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Documentary 'Private Violence' asks the question "Why don't you just leave?"

Director and Justice Advocate
Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Private Violence is a documentary by director Cynthia Hill. Following the story of two survivors of domestic violence she seeks to explore the question so commonly asked women who are in an abusive relationship “Why don’t you just leave?” The answer seems so obvious. If you are being beaten, leave your abuser. If your children are being hurt in the process, just leave. The film delves deep into the life of Deanna Walters, a mother seeking justice for an assault from her estranged husband. Alongside of her is advocate, Kit Gruelle, also a survivor of violence.

Throughout the film we hear segments of Justice Advocate Kit Gruelle’s own survival story and how she evolved into becoming an advocate for victims of domestic violence. She shares “I’m always so astonished and moved at the people who want to come into this movement and do this work because it’s not easy work. It can also be unbelievable uplifting. You witness a victim shedding that skin and leaving violence behind.” sundance institute

Director Cynthia Hill states that “It was fascinating to me. Just having someone that would listen to her. To show them that there is another world out there. That there are possibilities for a life without violence. It was powerful to me. Watching a victim transform into a survivor was a story that was very compelling to me.” sundance institute

Deanna Walter’s story is horrifying. She and her daughter were forced into her estranged husband’s 18 wheeler and driven cross country, during which he beat her severely and repeatedly. Eventually concern over her disappearance causes her friends to call authorities. Her ex-husband’s vehicle was stopped and Deanna and her daughter were taken into protective custody. We see photos of Deanna’s injuries. A doctor at the attending hospital says her deep bruising is comparable to that of a car accident. Astonishingly, Deanna’s estranged husband is allowed to travel on.

The film shows the complexities of the legal system and the re- victimization that can occur for women by the courts. It’s a complex system made up of arresting officers, lawyers, judges and probation officers. Abusers can be master manipulators. Their manipulation towards the victim helps to ensure that she won’t follow through with criminal charges. In cases where there is a domestic violence advocate working with the victim she is 80% more likely to pursue a conviction for her abuser by testifying against him.

75% of women who are killed in domestic violence homicides are murdered after they leave, or are in the process of leaving. Leaving is actually the most dangerous time for a victim and her children. This film and that statistic help us to understand “Why don’t you just leave?”

Go to to see more on the documentary Private Violence.

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