Review: Private Violence

It is our job as advocates to meet the needs of
the women who walk through our doors.
– Kit Gruelle, domestic violence advocate

What an amazing concept!  I will confess that I cried when I witnessed a woman being tightly embraced after she had been protected from further abuse by dedicated domestic violence advocates in Private Violence.  We’ve all been terrified, but too few of us have ever been embraced or protected.

Too many of us have instead heard a laundry list of excuses from people who are being paid to protect us but who would prefer to rub shoulders with and raise money from the Junior League set.  Last week someone dubbed them “Junior Leaguers,” and I wondered if these advocates-in-name-only ever realize many of these wealthy women don’t write hefty checks because they too didn’t get the help they desperately needed.

PV stat

Domestic violence homicides are the only predictable homicides.
– Kit Gruelle

Private Violence chronicles and showcases effective advocacy.  Deanna Walters had left her abusive husband Robbie.  While celebrating Halloween as a family in 2008, he was consumed with jealousy.  He kidnapped Deanna and their daughter Martina and forced them to join him on a cross-country trip in his 18-wheeler from North Carolina to California.

From sea to shining sea for six days, Robbie beat Deanna to force her to confess to romantic relationships which existed solely in his mind.  His truck was stopped in Oklahoma.  Deanna was detained, and Robbie was free to continue driving back to North Carolina.

Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters meeting in Kit's cabin

Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters meeting in Kit’s cabin

The domestic violence experience does not represent
a character flaw in the women.
We need to hold men accountable.
– Kit Gruelle

It takes a village to protect women from abuse and to hold domestic violence perpetrators accountable.  Fortunately, a registered nurse in an Oklahoma hospital who treated Deanna’s injuries took photos.  These photos were critical and essential evidence.

Deanna and Kit at the shelter

Deanna and Kit at the shelter

Physical violence is a punctuation mark.
It comes out after the emotional abuse and intimidation
are no longer effective.
– Kit Gruelle

The “justice” system piled on excuses for failing to prosecute Robbie:  it didn’t happen in our jurisdiction; the injuries weren’t serious enough; why didn’t she just leave?

Deanna’s advocate Stacy Cox persevered despite tremendous obstacles.  The challenges are condensed into a gripping scene of Ms. Gruelle discussing the case with a friendly prosecutor who had the audacity to suggest they contact the FBI to pursue federal charges for kidnapping and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) crimes.  Who knew?  I didn’t.

After nine months of intense lobbying by Ms. Cox with local law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s office, and the NC Coaliltion, the FBI finally agreed to file charges and local law enforcement piled on the band wagon.  Robbie was ultimately convicted along with his co-conspirator cousin.  They are currently doing hard time in federal prison.  Robbie was sentenced to 21 years ~ mostly for kidnapping rather than domestic violence.  His cousin was sentenced to five years.

PV SteinemQuote
She is told systemically that she has no value.
Our job as advocates is to build her back up.
– Kit Gruelle

Private Violence also visits advocacy on behalf of an abused woman in jail for murdering her abusive husband as well as a horrifying tape of a prominent physician threatening his wife.  His intimidating voice will sound very familiar to many abuse survivors.

On a lighter note, Ms. Gruelle skewers one of her college professors who had arrogantly proclaimed that professional men (judges, doctors, lawyers, pastors, etc.) don’t engage in domestic violence.  Her beloved dog Luna steals the movie as she comforts survivors at the shelter and in Ms. Gruelle’s log cabin.

I rejoiced at the end to learn that Deanna is close to finishing college.  She and Martina are finally safe in their own home.

Kit Gruelle with executive producer Gloria Steinem

Kit Gruelle with executive producer Gloria Steinem

I sometimes refer to restraining orders as a last will and testament.
There’s probably 45 or 50 orders here, and
every single one of the women who went to obtain
these orders of protection was murdered
in precisely the ways that they said they would be.
– Kit Gruelle, Private Violence

Ms. Gruelle is a domestic violence survivor who has invested 25 years of her life to protecting other women and children. Her late ex-husband Jack was a Marine who threatened to hunt her down and kill her if she left. She survived by periodically disappearing with the children. His accidental death set her free.

Award-winning director and producer Cynthia Hill with Kit Gruelle

Award-winning director and producer Cynthia Hill with Kit Gruelle

We all know the victim’s story.
We haven’t seen it from an advocate’s perspective.
It was a war zone.
Where do you focus?
– Cynthia Hill

Private Violence began six years ago as a collaboration between Ms. Gruelle and documentary film producer Cynthia Hill, who witnessed her own mother’s abuse.  Their executive producers included Gloria Steinem and Cindy Waitt, who are very invested in the issue because they too witnessed abuse.  Each contributed her unique talents to make a dent in the universe.  Private Violence won a Sundance Award and was picked up by HBO.  It will premiere on October 20 at 9 PM.

Update:  HBO will broadcast Private Violence again on Thursday, October 23 at 5:45 PM.  My local TV book gave it three stars.

