Behind Closed Doors
In a groundbreaking public service effort between a Jacksonville, Florida, television station and a local domestic violence shelter, the documentary Behind Closed Doors, and the program’s follow-up created extensive community awareness of the complex issue of domestic abuse and violence. A Jacksonville domestic violence shelter, Hubbard House, invited WJXT Channel 4’s news crew to stay overnight to videotape the trauma facing abuse victims. To detail the flaws and frustrations of a system designed to assist victims, news anchor Deborah Gianoulis, producer Bobby Thomas, and photojournalist Suzanne Sumner also visited a courtroom to witness firsthand the intimidation and fear victims of domestic violence feel. They also attended a batterers’ intervention group to capture the attitudes of these individuals towards their partners. Throughout the process, the station sought to redirect public thinking away from misconceptions such as “Why does she stay with him?” to the accountability of those who abuse. News director Skip Valet and executive producer of special projects Sharon Siegel-Cohen successfully pursued sponsorship for Behind Closed Doors, so the program could run without commercial interruption. In addition to the documentary, the station interviewed Hubbard House staff members during news reports and promoted the primetime call-in program, and volunteers fielded numerous calls at a phone bank for ten hours. Since the broadcast, Hubbard House’s 24-hour hotline experienced a substantial increase in those seeking shelter. In addition, the documentary has been used by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and for training session for Hubbard House volunteers and staff. A Peabody Award goes to WJXT for Behind Closed Doors, an exceptional and extraordinary local documentary and public service effort combating domestic violence.