“The number one cause of death among pregnant women is homicide.”
It’s a startling statistic, incredible and motivating. It motivated my friend Tracy Schott to make a documentary on the subject. Tracy is unique in my town: Reading, PA. She’s a working producer of TV shows and films. She does a lot of industrial work: commercials and instructional videos, and some reality TV. Once in a while she gets to do an artistic project like my Princess Dancer video.
About a year and a half ago, Tracy told me about a project—Finding Jenn’s Voice—she started after she discovered the statistic. Jenn was the niece of a friend of hers and a victim, one of the statistics.
I talked with Tracy last week about the project to see how it was going. Below is our conversation.
Q: How did it come about that you’re doing this story called Finding Jenn’s Voice.
A: Jennifer Snyder was the niece of a friend of mine. Trina called me on the day of Jenn’s funeral. She was driving through a snowstorm and started telling me the story. At that point, the family had been hounded by the media for a week. Had been on television, interviewed by newspapers, contacted by 20/20, Nancy Grace. Big headlines. After a week of this, Trina called me and said we needed to do a documentary and really tell her niece’s story. I wasn’t so sure about that idea. I was on the phone with her, multitasking, and I Googled “pregnancy and homicide.” And that statistic, that homicide was the number one cause of death during pregnancy came up on several studies. I was flabbergasted. And that’s when I decided to do the documentary.
Q: I don’t want to go into details of Jenn’s murder here. That information is out there in lurid detail. What I’m more interested in is the statistic. Who did the research and how?
A: Diana Chang is one of the coauthors of the original study that found the statistic that homicide is the number cause of death during pregnancy. They found it by accident. Dr. Chang is OB-GYN and was just doing research on the leading causes of maternal mortality.
Q: Was she surprised at what she found?
A: She was thinking it was going to be preeclamsia, diabetes, but consistently it was homicide. The reaction from the medical community was like, “Oh, you’re in Baltimore, a high crime city.”
Q: They didn’t believe it?
A: They said it was just an anomaly. So a bunch of other cities and states replicated the study and found essentially the same thing.
Q: You’ve mentioned a number of other people doing research on domestic violence. Who all have you interviewed for the project?
A: Another person well known in this field is Dr. Jacqueline Campbell, a professor of nursing at Johns Hopkins. She’s been studying this for thirty years. We interviewed her in April. We’ll be talking with Dr. Rae Taylor who did her dissertation on the risks of homicide during pregnancy. These are the women studying IPV.
A: Intimate Partner Violence.
Q: And that is…?
A: IPV can include many forms of abuse including physical violence, sexual violence, reproductive control, emotional abuse, and social emotional control. IPV is a pervasive and serious problem globally. The research is consistent and grim.
Q: How so?
One in three to four women will experience IPV in her lifetime.
Three women are killed each day in the U.S. by a current or previous husband or boyfriend.
Up to 20% of pregnant women experience violence during their pregnancy.
Two out of three women killed during pregnancy are killed by an intimate partner.
Twenty to thirty percent of men who kill their pregnant partner have no previous history of violence.
Women are nine times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than by a stranger.
Among women killed by an intimate partner, firearms are the most common cause of death.
Women who are African American, younger than 25 years old, and unmarried are at the highest risk of homicide during pregnancy, though the problem is seen across all ages, races, and socioeconomic groups.
Homicide is the number one cause of death during pregnancy.
And that’s why we’re making this movie.
Q: Wow. Do you have this information compiled somewhere?
Q: I’m amazed that you’ve been able to face such statistics in order to do what you’re doing to bring attention to such information. I would have a hard time with it. I think it bothers a lot of people. I just don’t want to know about these things. They’re too horrible to contemplate. But we have to face it.
A: It doesn’t have to be this way.
Q: So let’s talk about how you’re going to get the word out. How did you begin the process?
A: When I first started with the project I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. I just let it unfold in front of me. The family was going through all kinds of hell. So I interviewed them about three months after Jennifer died. After that I didn’t have a lot of on-camera contact until David Rapoport’s sentencing hearing in December, 2011, nine months after he killed her. He pled guilty in an effort to avoid the death penalty because the evidence against him was overwhelming. He has since filed an appeal that he had bad legal advice and that he didn’t understand the document that he was signing. This from a man who is a veterinarian, went to Muhlenberg College and the University of Pennsylvania; very, very bright guy.
Q: What happened with that?
A: He was denied. I talked to his lawyer and he will appeal that as well. If they open a new trial, they’ll be going for the death penalty. And they have enough evidence.
