Defending Our Lives Study Guide
WITH THIS FILM
Defending Our Lives is an Academy Award-winning documentary that exposes the magnitude and severity of domestic violence in this
country. The devastating accounts of the women featured in this film reveal the failure of the criminal justice system—and of our society as a whole—to protect the victims of domestic violence.
Defending Our Lives usually evokes powerful emotions from its viewers. We strongly recommend that you allow time for people to
express their responses to the documentary. One method we have tried is to ask people directly how they are feeling and allow enough silent time to be sure people have the opportunity to speak. Sometimes it takes a significant amount of time before people are ready to talk. We also strongly recommend that you present the documentary as part of a discussion or presentation. The national listings of
hotline numbers in this pamphlet are for organizations that will be able to provide local assistance in finding people who can be
discussion leaders and resources for your presentations. We also include a section listing people who can lecture and lead discussions with the documentary.
Occasionally individuals become very emotional after a screening. You should be prepared to handle such a response and be able to
provide resources and referrals to those who need them. We encourage you to have the number of the local battered women's shelter
and counseling center hotline available at your screening.
Defending Our Lives has proven to be an effective tool in starting discussions about domestic violence, human rights, criminal justice,
violence against women, the need for social legislation, professional responsibility, law enforcement, women's status in society, battered women and self-defense and many other related ideas. This study guide is designed to assist you in leading a discussion after the film and to help you address domestic violence in your community.
Defending Our Lives is now available in video formats of 30 and 42 minutes. It is also available in Spanish in a 30 minute video
We would appreciate hearing from you about additional materials we might include in this support packet to enhance discussion of the
issues raised in the film. Please write us at Cambridge Documentary Films, Inc., P.O. Box 385, Cambridge, MA 02139 or call us at (617)
484-3993 or fax us at (617) 484-0754 with any suggestions you have for improving these resources.
1. Statistics 3
2. Suggestions for Offering Help 4
3. Controlling Behaviors Warning List 5 4. Personalized Safety Plan 7
5. "Violence Against Women: How to Improve
the Legal Services Response" by Sarah Buel,
the Assistant District Attorney featured in the film 9
6. "Identifying the Assaultive Husband in Court:
You Be the Judge" by David Adams, Co-Founder
and President of Emerge: A Men's Counseling
Service on Domestic Violence 17
7. Voices in the Classroom: A High School Curriculum 23
8. Coping With Violence in the Schools:
Dating Violence 26
9. Some Suggestions for Using This Film As Part
Of a Secondary School Curriculum 28 10. Student Handouts 31
11. Information for Health Care Providers 37
12. Legal Information 43
13. List of Model Domestic Violence Programs
Affiliated with the Court System 44
14. Defending Our Lives Update 49
15. Speakers to Accompany Defending Our Lives 51
16. State-by-State List of Domestic Violence Hotlines 52
17. Bibliography and Resource Guide 55
• Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States—more than rapes, muggings, and
automobile accidents combined. (Surgeon General, United States, 1992.)
• A woman is beaten every 9 seconds in the United States. (Family Violence Prevention Fund Report 1994.)
• There are at least 4 million reported incidents of domestic violence against women every year. (Dr. Angela Browne, Senate Judiciary Hearing,
• According to the Center For Disease Control, a woman is in nine times more danger of violent attack in her home than on the streets.
• Over 50% of the women killed in the United States are killed by male intimate partners or ex-partners. (Journal of the American Medical
• 11.6% of all married or cohabiting relationships experience some physical violence within a given year. (National Institute of Mental Health,
• In a 1985 National Crime Survey, one out of six American couples experience at least one incident involving physical assault. (Gelles & Straus,
Physical Violence in American Families)
• Women are more likely to be victims of homicide when they decide to separate from their husbands. The risk of homicide is highest in the first
two months of separation (Wilson & Daly, Violence and Victims. 1993)
• Battered women are often severely injured—22 to 35% of women who visit medical emergency rooms are there for injuries related to ongoing
abuse. (Journal of American Medical Association, 1990.)
• Domestic violence is a significant cause of miscarriage and birth defects. (March of Dimes, 1992.)
• Approximately 50% of the homeless women and children in this country are on the streets because of violence in the home. (Senator Joseph
Biden, U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Violence Against Women: Victims of the System, 1991.)
