PISCATAWAY, NJ—The New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence (NJCEDV) and the New Jersey Association of Domestic Violence Professionals held their 14th annual conference at Rutgers University’s Busch Student Center on June 8.

The conference’s goal was to raise awareness  around the issues of domestic violence.

Cristina Williams, Assistant Director of Communications at NJCEDV said that the conference organizers wanted to broaden the discussion on domestic violence and raise awareness by discussing a range of topics.

One panel explored using improvisational music as therapy, another focused on the Deaf and hard of hearing communities.

“We offered a workshop on Deaf advocacy, because there are higher rates of violence in the Deaf community. It taught Deaf sensitivity and culture and focused on training Deaf advocates to be domestic violence advocates,” said Williams.

“Domestic Violence can happen to anyone,” said Lynda Carson, NJCEDV’s Director of Training and Member Services. “It’s equal opportunity.”

Carson said that one key issue addressed at the event stemmed from an alarming statistic: Homicide as the leading cause of death during pregnancy in the United States.

This little known but shocking fact was explored in “Finding Jenn’s Voice,” a documentary film based on the true story of Jennifer Snyder, a 29-year old woman who was shot and killed in 2011 by her married boyfriend after she refused to abort her pregnancy.

Tracy Schott, the keynote speaker at the conference, is a filmmaker and producer based out of Reading, Pennsylvania.

Up to 30% of “intimate partner homicides” have no previous history of physical violence, according to Schott, who added: “It’s about control, it’s not about black-eyes.”

In March 2011, her friend Trina called to say she was on her way to the funeral of her niece, Jennifer Snyder.

She asked if Tracy would be interested in making a documentary film based on Jennifer’s murder.

At the time, Tracy did not see the broader social significance of Jennifer’s death, especially because there had not been any signs of physical violence in the two years since the young woman had begun the affair.

But Schott has a background in social work – she worked with survivors of childhood abuse for fifteen years before switching to filmmaking — and Jennifer’s story had an impact.

A quick Google search revealed that the leading cause of death during pregnancy in the US is homicide.

The information, Schott said, “left her reeling” and led to her decision to make the film.

Schott knew she was onto something when she posted a call-out to survivors of domestic violence on NJCEDV’s Facebook page.

Her message received over a 1,000 likes, and put her in touch with over 35 women who are interviewed in the film.

It was mostly funded by Schott Productions, though grants, volunteer work by colleagues, and two crowdfunding drives.

The film captures Jennifer’s tragic predicament through the stories and experiences of women in similar situations.

“I was incensed that the media was not talking about domestic violence the way it should,” said Schott.

“We had spent over 5 years with the Scott and Laci Peterson case in the news and the media never discussed the research. They talked about everything else under the sun but not domestic violence as an issue during pregnancy,” said Schott.

The film was screened at the NJCEDV conference and followed by a workshop.

“I listened to a testimonial from a survivor. I know domestic violence but the discussion gave me a fresh perspective on safety planning for individuals both in relationships and leaving abusive situations,” said Yvonne Williams, a domestic violence specialist and professional who attended the screening.

NJCEDV runs shelters and outreach programs throughout New Jersey.  More information can be found at www.njcedv.org

Reporter at New Brunswick Today | mkoruth@nb.today

Mary Ann Koruth writes about immigration and culture in New Jersey.

Mary Ann Koruth writes about immigration and culture in New Jersey.