It is a brilliant and sensitive film which you won’t forget.  I hope y’all will watch and share it with the advocates who are being paid to help you.  Show them effective advocacy.

Kit Gruell and Anne Caroline Drake at the private HBO screening of Private Violence at the SIFF in Seattle

Kit Gruelle and Anne Caroline Drake at the private HBO screening of Private Violence at the SIFF in Seattle

Ms. Gruelle and I got to spend a relaxing hour together touring West Seattle before HBO’s private screening of Private Violence at the SIFF in Seattle.

Merril Cousin (Executive Director, King County, WA Coalition), Beth Barrett (SIFF), Kit Gruelle, and Cynthia Hill

Merril Cousin (Executive Director, King County, WA Coalition), Beth Barrett (SIFF), Kit Gruelle, and Cynthia Hill

After the screening, Merril Cousin, the Executive Director of the King County Coalition, Ms. Gruelle, and Ms. Hill held a panel discussion for the audience.  Most people wanted to know how domestic violence could be prevented and what they could do to achieve this objective.

Ms. Gruelle grits her teeth when society holds domestic violence survivors and victims accountable rather than perpetrators.  She shared an analogy which I believe will resonate with most of you:

Let’s assume a bank has been robbed four times.  Nobody dares to ask the bank president why they continue to keep money there or don’t move.

We’re driving the getaway car for abusers.

Related links and posts:

In a Portrait of Violence, an Appeal for Reform: ‘Private Violence,’ an HBO Documentary on Domestic Abuse by by Neil Genzlinger, New York Times, 10/19/14



Private Violence


Gloria Steinem Speaks Out About Domestic Violence At A Screening Of HBO Documentary ‘Private Violence’ by Emma Gray, HuffPost Women, 9/30/14


6 responses to “Review: Private Violence

  1. Where do you, or those you quote, get those statistics? I am not being argumentative or challenging you, just genuinely curious. Without having seen the movie, and knowing the ins and outs of domestic violence I would suspect that emphasizing that percentage will likely entice more women to stay in an abusive relationship than alter the mindset of society and it is a dangerous figure to banter about. I am a alive, was I counted as a success story or are we all still waiting to see if I end up a statistic? Did they count up homicides and see if the woman was married or in a relationship? Do they count women she war abused as children? It comes down to do you want life or freedom. When the bondage and the pain have robbed you of your dignity and you run the risk of abuse everyday, you risk your life for freedom and a chance for your children to know the power of choice. Thank you for your voice and attempt to empower those who need to find their power.

  2. Great questions! Yes, we often are required to make exceedingly difficult choices at a time in our lives when we are beyond terrified. I am happy to hear you are surviving and hopefully thriving.

    The Department of Justice and the Center for Disease Control are the primary sources for statistics on Violence Against Women. Because the original citations are often difficult to ferret out, I have archived links to the most relevant and important on my Leadership page.

    I know that states are required to keep statistics on DV homicides. However, here in WA State, I recall several years that the system crowed there were no DV homicides after the stories had made headlines. Still, their own study indicated that nearly every victim of a DV homicide had sought help before they were killed. This is why I have been a staunch supporter of PRIVATE VIOLENCE. I was astonished to discover at the screening that the director of our state’s largest program had zero knowledge of documented best practices.

    The reasons I have highlighted this statistic quoted by Gloria Steinem are that 1) I think we need to hold the DV shelter system more accountable for shoddy services and failure to protect clients; and 2) I think it is important to be aware of the risk entailed in well-intentioned but very bad advice that we should “just leave.” It is the leaving ~ especially if he is what researchers call a “pit bull” abuser ~ that gets many of us killed. Sadly, most DV shelters don’t have a clue what to do about these guys.

    My hunch is that the 25% who successfully get away are involved with what researchers call a “Cobra” abuser ~ they slither on to their next prized prey when she successfully gets away. DV shelters know how to deal with these guys.

    The exception is a program in Massachusettes which works arduously to hold perpetrators accountable. They haven’t had one fatality since they changed their protocol several years ago.

    My hope with this site is that women will get information and insights on how to not just survive but to thrive and ultimately find joy. I am ecstatic that survivors are linking up via social media and are doing great things like producing a movie which was given three stars in my local TV book.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Anne Caroline

  3. Thank you so very much Anne Caroline for the time and effort you took to answer my questions. It is important to delineate that while there are patterns of people who are abusive, their strategies and approaches differ. I confess I am not a fan of shelters, in my case they did not know how to handle a victim of abuse let alone the angered abuser. I hope we can change the system to empower women before they leave so when they do there is not so much chaos and collateral damage which takes a terrible toll on their minds and bodies. I look forward to reading more of your posts and thank you again for the information.

  4. Thanks for you kind comments. Kit Gruelle wrote about Evan Stark’s book Coercive Control on FB. I checked it out on Amazon and think he makes good points. It is indeed a challenge to remove those shackles from our minds.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s