• In 1993, nearly 50,000 restraining orders pertaining to violence against intimates were issued in Massachusetts alone. (Commission on
Probation, State of Massachusetts.)
• In self-reported data, 35% of adolescents mention at least knowing someone who experienced physical violence in a dating relationship.
(Roscoe and Callahan)
• There are an estimated 600 women in California prisons convicted of killing an abusive partner. (California Coalition for Battered Women in
SUGGESTIONS FOR OFFERING HELP
Here are some basic steps you can take to assist someone who you believe may be in a battering relationship. (This page is geared
towards women because the majority of domestic violence is perpetrated against women, however, it is important to note that men can
be victims of domestic violence, too.)
• Approach her in an understanding, non-blaming way. Assure her that she is not alone, that there are many women like her in the
same kind of situation.
• Acknowledge that it is scary and difficult to talk about domestic violence. Tell her she doesn't deserve to be threatened, hit or beaten. Nothing justifies the abuser's violence.
• Support her as a friend. Be a good listener and encourage her to express her hurt and anger. Allow her to make her own decisions.
• Ask if she has suffered physical harm. Go with her to the hospital to check for injuries. Help her report the assault to the police, if
she chooses to do so.
• Share information. Discuss the dynamics of violence and how abuse is based on power and control. Let her know that resources
are available to help her, including programs that can provide emergency shelter, counseling services and legal advice.
• Inform her of her legal rights under local and state abuse prevention laws. Go with her to district, probate or superior court to
obtain protective orders, or find someone who can.
• Plan safe strategies for leaving an abusive relationship. Never encourage a "safety plan" that she believes will put her at further risk.
Remember, she may not feel comfortable taking these materials.
Adapted from Domestic Violence: The Facts, Peace at Home, Inc.
CONTROLLING BEHAVIORS WARNING LIST
This list identifies a series of behaviors typically demonstrated by batterers and abusive people. All of these forms of abuse—
psychological, economic, and physical—come from the batterer's desire for power and control. The list can help you recognize if you or someone you know is in a violent relationship.
Psychological and Economic Abuse
___Verbal Abuse: name-calling, mocking, destructive criticism, accusing, blaming, yelling, swearing, making humiliating remarks or
___Pressure Tactics: rushing you to make decisions through "guilt-tripping" and other forms of intimidation, sulking, threatening to
withhold money, manipulating the children, telling you what to do.
___Abusing Authority: always claiming to be right, insisting statement are "the truth," telling you what to do, making big decisions
___Disrespect: interrupting, changing topics, not listening or responding, twisting your words, putting you down in front of other
people, saying bad things about your friends and family.
___Abusing Trust: lying, withholding information, infidelity, unreasonable jealousy.
___Breaking Promises: not following through on agreements, not taking a fair share of responsibility, refusing to help with childcare or
___Emotional Withholding: not expressing feelings; not giving support, attention or compliments; not respecting feelings, rights or
___Minimizing, Denying & Blaming: making light of abusive behavior and not taking your concerns about it seriously, denying that
the abuse happened, blaming you for the abuse
___Economic Control: interfering with your work or not letting you work, withholding or taking money, denying you access to the car
and other resources, threatening to report you to welfare or other social service agencies.
___Self-Destructive Behavior: abusing drugs or alcohol, threatening suicide or other forms of self-harm, deliberately doing or saying
things that will have negative consequences.
___Isolation: preventing or making it difficult for you to see friends of relatives, monitoring phone calls, telling you where you can and
___Harrassment: making uninvited visits or calls, following you, checking up on you, embarrassing you in public, refusing to leave
Acts of Violence
___Intimidation: making angry or threatening gestures, use of physical size to intimidate, standing in doorway during arguments, out
shouting you, driving recklessly.
___Destruction: destroying your possessions, punching walls, throwing and/or breaking things.
___Threats: making and/or carrying out threats to hurt you or others.
___Sexual Violence: degrading treatment based on your sex or sexual orientation; using force, threats or coercion to obtain sex or
perform sexual acts.
___Physical Violence: being violent to you, your children, household pets, or others; slapping, punching, grabbing, kicking, choking,
pushing, biting, burning, stabbing, shooting, etc.
___Weapons: use or threatened use of weapons, keeping weapons around that frighten you.
Adapted from Domestic Violence: The Facts, Peace At Home, Inc.
