Every day in this country, thousands of women live in extreme danger from batterers, and every day too, three or four of them won't make it. Sadly, last month a domestic homicide happened in our own county, and while we may never know the exact relationship dynamics preceding it, the killing itself was clearly the most extreme form of domestic violence possible, whether it was an isolated incident in that relationship, or the culmination of a longer pattern of aggression. Given that half of all Vermont homicides result from domestic violence, it's likely that here, too, it was an ongoing factor.
What is tragic news anywhere is perhaps more shocking when it seems closer to home. But the reality is, this risk is always close by; an issue this prevalent leaves no town or neighborhood untouched. Even when headlines are quiet our hotline rings every day, and women get death threats all the time. Sometimes they're subtle but mostly they're graphic, and backed up by a history of abuse--imagine living with a personal terrorist threat level all the time. And though violence by any other name is still dangerous, just tacking "domestic" on to it helps many people minimize this crime, the pain, and fear involved for victims. That's of course still a reflex of patriarchy, and a consistent barrier to change. "Her" problem isn't yet seen collectively -- and more accurately -- as everyone's.
The most dangerous place for a woman in America is actually her own home. Thirty-five percent of emergency room calls are attributed to domestic violence, and it's estimated that the mere presence of a gun increases the risk of homicide by five times in these relationships. Moreover, 75 percent of those fatalities happen after the woman has left, or is in the process of leaving. Whenever this most visible kind of tragedy occurs, there's a brief period of media attention, and yet a general feeling of helplessness in the community. It is both of these factors that we're working to change at the Women's Freedom Center -- keeping not only an ongoing public spotlight on the cause, but also offering year-round chances for meaningful community engagement and discussion of this issue.
Please mark your calendars for our next such event on the night of Friday, Sept. 26: We're one of three Vermont programs hosting a free screening of the potent new documentary "Private Violence," which got great reviews at the Sundance Film Festival this year, has made waves around the country, and will air on HBO in October. Based on the true and unforgettable story of a North Carolina survivor of domestic violence, it explodes the whole myth that "just leaving" a batterer is a ticket to freedom. Following both a courageous victim and her advocate through a grueling legal fight, the film is paced at times like a thriller, and is filled throughout with emotionally intimate dialogue. It's an ideal catalyst for statewide conversation afterward, which will begin in Burlington, and culminate here at the New England Youth Theater that Friday night. We're very pleased to also be joined for our discussion by the advocate in the film, Kit Gruelle, herself a survivor and now 30-year activist for social change.
To see a trailer of this film and an excellent interview with Kit, we highly recommend watching her Democracy Now! appearance with Amy Goodman: check out democracynow.org (the show aired 1/22/14). The film's goal couldn't be any more personal, or political: to "challenge entrenched and misleading assumptions, providing a lens into a world that is largely invisible; a world we have locked behind closed doors with our silence, our laws, and our lack of understanding."
This mission of course lies at the heart of our work too. We need our community to respond to battered women and their kids by helping us provide shelter, advocacy, prevention education, effective enforcement of laws, and vigorous prosecution of all domestic assault crimes. And we need you to think out loud with us too. So we always welcome new and inspired tools to keep this dialogue growing, and appreciate that the film ultimately offers a positive message for community involvement. Whether you come to just watch and listen, or decide to add your own voice, we welcome everyone to this event. Every time we as a community come together in this way, we build a little more capacity for positive change. Let's also add another round of applause for film-maker Cynthia Hill: her documentary Private Violence is doing a tremendous public service for us all.
Private Violence (free film screening & discussion)
Friday, Sept. 26
@ New England Youth Theatre
100 Flat Street, Brattleboro
For more information, call our office at 802-257-7364.
The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham and Southern Windsor County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at Women's Freedom Center and at www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate on our 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954.