'Finding Jenn's voice'
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Author Marilee Strong at the Berkeley Marina, with cameraman Derek Dienner, near the San Francisco Bay Area where Laci Peterson's body was found. The photo was taken during an interview for a documentary, Finding Jenn's Voice, by filmmaker Tracy Schott. Strong is the author of Erased: Murdered Women, Missing Wives. Peterson, seven and a half months pregnant, was murdered by her husband, Scott Peterson, in 2002.
Jenn Snyder, giddy with love and basking in the glow of expectant motherhood, drove to a secluded area of North Whitehall Township, eager to meet with her lover for a romantic rendezvous to plan their lives together.
But instead of gazing with longing into the eyes of David Rapoport, Snyder found herself staring in disbelief as he leveled a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun at her. Rapoport pulled the trigger three times, shooting Snyder twice in the mouth and once in the back.
Rapoport, then 32 and a married, Upper Gwynedd Township veterinarian, would later admit to a judge that he had carefully planned and prepared for Snyder's murder on March 16, 2011. On Dec. 8, 2011, Rapoport pleaded guilty to homicide and homicide of an unborn child, and was sentenced to serve life in prison for his crime.
Now, a Berks County woman is producing a documentary, Finding Jenn's Voice, aimed at raising awareness about the prevalence of pregnant women being killed by their partners.
Filmmaker Tracy Schott had never met Snyder, but is friends with Snyder's aunt, Trina Angelovich. Angelovich got in touch with Schott shortly after Snyder's murder to ask what she thought about doing a documentary.
"Initially, I wasn't sure that this story was documentary worthy," Schott said.
"The last thing I wanted to do was a crime re-enactment show that exploited Jenn's memory. But then I did something on impulse while talking to Trina on the phone. I 'Googled' pregnancy and homicide, and found several studies which claimed the unbelievable: Homicide is the number one cause of death during pregnancy! What? In my previous life, I was a social worker, and I consider myself pretty well informed. How was it that I didn't know about the risks pregnant women faced? This was shortly after the Laci and Scott Peterson case dominated the headlines for about five years. Why didn't anyone talk about this information? The first study to expose these risks was completed in 2001, and had been replicated several times since then. Why wasn't the media talking about this?"
That sealed Schott's decision. The documentary, she believes, will make people aware of the numbers of pregnant women who are killed by their intimate partners.
"I want this film to start the conversation about intimate partner homicide during pregnancy. The media in general does a poor job of covering intimate partner violence (IPV). And that's criminal in my mind because the media has the power to change the way we think about this violence and respond to it. Too many women suffer alone in shame. Self-blame is easy when victim blame is rampant in our media. In fact, this case was covered by an Investigation Discovery show called Desperate Measures. It was painful to watch how this program exploited this family's loss to provide entertainment. One of my upcoming shoots is with a researcher who has studied how the media reports IPV, and the results aren't pretty," she said.
A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that 31 percent of all deaths of pregnant women between 1991 and 1999 were the result of homicide.
In a 2010 study for Center for Maternal and Child Health and the Vital Statistics Administration, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the authors looked at pregnancy-associated homicides occurring from 1993 to 2008 among Maryland residents and found that homicides were the leading cause of death during pregnancy and the first postpartum year.
Schott began work on Finding Jenn's Voice in 2011. She's now about halfway finished. She and her team have interviewed Dr. Diana Cheng, who co-authored a study on the problem; Marilee Strong, a forensic reporter who covered the Scott Peterson trial and wrote the book Erased: Missing Women, Murdered Wives; and psychologist Jacqueline Campbell.
Filming locations so far have included the Lehigh Valley, Baltimore and Berkeley, Calif.
"In order to include the voices of other victim's families and survivors of attempted homicide, we expect to travel to other locations in Pennsylvania and beyond," Schott said.
She anticipates finishing the documentary by the end of the year; however, that timeline depends on financing.
"Up until now, the film has been self financed by my production company, Schott Productions, and my production partner, director of photography Derek Dienner of Lavon Films. I am writing, producing and directing the film. Derek is shooting. We've been working on the film for over two years without compensation. This summer, I started fundraising through local fundraisers, grant writing, and I just launched an Indiegogo campaign. Our total budget for the film is $300,000. Our first Indiegogo campaign goal is $35,000 which will cover our immediate out of pocket costs to complete shooting," Schott said.
She plans to initially release the documentary through film festivals.
"Our goal is to release both a feature length and an hour long version of the film for theatrical and television distribution. We also know that the educational market for this content is important, especially among high schools and colleges. If we are fully funded, we plan to release copies to domestic violence advocacy groups throughout the country without charge," she said.
"Intimate partner violence is a serious and pervasive problem in our world. Three women are killed by their intimate partners everyday in this country. One in three to four women experiences IPV in her lifetime. Women are nine times more likely to be killed by their intimate partner than by the stranger in the street. And this is completely preventable," Schott said.
"It's time to talk about IPV publicly without blaming victims, explaining away or excusing perpetrators, or treating this as 'just another crime'. We need to increase awareness, remove the stigma of being a victim, and respond as a society in a way that no longer tolerates intimate partner violence," she said.
"Hopefully Finding Jenn's Voice will help other women find their voices before they are forever silenced."