real life

The 29 minute documentary that could help you save a life.

When Becky Lucas was growing up, she did everything with her friend Jess. They could talk about anything, they both played the flute in the school band, and they even shared a crush on the same guy at one stage. The two were inseparable – until something changed.

In late high school, Jess started a serious relationship. She slowly distanced herself from Becky, and over the next few years she became increasingly anxious, lost weight, and avoided talking about her partner.

While Becky knew Jess’s boyfriend was a “bad guy,” she had no idea he had broken her arm, would sexually abuse her, and kept her captive in an apartment when she was sick and refused to call a doctor.

It took Jess’s horrific story to open Becky’s eyes to the reality of domestic violence, and to ask the question: What can you do if your friend is being abused? Big Bad Love, a documentary in ABC’s Opening Shot series, seeks to answer this question.

At one point, Becky Lucas speaks to women in a retirement home about how domestic violence was perceived while they were growing up. Image via ABC.

While it seems strange, it was when director Briony Benjamin saw Becky Lucas perform a stand-up comedy routine about her friend Jess that the idea for Big Bad Love emerged. Briony told Fairfax, "it was a story about her and her best friend growing up –this very funny story, but at the very end of it, she spoke about how this was actually a story of regret and sadness."

"So she finished up this until-then very funny story saying, 'I just feel so bad, I feel such guilt that I did nothing'."

Briony knew Becky would be the perfect host for a documentary she was intent on making. Ever since Briony, who is one of three sisters, read the statistic that one in three women will experience physical violence in their lifetime, she knew she wanted to make a film.

"What I learnt in making the film was that we are all more powerful than we realise," she told Mamamia. "If you think someone is suffering from an abusive relationship there is always something you can do."

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What surprised Briony, and what presumably will surprise viewers, is that women 18-24 are most at risk of abuse. It also shocked her "to learn that the violence in intimate relationships is far more brutal, severe, deliberate and sadistic then I ever realised."

Becky listens to a domestic violence survivor recount her experience. Image via ABC. 

Arguably the most powerful scene in the 29 minute documentary involves an experiment whereby two actors portray domestic violence on the street. "People were just so outraged but didn't necessarily know what to do," says Briony. Indeed, a number of people stop and attempt to intervene, but far more seem to know something is wrong, but have no idea how to stop it. But for Briony, "it was comforting in a way to see how people just completely did not tolerate what they were seeing."

Big Bad Love has a transformative impact on its audience. It has a "tangible takeaway," as Briony describes. With experts, victims, and a highly inquisitive Becky Lucas, it paves the way for important conversations about what each of us can do to prevent our friends or family from becoming trapped in an abusive situation. As social psychologist Dina McMillan says in the film, "abuse thrives in isolation."

For director Briony, it was a profound learning experience. "I'd naively thought domestic violence was a one off blow out of anger, like getting punched in the face," she says. "But to hear young women describe being bitten till they bleed, having their abusers cut themselves and smear their own blood into their faces, daily strangulations, repeatedly kick them in the back, where they knew it was painful...that was very shocking to hear and digest."

Indeed, it is shocking. But that's exactly why a film like Big Bad Love is so immeasurably important.

Big Bad Love airs at 9.30pm, November 23, on ABC2.  

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