PERSONALIZED SAFETY PLAN Increasing safety in the relationship
• I will have important phone numbers accessible to my children and myself (see next page)
• I can tell_____________________and_____________________about the violence and ask them to call the police if they hear suspicious
noises coming from my home.
• If I leave my home, I can go (list four places) : ___________________
• I can leave extra money, car keys, clothes, and copies of documents with ______________________.
• If I leave, I will bring _______________________________________ (see checklist next page).
• To ensure safety and independence, I can: keep change for phone calls with me at all times; open my own savings account; rehearse
my escape route with my children and support person; and review safety plan on (date) ______________.
Increasing safety when the relationship is over
• I can: change the locks; install steel/metal doors; a security system; smoke detectors; and an outside lighting system.
• I will inform ___________________ and ___________________that my partner no longer resides with me and to call the police if s/he
is observed near my residence or my children.
• I will tell people who take care of my children who else has permission to pick them up. The people who have permission
• I can tell _____________________at work about my situation and ask _____________________to screen my calls.
• I can avoid stores, banks, and _______________________________ that I used when residing with my battering partner.
• I can obtain a protective order from ______________ court, keep it on or near me at all times as well as leave a copy with
• If I feel down and ready to return to a potentially abusive situation, I can call ___________________________________ for support or
attend workshops and support groups to gain support and strengthen my relationships with other people.
Items to Take Checklist
Identification Welfare identification
Birth certificates Passport(s), Green Card(s), work permits
Social Security cards Divorce papers
School and medical records Lease/rental agreement
Money, bank books, credit cards House deed, mortgage payment book Keys – house/car/office Current unpaid bills
Driver's license and registration Insurance papers
Medications Address book
Pictures, jewelry Children's favorite toys , blankets Other items of sentimental value Change of clothes
Important phone numbers:
Police _____________________ Hotline _______________________ Friends ____________________ Shelter ________________________
Being Aware + Informing Others + Finding Support = Increased Safety
Adapted from Domestic Violence: The Facts,Peace At Home, Inc.
Violence Against Women:
How to Improve the Legal Services' Response Excerpts from a speech by Sarah Buel, Assistant District Attorney, Quincy, MA
and Head of the Suffolk County Domestic Violence Unit, delivered Nov. 18, 1991
They have their teeth knocked out with hammers; they are run over by cars and trucks; they are raped with hot curling irons and large objects. They are beaten, stabbed, choked [and] strangled. They are beaten in public, in the streets; they are beaten in the privacy of their own homes; they are tortured and beaten in front of their children; and they are tied up and forced to watch the torture and sexual molestation of their own children.
Am I talking about atrocities committed in some foreign country by enemy soldiers against captive prisoners? Am I talking about atrocities that human rights organizations around the world are outraged by, that [they] are screaming and yelling and telling us how funds need to be raised to stop this abuse? No, I'm talking about the domestic violence that is occurring not just across this country, but specifically in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, all around us.
The F.B.I. now tells us that one out of every two women in this country will be in a violent relationship in their lifetime. Not because 50 percent of all men are abusers, but because we as a society completely fail to hold them accountable and provide sanctions for that abuse. That means that this is no longer an "us-and-them" proposition. It is all of us. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has a Violence Epidemiology Unit that tells us more women in this country now seek treatment in our nation's emergency rooms as a result of domestic violence injuries than from the combination of muggings, rapes and car accidents. That makes domestic violence the number one cause of injury to women in this country.
They also tell us that women are in nine times more danger in their homes than they are in the street…I did not come to this work by
accident. I grew up in a violent home and, not surprisingly, ended up in a violent marriage—at a time 15 years ago when there were no
abuse prevention laws, no battered women shelters [and no] courts that I could find [which] were at all interested in my safety, the safety of my then infant son and the two foster children I had.
We have come a little way in that time. There are now about 1,200 battered women's shelters across this country. But, just to keep that in perspective, there are about 3,800 animal protection shelters. And it seems to me, no matter how much you love animals, our priorities are a little skewed when we have three times the number of shelters for homeless animals than we have for battered women and their children.
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Metropolitan District Commission spends more on its zoo than the entire
Commonwealth spends for battered women. Just two years ago, when the Legislature approved $100 million for a new tropical rain forest pavilion at the zoo, it was the same year that battered women's shelter programs had their funding reduced to $4.3 million. You are each tax-paying, voting citizens, and you have a voice. I would argue that you have a responsibility to make that voice heard, and to let your elected officials, your legislators [and] the policy makers around us know that [this] kind of funding disparity is simply not acceptable to us.
