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Updated: Jun 14, 2019


J42 Team: Yulia, Laura, Elle & Katie

You may not think of Crime Con, the annual all-things-true-crime convention, now in its fourth year, as the natural place for bloody serious conversation about domestic violence and coercive control. But it is.


It may also not be obvious that what the Nancy Graces, the murderinos, OJ trial veterans, podcasters small and large, and real-life law enforcement folks of every stripe, that gathered in over-heated New Orleans this past weekend, have in common is - they all grapple with a whole lot of dead women.


Maybe it gets lost in the miscellany, maybe in the sensationalism and the 'murder-porn' of it all, but for all intents and purposes, 'true crime' may just be synonymous with 'violence against women'. Yes, there are male victims of course in the stories, investigations, docu-series, exposés - but the overwhelming majority of crime victims are women. And a great many of those dead women are killed by a man they know well, not a stranger.


This fact is not lost on our Executive Producer Laura Richards, who has made it her life's work to help us all better understand criminal and violent behavior - the hows, whys and therefores of domestic violence, stalking and homicide - with a laser focus on victims and prevention. Laura spent a decade at New Scotland Yard as Head of the Homicide Prevention Unit and Head of the Violent Crime Intelligence and Analysis Unit and then spent another decade or more founding Paladin, the world's first National Stalking Advocacy Service, and then spearheaded the Domestic Violence Law Reform campaign, which resulted in the criminalization of coercive control in the UK.


Aside from bringing a wealth of encyclopedic knowledge and analytic prowess to bear on specific cases, Laura connects what happens in particular cases to larger patterns, makes connections between individual behaviors and public consciousness, and tells us stories that turns on the lightbulb. One such lightbulb moment for me, came during the 'Dirty John' Lunch & Learn session, when Laura explained that these days, the two calls police fear most are 'domestic violence' and 'active shooter' calls - because the risk of getting killed is so high. She then points out that most active shooter cases ARE ongoing domestic violence cases, listing example after example of mass shootings that originated in domestic violence with one female target - ex-girlfriend, wife, estranged partner, mother - that then turned into public massacres. We need to see the patterns.


If mass-shootings is the larger pattern, taking ultimate power over human life - domestic violence is a smaller pattern, taking control over one woman, one family. And that smaller pattern can be broken down into an even more granular pattern - coercive control. The stories never begin with a massacre, or a murder-suicide, or even a garden-variety 'the wife ran off and twenty years later her remains are dug up from the backyard' scenario. According to research by Dr. Evan Stark, Laura Richards and others, it starts with grooming, coercive control, a gradual entrapment and then destruction of autonomy. The entrapment is accomplished by intense courtship, love bombing, monopolizing time, isolating, gaslighting - followed by increasingly controlling behavior, setting rules, surveilling, micro-management, threats. The victim becomes increasingly unstable, fearful, unsure of her judgement, ashamed, her personality diminishes. The pattern escalates to humiliation, intimidation, cruelty, restriction of movement, food, money, sexual abuse and violence - tactics working in concert to gain complete domination. And it is when that malevolent control, that domination is threatened that the abuser turns homicidal. 76% of domestic homicides happen on separation. That is a pattern.


Femicide is also a pattern. Defined as 'the intentional killing of females (women and girls) by males because they are female', The World Health Organization observes three categories - Intimate Femicide, Non-Intimate Femicide and Honor Femicide. We can't say that it is systematic, as in genocide, because it is too unorganized, too random (although in some parts of the world it looks damn methodical) but with 87,000 murders of women last year worldwide, 34% at the hands of an intimate partner, and 24% by a relative, we do know that the most dangerous place for a woman to be, where she is most likely to be killed - is in her own home. Just like Jennifer. And there are a lot of Jennifers. Enough to make a pretty solid pattern.


Yet, we are living through a moment where we'd rather not gender anything. We don't want to cast blame on a whole gender. We don't want the other whole gender to be identified as victim. So its IPV - Intimate Partner Violence. Neat, neither female nor male, academic, very clean. Not messy. And in some DV circles we equivocate even more, we don't even want to articulate the brutality at all, so we call it 'person who does harm'. No gender, no her, no him, ambiguous what harm might mean. We 'both-sides' it, we call it a conflict, and pretend that all things are level. We go full ahistorical and ignore millennia of gendered inequality. Because violence is violence, abuse is abuse, anyone is capable, and it's bad no matter who commits it. I have sat in rooms full of advocates in the highest level of DV NGOs and government agencies where you can't say out loud that domestic violence is a male-on-female violence problem. All the while, we know that every 16 hours a woman is killed by a male partner or ex-partner in this country.


At Crime Con we could talk very openly and frankly about that grizzly, messy, brutal fact and I for one was glad to name it, discuss it, and have it become a tangible, touchable thing.




Listen to Laura and her co-hosts Jim Clemente and Lisa Zambetti do deep-dive expert analysis of crime from a victim perspective on the hit podcast Real Crime Profile


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Updated: Dec 8, 2018


All (or most) of the things they tell you about crowdfunding for a film is true. It's a lot more work than you imagine. It's an emotional rollercoaster. You will hit the dreaded mid-campaign lull. The more you prepare the better. Here are some of the other things we learned running our Jennifer, 42 Kickstarter campaign.


