Washington and Lee film premiere fundraises for Project Horizon

Produced by a student and professor, the film will be used by Project Horizon as an educational tool

Virginia Laurie

100 cars attended the “Intimate Violence” premiere at Lexington’s Hull’s Drive-in on Sunday, October 25th.

The Washington and Lee feature film directed by Assistant Theater Professor Stephanie Sandberg and Nolan Zunk, ‘22 explored the issue of intimate partner violence and showcased work done by the local non-profit to support survivors.

Judy Casteele, executive director of Project Horizon, expressed her excitement seeing the film come together.

“It was clear early one that it wasn’t just ‘another project’ for Dr. Sandberg or Nolan Zunk. It was an important work combining re- search, advocacy and education with the arts,” Casteele said.

“I had seen most of the documentary, but Nolan kept adding animation and pictures, as well as tweaking the quality up until the very last minute. He worked hard to produce the best product possible,” she said.

She hopes the film will continue to benefit Project Horizon’s mission.

“We’d like to use it for training purposes (law enforcement, prosecutors, judges) as well as an awareness tool to educate the general public.”

In the documentary, filmmakers interview Project Horizon employees, survivors and experts on intimate partner violence.

Michigan State professor Dr. April Zeoli reported that 25% of American women and 10% of men will experience physical, sexual or other violence from their intimate partner their lifetimes.

“When I’m standing in front of my college classroom, I know there’s almost zero chance that I have no survivors in my room,” Zeoli said.

Rachel Louise Synder, journalist and author of No Visible Bruises explained the scope of the issue.

“Domestic violence intersects every social issue we face as a society; It contributes to homelessness, gender inequality, mass shootings, and mass incarceration,” Snyder said.

She says it costs an average of $225,000 dollars every time there is a domestic violence incident in this US, and every 20 seconds someone is assaulted.

“We are paying financially, economically, we’re paying in fractured communities, in fractured families, and we’re also living in a time when we can solve this as a problem,” Snyder said.

Experts addressed common questions like “Why doesn’t she leave?”, explaining that survivors are at highest risk for homicide when leaving an abuser.

Snyder explained the misconception many people have about what leaving an abuser looks like.

“They do leave. Survivors leave all the time. We just don’t know what leaving looks like. We don’t know that leaving isn’t a suitcase packed at the door like you’re going to Vegas for the weekend…Leaving, in fact, is sometimes a years’ long set of very careful maneuvers, very subtle planning stages for when someone’s about to eventually get out.”

Synder says the better question is “Why is [an abuser] violent?”

Dr. Jackson Katz, author of The Macho Paradox agreed.

“Why is the question always asked of the woman? Why aren’t the questions asked of the man?…It just shows you how deep patriarchal thinking is and how encoded it is into our cultural DNA,” he said.

Experts also tackled the issue of firearms which is heavily linked with intimate partner homicide.

Over 60% of intimate partner homicides are committed by use of firearms.

Casteele said that even though Rockbridge County is not a high-crime area, all of the murders in the last few years have been intimate partner homicides, and all but two have been perpetrated with guns.

Experts like Snyder and Dr. Zeoli explained how guns can also be used non-fatally as intimidation, threat or a non-lethal weapon.

“In 3.4% of non-fatal assaults (or non-fatal domestic violence events), a gun is used,” said Zeoli, “Now 3.4% doesn’t sound like a lot, but when we think of how many domestic violence events there are in this country every single year, that’s about 32,900 times a year a gun is used.”

Zeoli also spoke of the net gain in lives saved when legislation to prevent convicted abusers of gun ownership was implemented.

Interviewees extolled the importance of effective legislation, early education for prevention and perpetrator rehabilitation to achieve a truly violence-free society.

The film also explained The Violence Against Women’s Act which has currently been left unrenewed for the first time since its inception.

It has passed in the House, but has not passed in the Republican-led Senate following the addition of protections for LGBT+ and Native populations as well as intervention from the NRA.

Until the act is passed again, there won’t be adequate funding for shelters across the country.

“There are big structural changes we can talk about,” Snyder said, “We can certainly address gender inequity in our laws and try to rewrite some of them, we can do more training for police on how to identify strangulation, we should have high-risk teams in every jurisdiction in this country.”

As for what individuals can do, Snyder says they can make the space to have conversations about the issue.

Casteele discussed ways in which the community members could help support Project Horizon in its ongoing mission, inviting anyone who’s interested to become part of their volunteer pool.

“Volunteers are trained 3 times a year to do crisis intervention and work on our 24-hour hotline,” she said, “For folks who might not have time to devote to volunteer training or service, there are opportunities for short-term projects such as collecting supplies for our shelter, weeding our flower beds or sponsoring fundraising events.”

“I hope that folks gained an understanding of the issue of intimate partner violence – that it happens to more people than we realize – and that it’s not a problem that Project Horizon can solve alone, but one that the entire community must address together.”

Throughout the film, Ellen Wheeler, Assistant Director of Project Horizon details her own experiences with intimate partner violence.

In the final shot, Wheeler says “When victims go through the cycle of leaving and then going back, and then leaving and going back, then possibly leaving and going back again, they’re not weak. They’re very strong. Because eventually they’ll realize that ‘I’m worth more than this; I love myself, and I’m not going to go back. I’m going to leave.’”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or sexual violence, please contact Project Horizon’s 24 hour hotline: (540)-463- 2594.