look to themselves to try and figure out what they did wrong, rather than consider it is the choice that he made,” Gruelle explained. “It is also hard because these are two people who are in a relationship together, so it doesn’t just pop out of the blue. It is part of a course of conduct. It starts with him being the sweetest guy she ever met.”

“Private Violence” points out the most dangerous place for a woman is sometimes in her own home. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 35 percent of all emergency room calls are attributed to domestic violence. On average, three women are murdered every day by their significant other.

“There are many women who never step forward and call the police,” Gruelle added. “And so many people still think domestic abuse only happens with poor and uneducated women, which is not true. Women in middle and upper classes are trapped in other ways and never want what happens behind closed doors to be made public.”

The film also points a finger at the American judicial system. In one segment, medical photographs are shown of Walters, horrifically bruised and beaten. But attorneys say under North Carolina law the most probable charge against her husband would be misdemeanor assault.

“Law enforcement officers basically told my mom that my husband was violent but not violent enough to kill someone… but this was a man who kidnapped me and my daughter for six days,” Walters said. “I’m glad my story is out there. I hope it touches people and helps them understand they are not alone.”

“Private Violence” debuts on HBO October 20.

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