News

May 26, 2009

Katie Thompson ’09 Investigates Domestic Violence in Film, Literature, and Real Life

English professors Andy Smith and Lisa DeTora served as her thesis advisers

Katie Thompson ’09 (Glenside, Pa.) compared “upscale domestic violence” in literature and film with real-life examples in her honors thesis.

Thompson, who graduated May 23 with an A.B. with majors in American studies and English, examined the implications of abuse by talking to survivors and examining the films Fried Green Tomatoes and Sleeping with the Enemy and the novels they are based on. Andy Smith, assistant professor of English and chair of American studies, and Lisa DeTora, assistant professor of English, served as Thompson’s thesis advisers.

Thompson defines upscale domestic violence as repeated occurrences of physical or emotional abuse between partners who are financially affluent and outwardly appear to have a happy home life. The abuse is typically hidden from people outside of the family.

As a part of her research, Thompson talked to workers at Turning Point of the Lehigh Valley, a local non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating domestic violence. Thompson explains that several of the workers she spoke with, many of whom are survivors of abuse, found the films to be extremely realistic.

“One woman told me that it [Sleeping with the Enemy] was so real for her, she still couldn’t watch it,” says Thompson. “So there’s something in these films that is succeeding in that sense. They can actually convey what it’s like to be in an abusive situation.”

Thompson’s research also looked at the myths surrounding domestic abuse, such as the idea that physical violence is the only way someone can mistreat their partner. “Having talked to victims about this issue, it’s the emotional abuse that stays with you forever. Self-esteem takes a lot longer to build back up than a physical wound takes to heal,” explains Thompson, who notes that films are more likely to portray violent abuse.

Upscale abusers are oftentimes narcissistic and believe that their victims deserve to be punished. Thompson explains, “They don’t really need to be sorry about the abuse. They feel that they have community support behind them because they are well off and sometimes important members of the community.”

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