I come to you with two assumptions, two premises today. The first is that domestic violence is serious violent crime, and until and unless we treat it as such, we will continue to see the spiraling numbers of victims. The second proposition is the good news; there is a tremendous amount that you as an individual, as well as a professional, can do.
The number-one question people ask me is, "If you were smart enough to go to law school (as if there is any correlation between going to law school and being smart), how could you stay in a violent marriage for so long (as though there is any correlation between being stupid and staying in a violent relationship)?" It has nothing to do with being stupid, it has everything to do with what your options are and what information you have. I need to point out that there were more safety nets when I left [my ex-husband] in 1977. I was able to get on welfare. There was then the CETA program which got me a job in legal services as a paralegal. And that's what really changed my life, in terms of learning about what legal rights and options I had, and figuring out how we could protect battered women…
So many legal services people call me and say, "I'm being supportive with her, I'm telling her that I'm here for her and I'm going to help her get a restraining order, and she still went back to him. Tell me what I'm doing wrong, tell me when this woman is going to
understand that she's got to leave." She's going to understand that she's got to leave, I believe, when we make it safe for her to do so, and when there are enough support mechanisms in the community.
There are several very good reasons why battered women are forced to go back…One of the first that I want to address is the issue of fear. You are not going to be with her 24 hours a day, so no matter what assurances you give her, you simply can't be there…I can't
believe how often I have heard supervisors when I worked in legal services tell me and assure [other] battered women that he really is not going to kill her.
Well, I have buried too many battered women. We are not going to start talking about second-guessing when battered women are
the people who know this abuse the best, and they know when he's giving the clues and the signals that he is serious this time. That this is the time that he could kill her. We can't be giving assurances about things that we simply don't know.
I want to share with you something that keeps [this] in mind for me the most clearly, and that's when I left [my ex-husband] and went to a small rural town in New Hampshire. I was in a Laundromat on a Saturday morning, and my son was running around with the kids over there, and I saw people by the counter, so I felt reasonably safe. I tried to always be around people. And then I saw my ex-husband come in the door.
I could not believe that he had figured out how to find me. It is just amazing the tenacity that batterers use in tracking down victims. Do not ever underestimate them. So I see him come in, and I look over to the counter, and I ask the people to call the police.
But he said, "No, this is my wife, and we've just had a little fight and I've come to pick her up." So nobody moved. I still had bruises on the side of my face, and I said, "This is the person who did this to me, you need to call the police!"
And he said, "No, this is my wife, we've just had a little fight and I've come to take her home." So nobody moved.
As long as I live, I want to remember what it feels like to be terrified for my life and nobody can even pick up the phone. And we hear this over and over and over again. Women screaming in the street, women screaming in their homes, and nobody can be bothered to pick up the phone.
…When we talk about how battered women should leave because they are in great danger, we need to think about what we are telling them to do. More battered women are murdered in the process of leaving than at any other time, so it is irresponsible to simply tell them, "You need to leave." You have to hook them up with a shelter, or somebody who can help them put together a safety plan.
…I first went to legal services as a client because I had been denied welfare because I wouldn't tell them where he was, because I knew that they would contact him for child support, and then he would track me down, again. But nobody asked me, "Are you safe? Are you OK? Has anyone hit or assaulted you in the last year?"
We need to routinize inquiries about abuse. If you do nothing else, [make sure that] every single intake form [asks these questions] of
every single female client who walks in your door. I would suggest that it is malpractice not to ask every single female—whether they come in for a landlord/tenant problem, [or] consumer protection…
So many women come to us and still have no idea that the abuse is illegal. They still have no idea how to get a restraining order; there is a vague notion, as in many states, that you have to have a lawyer to do that. We have that information, and I would argue that we have a responsibility to give it out, to share it. That means we need to make community legal education an integral part of our work.
You need to be out in your community. You need to forge a network with your legal services programs and other areas, as well as the battered women's shelters in your communities, the batterer's treatment program. We have to be able to assist battered women in complete ways…
A second obstacle for many battered women leaving [their abusers] is economic factors. This is particularly true for the people with whom we work.
What I usually like to do when we talk about economic factors, because people seem to remember it, is to take everybody's wallet. When you take people's money, their credit cards and their identification, they get pretty nervous. I want them to have a sense about