Q: You told me when you began this project you also talked with local officials—investigators and the like. Were they sympathetic to Jenn?
A: The law enforcement officials were very sympathetic to her; but they were all amazed that someone with Rapoport’s background and education would do something like this.
Q: Interesting. There’s your evidence right there that it cuts across all socio-economic groups. I understand the need to let people know about this, but why do we need to hear Jenn’s voice? Why are you framing the story this way?
A: The inaugural episode of a show called “Desperate Measures” was the story of Jenn’s murder. They called it the David Rapoport Story. It’s all reenactments and a lot of conjecture and not very research-based at all.
Q: And it’s all about the perpetrator.
A: The victim gets lost. It’s like, “What is wrong with this victim that he decided to kill her.” If it’s a case where there’s been a history of abuse, the question is “What is wrong with this girl that she didn’t leave this guy? What’s the matter with her?”
Q: And the subtext being, she deserved what she got.
A: And then if there has been no abuse, the question is: “What happened to this man that made him snap?”
Q: So it’s all entertainment.
A: It was taking a family’s nightmare and turning it into somebody’s hour of sit-down-have-a-beer-and-watch-this. In my mind, a documentary needs to be based on fact and it needs to enlighten or teach people, and so it was clear to me that Jenn’s voice needed to be not just about what happened to Jenn, but what is happening right now in this country that nobody is talking about. We had five solid years of Scott and Laci Peterson on the nightly news. For about five years you couldn’t turn on the news without somebody talking about “and today in the Scott Peterson trial…” That case dominated the headlines for a really long time and nobody ever talked about the statistics. It’s criminal. It’s framing them as if this, ooh, this is some crazy, wild thing that never happens. But it does happen!
Q: How will “Finding Jenn’s Voice” change the world? How will it illuminate the facts and fix the problem? And why does it matter?
A: My premise with this film is that it matters because it doesn’t have to happen. It’s preventable. When I interviewed Dr. Chang, she said they were working on training all the doctors, all the OB-GYNs, all the nurse practitioners in the state of Maryland on domestic violence; training them to look for the signs. They give them a short three-question survey that they should ask every patient every time they see them. And how to respond if the answer is yes. She pointed out that we screen for everything during pregnancy. We screen for diabetes, we screen for high blood pressure. We don’t screen for domestic violence and more pregnant women are dying by domestic violence than any other cause. This is a health issue.
Q: So you’re compiling evidence and using Jenn’s story to present it. Who’s going to see the film when it’s done? Where will it be shown? Festivals?
A: That would be a start and then we’ll try to get a distributor. I’m also hoping the grants I’m going for are connected to PBS. So I’ll do a feature length version and a 55-minute version for television. I’m also looking at educational distribution at some point. I see me taking this on the road to college campuses. I’ve got a connection for that. My goal is that I make enough money on distribution that I don’t have to sell this to domestic violence groups. My goal is to give it to them. My feeling is that it’s a great prevention tool, but also a great empowering tool for women who have been abused.
Q: I understand you’re at the point in the process where you’re travelling farther and farther to interview researchers. Your expenses are mounting and you’re still only half done. Editing and marketing are still in the future. How are you going to find money to finish this?
A: I’ve spent the last two weeks writing grant proposals and putting together the Indiegogo campaign. I’m starting with a modest goal there to get us through principle photography which I intend to have completed by this fall.
Q: I totally understand the deadline. You don’t want this project to get stale or fade from lack of activity. I wish you good luck with this most important film. Not many people would want to take on such a grim subject. Thank you, Tracy Schott, for letting me share our conversation. Keep me posted and I’ll help in whatever way I can. Is there a website or facebook page for the project?
A: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FindingJennsVoice
And the page for donations is at Indiegogo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/finding-jenn-s-voice.
Thank you BVC for providing space for this Interview.
Things to Keep in Mind
- One in three to four women will experience IPV in her lifetime.
- Three women are killed each day in the U.S. by a current or previous husband or boyfriend.
- Up to 20% of pregnant women experience violence during their pregnancy.
- Two out of three women killed during pregnancy are killed by an intimate partner.
- Twenty to thirty percent of men who kill their pregnant partner have no previous history of violence
- Women are nine times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than by a stranger.
- Among women killed by an intimate partner, firearms are the most common cause of death.
- Women who are African American, younger than 25 years old, and unmarried are at the highest risk of homicide during pregnancy, though the problem is seen across all ages, races, and socioeconomic groups.
- Homicide is the number one cause of death during pregnancy.
And that’s the reason Finding Jenn’s Voice is being made. Contribute to the project.