The Sundance film “Private Violence” isn’t about Kelly Boren, but it could have been if she were still alive to tell her story.
Boren died Thursday, murdered in her Spanish Fork home along with her two kids and her mother by her husband, Lindon police Officer Joshua Boren, who also killed himself. Friends said the couple was heading for a divorce because Kelly Boren felt unsafe around her husband and could no longer stand his rage.
Though the details of Boren’s life and death are still trickling out, they so far bear a haunting similarity to the stories told in “Private Violence,” which screened Wednesday night in Salt Lake City. Women in the film talk of fearing their intimate partners, of wanting to leave and of feeling trapped. In one scene, domestic anti-violence advocate Kit Gruelle — a major figure in the film — sits with a giant stack of restraining orders that were all obtained by women who later died at the hands of their partners.
But the narrative backbone of the film is formed by Gruelle’s relationship with Deanna Walters. The two women came into contact after a brutal 2008 incident in which Walters’ husband kidnapped her and her daughter and drove them across several states. Throughout the drive, the man brutally beat Walters and graphic photos in the film show her body blackened and bloodied.
Walters husband initially escaped punishment from any county prosecutors, but finally ended up with a 22-year prison sentence after federal prosecutors took up the case.
One of the primary preoccupations in the film is a question that many domestic-violence sufferers face: Why didn’t you just leave? The response is complicated for each person, but Gruelle points out in the film that “leaving an abuser is not an event, it’s a process.” The film also points out that 75 percent of women killed in domestic-violence homicides died during or after the process of leaving their partner. It’s a startling statistic, particularly in light of Boren’s death, because it suggests that such domestic-violence killings are far from isolated incidents.
Jenn Oxborrow — a program administrator for the Division of Child and Family Services — painted an even more urgent picture Wednesday after the film screening. She said that Utah has higher rates of domestic violence than the national average. Though authorities are still trying to figure out why that might be, Oxborrow speculated that it might be a matter of access; Utah has only 13 shelters but 29 counties, meaning some people are miles and miles away from the nearest place to get help.
In 2013, the result of that patchy coverage meant that nearly 3,000 people who needed help were turned away, Oxborrow said. She added that fixing the problem will require figuring out a way to fund more services.
Oxborrow also pointed out that the Boren family deaths — as well as another murder-suicide in Syracuse in which Kyler Ann Ramsdell-Oliva killed her two daughters — are not isolated incidents: 39.9 percent of Utah’s homicides involve domestic violence.
Oxborrow, as well as “Private Violence,” both worked to strike an ultimately hopeful tone, saying there are ways to improve. Oxborrow talked about a more coordinated response to domestic violence from government agencies. And the film’s whole objective seemed to be reframing the way society thinks of and talks about domestic violence. But they were also both clear about one thing: The issue is far from solved, and many people, primarily women, are trapped and suffering from abusers.