Having a kickoff event is a great way to give your campaign energy and momentum. While no one on our team had much experience in event-planning, we managed to put together a very special night for our campaign launch. We rented the very affordable UnionDocs, a documentary center in Williamsburg, which also has a bar, where we served food and drink. We invited about 100 of our friends and family, as well as several of the people who are featured in our documentary. We screened sample scenes from the film followed by a really intense q&a, and then we pushed the Kickstarter 'button' together. Aside from being a night to remember, it felt like both a rewarding end to all the work we had put in to get to this point (the years of investigation, research, filming, editing!) and the beginning of the next great chapter.


One of the most meaningful and enjoyable aspects of crowdfunding was being able to share our story and experiences in real time on social media, getting to talk with and reach so many people who care about this film. We got so much energy and felt so encouraged by our various groups on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and loved bringing everyone into the daily ups and downs and reporting on our progress. We continue to build and nurture our social media, and see it as a vital and necessary part of our Jennifer, 42 world.


We knew we would log mad screen-hours during the campaign, but didn't quite grasp that you cannot stop. You cannot stop talking to people and reaching out, or leave the campaign by itself for any amount of time...or contributions just dry up, fast. At first it felt like pestering, but we reminded ourselves that this was a once-in-a-lifetime ask, and in the end we had 408 backers come on board, many of whom our filmmaking team had no personal connections to. In other words, all that relentless communication reached outside our personal circles, to people who were compelled to give to the film for the film's sake, not only to support their friends. While we were so thrilled to see the names of friends and families, it was amazing when we started to see names no one knew, and from far flung places.


The mid-campaign lull is real. And scary. In retrospect, aside from the first 24 hours, when we enjoyed a surge of contributions from our launch event, we were in danger of failing the entire month. Kickstarter has all these tracking graphs and there is a lot of conventional wisdoms out there about how your campaign progress can predict your success or failure, and according to all those, we did not have a comfortable margin ever. And - if the mid-campaign lull was scary, the mid-campaign weekend lulls were even scarier. We did not know that people don't do Kickstarter on weekends. Everything died, no matter how much e-mail blasting, coaxing-by-text, or network-pleading we did. While it worried us sick at the time, it makes me secretly happy to think that maybe people are offline doing LIFE on weekends instead.


Our favorite part of running this crowdfunding campaign was that we got to build a community, creating and becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves and even bigger than our film. That sense of purpose and mission, gathering around a meaningful enterprise and accomplishing something together, lit a fire in all of us on the team, a fire we're carrying with us into the next chapter of this adventure.


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Quite honestly, looking for internships can be a bit of a drag. It can be quite frustrating to spend hours upon hours scrolling through dozens of search results that aren’t relevant to your field, your qualifications, or your interests. A friend of Hannah’s turned to her one day and said “this project seems like something that fits everything you’re into” and that’s when she found Jennifer, 42. When Melissa saw the listing for a ‘Producer’s Assistant Internship’ for a smaller, independent film on one of the job forums that she was using, she was immediately intrigued and knew that she wanted to apply.


Before Jennifer, 42, both of us didn’t have much exposure to the world of animation OR to the fight against domestic violence and coercive control, but the documentary’s socially conscious, women-centered focus aligned with our values and interests.Hannah still remembers reading the script and being so thrilled to be a part of something that she’d never been a part of before. The project is truly unique. After reading the script, Melissa felt an even deeper connection to the project since the events occurred in her home state of Connecticut. It was a shock for her to hear that all of this happened only about an hour from her hometown, and this new information motivated her even further to get the project funded because she believes that this film has the potential to change how domestic violence is dealt with in Connecticut as well as in other areas of the United States.


Both of us are so grateful for this opportunity to learn more about animation, the indie filmmaking process, and the fight against coercive control through working on this project. Being humbled can change your life, and that’s just how Hannah feels after working on Jennifer, 42 because she’s learned so much about coercive control and how it affects peoples’ lives. This is the first time she’s really been face to face with information about it, and now she’s better informed on the issue. As a woman, Melissa wants to make this world safer and more enjoyable for her fellow sisters in the United States and around the world, and she stands by the notion that so much more needs to be done to protect our women and girls. By exposing the horrors of a domestic violence situation as well as the hassle and frustrations that come with trying to seek help from law enforcement, Jennifer, 42 gives so many women a voice and allows them to be heard by many people who may not otherwise hear their stories.


This internship has been wonderful, as was getting to know Elle, Katie, Yulia, and everyone else. Working with women active in the film industry is truly inspiring. Even in this day and age, it is so difficult for women in film to get ahead and to succeed in the film industry. Seeing them persevere week after week, pushing past roadblocks to create this project that they believe in motivates Melissa to put her everything into the work that she’s been doing for Jennifer, 42, and she will keep their hard-working spirit in mind in her future endeavors. As a young woman hoping to enter the industry, Hannah thinks that the Jennifer 42 team is a light in the darkness.


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