Movie review: Private Violence (2014)

I went to this movie during the Heartland Film Festival thinking that it was going to try to answer the question why does she stay in an abusive relationship? This is a question often asked by those far removed from these sorts of dysfunctional relationships. I was curious to see the answers that the movie would provide. The question was mentioned and a few answers given, but disappointingly, it wasn’t the central focus of the movie.

For the most part, the movie focused on the stories of three women. The lives of two of the women were only touched on. The movie starts out with one woman staying at a shelter and the police apprehension of her partner who was closing in. As expected, she blamed herself for his arrest. In the ending credits, we sadly learn that she returned to him.

Another woman never made an appearance in the movie. She was in detention for killing her abuser. A restraining order had been finally granted, but before it could be served, she needed to take matters into her own hands to save her life.

The movie really revolved around the story of one woman, Deanna. Her husband had kidnapped her and drove her across the country in his semi. They were accompanied by their daughter and the co-driver of the semi. Throughout the four days he severely beat Deanna—to the point that she now has seizures.

Kit, an advocate for abused women, is the constant throughout the movie. She shows up at hearings, investigates cases, gathers evidence, seeks to find legal recourse, and offers emotional support for abused women in North Carolina.

Deanna’s husband was originally not prosecuted as no one thought they had jurisdiction: Deanna didn’t know in what state which abuse occurred over the four days, so no charges could be brought against her ex-husband. Until Kit got a federal prosecutor involved.

Her ex-husband was sentenced to 20 years in jail. Unfortunately, most of the sentence was for kidnapping, not for the abuse that left her severely bruised and battered over most of her body. (Medical photos after her rescue graphically show the unreal abuse she endured from his hands and a Maglite flashlight that he used to inflict the damage.)

Private Violence is a well-made documentary about abused women, but it left me wanting more. I was thrilled about the happy ending for Deanna, but wanted more substantial discussion to help those on the outside understand. So many people think it could never happen to them; they would never stand for being abused. Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe they are simply fortunate to have not encountered the circumstances that lead to abuse.

Too commonly the question asked is: how could you have been with someone who treated you that way? Or why didn’t you leave (earlier)?

The reasons are complex and not clear-cut, often intertwined: love of the other, fear of the other, your view of yourself, your perceived lack of value, the belief over time that you deserve this treatment, financial dependency, the lack of a safe place, learned helplessness, the need for the abuser’s medical insurance either for oneself or one’s child, and psychological manipulation—just to name a few.

Any one of these would be cause enough to keep you in a relationship, but when you combine multiple ones, you have the perfect cocktail that keeps women unable to escape an abusive relationship.

The movie points to some of these reasons indirectly, and Kit verbalizes some directly. But I was looking for a deeper discussion about the complex reasons behind these relationships, why they start, and why they continue.

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