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'Private Violence' documentary raises awareness about domestic abuse

The team responsible for creating “Private Violence,” an HBO documentary following the stories of domestic abuse survivors Deanna Walters and Kit Gruelle, has hosted events across the country and around the world.

Last night, Gruelle and director and producer Cynthia Hill, presented the film at Varsity Theatre. 

The event included a screening of the film followed by a question and answer panel discussion with Gruelle and representatives from both the Compass Center and the Carolina Women’s Center. 

Hill, who currently lives in Durham, said she is excited by the film’s critical success, but is more interested in the film’s impact on people’s understanding of the issue of domestic abuse. 

“We’re not going to change the world with this one film, but I’m hoping that we can make a difference," Hill said. "I’m hoping that we can take that small step that gets us a little bit closer to making it safer for women and children to be in their own homes."

Janeen Gingrich, the impact strategist for the film, said the film is being used to impact state legislation. She explained that Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina, saw the documentary and hired Gruelle to be a part of initiating legislative reform regarding domestic abuse.

“Our goal was to do something similar here,” Gingrich said. “We are talking about doing a legislative screening for the full (North Carolina) legislature in the spring.”

Graig Meyer, a state representative for Orange and Durham Counties, was invited to the screening by the Compass Center. Meyer said he thinks policymakers need to spend more time focusing on these kinds of issues.

“Unfortunately this is not a focus of legislative leadership, and we need to raise some awareness and urgency about addressing domestic violence and sexual violence as a whole,” he said.

Meyer said he introduced a comprehensive bill last year that addressed sexual violence on college campuses. 

“It went nowhere, so we don’t have enough commitment from legislators to really take these issues on right now,” he said.

Gruelle, who was featured in the documentary, said she thinks the documentary is an accurate portrayal of what abuse survivors experience. 

“I think the film has really helped people understand that, rather than thinking of battered women as weak and stupid, once they see how strong and capable Deanna is," she said. "It sort of reorients them to the strength of victims.”

The Working Group in Feminism and History began planning the event in August and collaborated with the Compass Center, Carolina Women’s Center and the Southern Oral History Program. The collaboration raised funds for the event and used different networks to make people aware of local community organizations related to domestic abuse, said Sarah McNamara, Working Group in Feminism and History student representative.

“It went from being a small event to a much larger community event,” McNamara said.

Erin Binkley saw the documentary for the first time at the screening.

“I actually teared up a couple of times, which I didn’t expect, because I thought I was all business," she said. "It was really amazing to see how close it was to the places that I live — the place where I grew up.”

Shelley Gist, the program coordinator for the Carolina Women’s Center, said in an email that events like the screening and panel discussion help engage people who have not previously known a lot about domestic violence. It also helps them find out about how they can support survivors and prevent violence on campus.

“'Private Violence' really humanizes the issue of domestic violence,” she said.

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