A film tries to make a difference for domestic violence survivors

In 2013, Tanisha Davis, a 26-year-old woman from Rochester, NY, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the murder of her boyfriend, at the hands of whom she suffered, she said, nearly seven years of abuse, including choking, death threats. involved and he died of beating at night. The judge agreed that she was a victim of domestic violence, but said her response was not lenient. “You handled the situation the wrong way,” he told her. “You could have left.”

In 2021, due in part to a new law that allows domestic violence survivors to be considered more finely in the courts, the same judge thanked Davis for a documentary that helped frame her case.

It is not uncommon for documentary projects to have an impact on legal proceedings once they have found an audience and attracted public attention. But the film that helped Davis, “and so i stopped“It wasn’t released yet – it wasn’t even finished – when the filmmakers, Natalie Petillo and Daniel A. Nelson, put together a short video describing his life for the court.

One of his lawyers, Angela N. “You can see the strength of his relationship with his family and the strength of his support” if he is released, Ellis said. Both the prosecutor and the judge agreed to set him free in March, referring to viewing the footage.

After eight years in prison, Davis, 34, talked to his son, now 15, every day. Now that she’s at home, “I can call her to the next room,” she said. “I can’t even explain the happiness. I cry tears of joy all the time.”

For filmmakers, it was an unexpectedly bright ending to an often heartbreaking and disturbing film. “And so did I,” which would be its premiere saturday At the Brooklyn Film Festival (can be viewed online until June 13), there’s a personal for Patillo, herself a survivor and whose sister was murdered by a boyfriend in 2010. documentary was developed his thesis project at Columbia Journalism School, where she met her co-director, Nelson.

“I had no idea how common it was, the seriousness of women being imprisoned to protect themselves or their children,” Patillo said. “Once I found out, I couldn’t stop reporting,” in an effort to show how misunderstood, and punitive, these cases lie within the justice system.

The first focus of the film was Kim Dadou Brown, who had served 17 years in prison for the murder of her abusive boyfriend. She became a lawyer, traveling to Albany to needle New York lawmakers. domestic violence survivor justice act, the long-standing law that eventually helped free Davis. Introduced in 2011, it was finally passed in 2019, after the Democrats overturned the state Senate.

The Act is one of the few laws in the country that gives judges more lenience in punishing domestic violence victims who commit crimes against their abusers. It follows a growing, research-backed understanding of abusive relationship patterns, and they have a unique grip on the people within them.

“Quitting is the hardest part,” and the most dangerous, said Dadou Brown. “I thought all men hit, and so I stayed with myself, so I knew which way the blows would come.”

After Rochester native and former health care worker Dadou Brown was paroled in 2008, he volunteered and rallied with survivors to break the state—even when money was tight because of his felony status. had made it difficult to find jobs, she said. With 17 earrings (one for each year of her captivity) and her signature false eyelashes, Patillo said, “She’s just a force to be reckoned with.” “It’s pure tenacity. That’s Kim.”

When the bill was passed, there was an atmosphere of happiness among its supporters and filmmakers. But he kept his cameras on.

One case that was considered a definitive test of the act was that of Nicole Ademando, a young mother of two in Poughkeepsie, NY, who fatally shot Christopher Grover, her live-in boyfriend and father of children, in 2017. was given. The film includes police camera footage from the night she was found disoriented and was driving in the early hours, with her 4- and 2-year-olds sitting in the back seat.

make his case national headlines Because of the seriousness of the abuse she said she endured: bites and black eyes; bruises and burns on her body, in which she was pregnant, which were documented by medical professionals; Grover raped and uploaded on the porn site. In the film, a social worker has called it not just an assault, but ‘sexual harassment’. In 2020, Addimando was sentenced to 19 years for second-degree murder; The judge denied that the Survivor Justice Act was in force.

“I felt like we failed him,” said Dadou Brown, who was on sentence.

In the film, Ademando is mostly heard as the voice on the phone from prison; In one call, her mother tries to console her that at least she is alive, that she survived the abuse. “I’m still not free,” she replies, crying.

Although there are no nationwide statistics on the number of women jailed after defending themselves against abusers, federal Research shows that nearly half of women in prison have experienced past physical abuse or sexual violence, most from romantic partners. Black women are disproportionately victimized through both intimate partner violence and the justice system: they are Most likely to be killed by a romantic partner and more likely to end up in jail, According to Bernadine Waller, a scholar at Adelphi University.

In bringing such stories to the screen, Nelson said, his aim was not to dispute who pulled the trigger, but to refer to the culprits. “The legal system compels you to make the right victim,” he said, “and a prosecutor will do everything in his power to characterize a survivor for not fitting in that box.” (In Ademando’s case, the judge said he had “reluctantly consented” to the sexual abuse.)

Ademando’s lawyer, Garrard Benny, who is awaiting a decision on his appeal, said that the documentary examination of the way the judicial system treats survivors “is a necessary, but also, I think, sufficient don’t step,” in changing the process. Police, prosecutors and judges need to be educated about the way they think about domestic violence, he said. “We need that kind of retraining more immediately than a gradual process of understanding.”

For Patillo, who had two of his three children during the making of the film, some moments felt overwhelmingly raw. “When you’re dealing with trauma, it’s always the survivor’s guilt,” she said in reference to Ademando, “why did I get along and Nikki didn’t? Why don’t her kids stay with her every night?”

But it was also “very healing”, she said, “to have a hand in ensuring that survivors through this film are seen and heard and believed.”

It basically ended on a dark note, on a vigil for Ademando. Then came the case of Davis. The filmmakers were present on the day he was released from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Davis said last week that it is still challenging to get back to life outside during the pandemic. But she wanted her story to be told as a warning and a beacon to the victims. The filmmakers plan to make the documentaries available to those in the legal system — “a tool kit,” Nelson said, on how to employ the new law.

Dadou Brown was also in Bedford Hills; He moved Davis’ family there. Her advocacy, Dadou Brown said, had become the calling of her life. “I feel so lucky to have so many dream come true moments,” she said. “Even coming home from jail. My next dream come true moment will bring Nikki home. “

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