“Private Violence” Captures Complexities of Domestic Violence
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
“The man had beaten the snot out of his wife,” recalls Kit Gruelle, who has worked as a battered women’s advocate and community educator for over 25 years. “He felt it was his right, that she was his possession. ‘I got papers on her,’ he stated as justification, referring to his marriage license.
Kit describes domestic violence as a crime of entitlement.
“In some states you get longer jail time for abusing your dog than for beating your wife,” she explains the broken system.
As she likes to put it, “The abuser commits the act but the system drives the getaway car for them. We still routinely blame the victim.”
Kit Gruelle knows what she’s talking about. She herself was a victim of domestic violence.
You will meet her in “Private Violence,” the first film in this year’s 4 Nights 4 Justice series at Tropic Cinema. This year the documentaries focus on women’s issues. The presentation is made possible by a grant from the Mike Dively Foundation for Social Justice, administered by the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys.
While planning her visit to Key West to introduce next Tuesday’s showing of “Private Violence,” Kit took time out to speak of her own horrific experiences. “I grew up in Miami,” she says, “one of those Florida families that went to the mountains every year. In North Carolina I met Jack, an extremely charismatic guy. He swept me off my feet. I’d never been treated like that. But once he moved in, he established the relationship dynamics.”
She takes a deep breath, then plunges on with her story. “He used to explain that while in Viet Nam he’d been trained to hunt people down and kill them. He told me that if I tried to leave him, he'd hunt me down and kill me. I was afraid to leave. I took the boys and ran a few times, but I always went back. I was too afraid not to.”
She explains that 1,200 women a year are murdered in this country by an ex-husband or ex-boyfriend. “It usually happens shortly after separation. Leaving is the most dangerous thing abused women can do."
After her experience with Jack and working in the battered women's movement for 20 years, Kit started thinking about doing a film about domestic violence. She connected with two filmmakers in California, producing a 22-minute short with the financial assistance of Cindy Waitt.
By then Kit Gruelle was involved in organizations dealing with abuse. “It’s the first cousin to the Civil Rights Movement,” she asserts.
“Cindy turned out to be our fairy godmother,” says Kit. “She introduced us to Gloria Steinem, who agreed to help executive produce a full-length documentary.
“By then the two original filmmakers had gone on to other projects, but we found Cynthia Hill, a director who showed interest in the project. She started following me around with a camera.”
Then they came across Deanna Walters, a woman whose case better illustrated the hidden issues that battered women face. “Her estranged husband had kidnapped her and her child, taking them across the country in an 18-wheeler, beating her and threatening to kill their child. A cop in Oklahoma stopped the truck and took Deanna to the hospital. In spite of her devastating injuries, Robbie was not arrested.
The local prosecutor demanded to know why Deanna didn’t run, as if it were her fault she was being battered. He said he could only go for a misdemeanor assault on a female, which would amount to about 150 days in jail for her tormentor. But then the FBI got involved and the case took a different turn altogether.
“It been amazing to witness Deeana’s transformation, going from a beaten-down woman to being a strong fearless survivor.”
You will meet Deanna in the film, and Kit on stage at the Tropic.
When asked to describe herself, Kit thinks for a moment, then chooses the word “lucky.” She says she’s lucky to work with women who have not yet figured out how capable they are, and to be able to help them see their strengths and their worth. And given her own experience with domestic abuse, lucky to be alive.