Documentaries Raise Awareness about Domestic and Gendered Violence

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Guest blogger Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site almost a decade ago as a resource and outlet for documentary media. Follow her on Twitter @documentarysite.

Purple Ribbon (Adapted from image by wikimedia user MesserWoland). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

October is Domestic Violence
Awareness Month.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which calls attention to the problems of domestic violence and offers support to those suffering and surviving. Expanding from a week in 1987, Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States includes a variety of activities that happen during the month and continue throughout the year, including Take Back the Night rallies, the Call for Unity, the purple ribbon campaign, and The Clothesline Project, among others.

Domestic violence has long-reaching and far-ranging effects on survivors, their children, their families, and their societies. It affects health care, workplaces, police, and corrections. In attempts to help raise awareness, numerous documentaries have brought attention to these issues and to the issues of gendered violence in general. They try to answer the questions that arise, such as why victims stay, and they try to bring forward different facets of the issues, such as long-term jail sentences for victims who murder their abusers. Others expand the contexts of gendered violence to situations of war, genocide, and oppression.

Here is a short roundup of some relevant titles. (Links redirect to the distributors’ sites or related web sites.)

The justice system plays a strong role in domestic violence, awareness, prevention, and resolution. In Domestic Violence and Domestic Violence 2, Frederick Wiseman assembles a multi-perspective look at domestic violence through the activities of a shelter, police, and courts in Tampa, Florida. The recent Sex Crimes Unit, directed by another documentary veteran in Lisa F. Jackson, delves further into the justice side of issues through a look inside the New York District Attorney’s division.

Several documentaries explore the impacts of domestic violence on its victims and their killing of their abusers, many of whom receive long-term jail sentences as a result. Abused: The Documentary explores the story of Susan Greenberg, who received a 25-year prison sentence for murdering her boyfriend. After serving 19 years of her sentence, she requests release on the basis of battered woman syndrome. Sin by Silence profiles the women behind Convicted Women Against Abuse, an advocacy group formed in the California Institution for Women that raised awareness and even managed to get laws changed. Every F—— Day of My Life draws a picture of an abuse victim murdering her spouse with the help of her son. Both pled guilty, and she received a 10-year prison sentence. When Women Kill follows the stories of three battered women who killed their husbands, and Defending Our Lives raised related issues and won an Oscar.

Some documentaries attempt to tell stories of survivors and of the unfortunate ones who were killed. Power and Control: Domestic Violence in America tells the story of Kim Mosher, who packed up her car and her children, left her husband, sought refuge at a women’s shelter, and in some ways started her life over. According to the makers, though, Mosher returned to her husband after the filming wrapped, raising the question of why some who suffer the abuse return to their abusers. Why Women Stay attempts to answer this question as well. Telling Amy’s Story brings forward the story of Amy’s unfortunate murder, as told by Detective Deirdri Fishel with “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” star and domestic violence awareness advocate Mariska Hargitay. Survivors brings forward the stories of those who escaped their situation and reminds how those horrors remain long after the abuse has ended.

Issues of gendered violence affect not only people in the United States, but also people around the world. A special collection from distributor Women Make Movies shows this global reach and its effects on worldwide scale. After the Rape: The Mukhtar Mai Story shows the courageous story of a woman who was gang raped because of a crime attributed to her brother. Instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak up about her story, to raise awareness, and to help others in rural Pakistan. Similar to Sex Crimes Unit and Wiseman’s films, The Day You Love Me follows the day-to-day challenges for the Police Commissaries for Women and Children in Nicaragua. From Lourdes Portillo, Señorita Extraviada (Missing Young Woman) (POV, 2002) situates the incidents of violence against women in Juárez, Mexico, through the victims’ families against the backdrop of globalization. Finding Dawn explores a similar story in Canada.

Other documentaries show these issues through stories set against the horrors of war and genocide in Africa. Lisa F. Jackson’s The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo offers perspectives from both the survivors and with the soldiers who committed the crimes, among others, to demonstrate how sexual violence becomes a part of war. Following the 1994 genocide, Rwanda struggles to rebuild as a country, and God Sleeps in Rwanda profiles women who survived and take on new roles in that regrowth. Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter looks at a mother’s fight against deportation from the United States back to her native Mali where her daughter would be forced to undergo female genital mutilation.

While a majority of abuse situations involve a male abuser and a female survivor in a heterosexual relationship, several documentaries consider other scenarios. Very Young Girls looks at the effects of gendered violence on girls lured into becoming prostitutes on New York City’s streets. Love You to Death and The Choice is Yours bring forward the effects of teen dating and violence. Sheltering Kevin shows how these issues affect children at an even younger age.

Several titles explore men’s perspectives specifically. Breaking Our Silence focuses on men speaking out against domestic violence. The forthcoming Romeo looks at one man’s work to reform those convicted of assault in domestic contexts. Another documentary in progress explores the subject of male assault survivors. Still other titles focus on violence in same-sex relationships, such as My Girlfriend Did It and She Stole My Voice: A Documentary about Lesbian Rape.

This list is by no means comprehensive. In the comments below please add your own suggestions of titles you know or are completing yourself.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.