A film documentary on domestic violence featuring an Ashe County woman will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next month.
“One out of every three to four women will experience domestic violence at some point in time in her life,” Kit Gruelle, domestic violence advocate said, “That’s not one out of every three to four poor women, or uneducated women, or women of color; that’s one of out every three to four women period.
Gruelle, who has been an advocate for 30 years got to know Ashe County resident Deanna Walters, one of the 29 percent of women who experience domestic violence, five years ago as Walters fought for justice against her abusive husband.
The feature-length documentary, “Private Violence,” which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, tells Walters’ story and documents her struggle and work with Gruelle and A Safe Home for Everyone (A.S.H.E.) case worker, Stacy Cox.
Walters, soft-spoken, but clear and concise, said that she hopes the film will confront the stereotypes around victims of domestic violence.
“Asking the question ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ is the worst question you can ask anyone who is in a domestic violence situation,” Walters said.
In 2008 Walters’ husband, Robbie Howell, kidnapped her, and her young daughter, across statelines and left her badly beaten.
“Robbie told the local authorities that he beat her so bad he nearly broke his fingers,” Gruelle said, “And they still just wanted to charge it as a misdemeanor.”
But Gruelle said that what made Walters situation unique was that she was able to pursue a federal case against her abuser.
“Had [Robbie] not crossed state lines, based on what the local DA said, had he served any time at all, it would have been 150 days,” Gruelle said.
Cox said that she began working with Walters through A.S.H.E. shortly after the kidnapping occurred.
“This led to a journey of discovery for both of us,” Cox said, “A discovery of strength, determination, self-worth, trust and a renewed sense of belief not only in the human spirit, but also in the genuine goodness of mankind as we worked with victims’ specialists in the F.B.I. and the prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Because Walters, with assistance from Gruelle and Cox, pursued federal charges, Howell was sentenced to 20 years, 10 months imprisonment and five years probation.
While “Private Violence” follows the legal proceedings of Walters’ case, it also tackles that bigger question, “Why didn’t she just leave?” which Gruelle says is a way of blaming the victim.
“Think about a bank being robbed in your community, and this bank has been robbed four or fives times already,” Gruelle said, “Law enforcement comes in and dusts for finger prints and investigates the crime. When they’re done with the investigation they don’t go to the bank president and say ‘Why did you keep all that money here? Haven’t you learned that someone is going to come rob the place?’
Gruelle said that this analogy of blaming a bank for getting robbed is the same as blaming a woman for getting battered.
“It is very hard to move forward when your self esteem and self worth have been attacked and stripped from you,” Cox said, “The most dangerous time for a survivor is the first three months after leaving an abusive relationship.”
Gruelle, who had worked with a documentary film maker to create domestic violence training videos for law enforcement officials, was already working on a version of “Private Violence” in 2009 when when she became acquainted with Walters’ case, and shifted the focus of the film.
“Our system sometimes just shrugs its shoulders,” Gruelle said, and when it comes to domestic violence prevention, “Our criminal justice system is woefully inadequate and not up to the task.”
Gruelle said that she hopes the film will call attention to the systematic shift she feels is needed to institute change in the way domestic violence is confronted, from victim rights to legislation.
“We need to face the ways in which society unwittingly colludes with the abuser by saying things like, ‘Why didn’t they just leave?’,” Gruelle said.
Walters and Cox will attend a screening of “Private Violence” at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January.
Cox said they are hoping to collaborate with Gruelle and the film’s director/producer Cynthia Hill to bring a showing of the documentary to Ashe County in the near future.
When asked if she had any concerns about her story being told in such a public way, Walters said, “No. I just want to help others.”
People in Ashe County who are experiencing domestic violence, or know someone who is, can contact A Safe Home For Everyone, a program of Ashe County Partnership for Children, at (336) 982-8851. The emergency hotline number for A.S.H.E. is (336) 246-5430.
More information on “Private Violence” can be found by visiting www.privateviolence.com.