There's a question that always bothers South Surrey social activist and film producer Alison Soroka in her efforts to raise awareness of relationship abuse and domestic violence.
"Whenever people hear about a woman who has been in an abusive relationship, they always say 'why didn't she just leave?'"
For Soroka – herself, the survivor of domestic abuse – it's both an unimaginative response and a frustrating reminder of a topsy-turvy societal value system that seems to want to place blame on victims rather than those who abuse.
"Instead of asking why the victim did or didn't do something, shouldn't we be asking why the perpetrator is doing this?" she said.
It's these kind of deeply-entrenched attitudes that Soroka, organizer of Ending Abuse Media and founder and executive director of Smiles and Laughter Entertainment, is hoping to disturb – and help dislodge – with a new short film on the dynamics of abuse.
She and North Vancouver-based director Matthew Campbell are hoping to shoot the 20-minute film early in the new year, from a script by L.A.-based screenwriter Ty Leisher.
While details of the script are being kept under wraps at present, Soroka said she wants to create a realistic film that gets away from the usual stereotypes and cliches.
"It's a fictional story, but one that incorporates all the dynamics of the situation," Soroka said.
Campbell is gaining a reputation as an action-film specialist and the aim is to create a sharply photographed and edited film that goes far beyond the usual production values of a P.S.A in raising awareness of the issue, Soroka said.
Soroka's previous film, The Honest Truth (2012) – directed by South Surrey's John Banovich – was a documentary based on the real-life story of Surrey resident Maria Catroppa, who suffered years of abuse before being murdered by her abuser.
While that film – produced in collaboration with Surrey Women's Centre and the City of Surrey – has proven a successful educational and awareness tool for the RCMP and women's centres, Soroka said feedback she has received from various sources, including the Justice Institute of B.C., has indicated there is a need for a new film.
Awareness for the cause will also be raised by the film's potential exposure at film festivals, she added.
Soroka's employer, Qualico Developments Inc., has generously stepped up to provide seed money for the project, and there's also been significant support from Pulse FM, which has prepared a media marketing package offering a special rate for companies that want to provide sponsorship for radio spots promoting fundraising for the film and Ending Abuse Media.
"Right now we have about a third of the budget we need, and the more help we can receive from private sponsors the better the film we can produce," Soroka said.
"We want to achieve the look of a good professional film," said Campbell.
"Often, you can turn people off with something that looks very low-budget."
Involved in the Vancouver film industry for the past decade, he has been concentrated on directing for the last four, building a reputation for action sequences and exciting camera angles.
"I'm getting known for that, but I'm really interested in telling stories, all kinds of stories," he said, adding that he wants the new film to be based on "characters you want to follow."
Soroka said she hopes that the new film will provide, at least in part, the answer to the question of why spouses – and victims may be men as well as women – stay in abusive relationships.
In many cases there is an investment of many years in the relationship, she said – and also the health and safety of children the couple have.
A controlling, abusive spouse probably commands all of the household finances – and is likely to spiral into anger, and violence, at any attempt to assert independence or leave.
"When you leave, the risks skyrocket," Soroka said.
Other family members can be unsympathetic and unsupportive, partly because they are unwilling to face disturbing truths, she said, and there is a stigma that often prevents victims from speaking out.
Worse than that, sustained abuse – and it can be just as much psychological as physical – has the effect of "re-wiring" the victim into a role of submission and denial in which they doubt their own perception of events.
"You get caught up in it – you don't even see it," Soroka said. "You're totally trying to survive, day to day. You're not focused on the long term."
"What defines domestic abuse is not simply (a situation of) someone hitting his wife," Campbell agreed.
"There are a lot of mind games involved. We need people to see this and realize that this is something that they may have seen or experienced."
The problem also persists from generation to generation, Soroka said, because abusive relationships model patterns of behaviour for the children involved.
"In dysfunctional families we're raising both boys and girls," she said.
"This is a cycle we need to nip in the bud."
Just coming off Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October) Soroka has plenty of disturbing statistics on the toll this 'family problem' takes on communities and the economy – drawn from recent US Department of Justice figures.
In the US, on average three females and one male are murdered by their partner each day, and it's estimated that some 960,000 domestic violence incidents take place each year.
The health costs of domestic violence are estimated at $5.8 billion annually, while the costs in medical expenses, police and court costs, shelters and foster care, sick leave, absenteeism and non-productivity add up to $7.5 billion each year.
"While these are American figures, I don't doubt these figures hold true, proportionately, in Canada," Soroka said.
"In fact they're probably worse, because domestic abuse is one of the most unreported crimes."
For more information on how to contribute to the new project, visit www.EndingAbuseMedia.com