2012 Changemaker: ‘With Impunity’

“Potentially a breakthrough shift in the way abuse and violence against women is discussed by looking through the lens of men,” is how the “With Impunity” documentary has been described.

Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar thought progress had stalled after working together for 30 years on gender-based violence. They had written books, created curriculum, and lectured and led trainings nationally and internationally. They could point to a lot of successes-changes in laws, in law enforcement and in criminal justice.

But when they looked at our culture-where boys grow up to be batterers or rapists, a culture that allows trafficking of women and girls for sex and has a proliferation of violence-based pornography-they saw that cultural change was needed.

“We saw lots of documentaries and news stories about the impact of men’s violence against women,” Paymar said. “We really wanted to tell the story that if we are ever going to stop men’s violence against women that men need to step up and take leadership.”

From that premise, Pence and Paymar launched a three-year project to create “With Impunity,” which premiered in October on Twin Cities Public Television (tpt).

They knew it would be their last project together because Pence was diagnosed with terminal cancer before they began. She died in January, but “in spirit, she was there at the end,” Paymar said.

The pair approached tpt as a partner, and ultimately worked with tpt’s Daniel Pierce Bergin as the producer of the documentary. He saw the project as the beginning of a powerful conversation piece across the nation. They sought the necessary funding and found partners and advocates in the Greater Twin Cities United Way, the Saint Paul Foundation and the F. R. Bigelow Foundation, along with the Minneapolis Foundation, the Pohlad Family Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Health.

The film explores cultural and historic beliefs about manhood that allow men to exploit and hurt women-with impunity. It brings together voices of leading historians, sociologists and practitioners to examine our past, cultural realities and options for ending gender-based violence while following the journey of Hector, a former abuser who now works as a counselor with violent men.

The film is the start of a process locally and nationally. It is being taken around the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota to community viewings and conversations, in collaboration with local anti-violence and women’s groups. Stops in 2012 include Duluth and Winona, with more planned in 2013.

The aim is for the film to be a catalyst for dialogue leading to a commitment to action based on the unique resources and needs in each community. Communities will wrestle with the question: “What do we do in our community?”

In addition, they are working to expand their efforts nationally and have developed a curriculum for use with the film.

“The buzz we have heard in Minnesota and nationally is that we are telling a different story that needed to be told,” Paymar said. “Men need to step up. Men need to take leadership and men need to stop being silent when they are surrounded by sexism. They need to be willing to speak up when they see violence against women whether it is in intimate relationships, or date rape or sexual violence. Men have to stop colluding.

“I’ve aways hoped that men would give up their belief in entitlement that they have a right to control women, exploit women and abuse women,” Paymar said.

Watch the documentary at www.mnvideovault.org. Type “With Impunity” in the search field to find the film.
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