“The Second Lecture of Film Screening and Lecture on Domestic Violence” Reported by Keiko Kawaguchi
On Tuesday, December 17th, “The Second Lecture of Film Screening and Lecture on Domestic Violence” sponsored by Pandora Inc. was held at Shibuya Uplink. First of all, the documentary film based on the testimony of DV victims in the United States titled, Defending Our Lives (1993 production) was shown. It is a rare piece of film depicting the point of view of the victims through their testimony of their terrifying fear of DV. After the screening, Yukiko Tsunoda, a lawyer who had researched the reality of DV for the first time in Japan in 1992, commented on the content of this movie. The first part of my report contains a note on the significance and a rare feature of the movie followed by a summary of the lecture.
Significance of the Movie, Defending Our Lives
The main feature of Defending Our Lives describes the fear and reality of DV told explicitly from the point of view of “the victims.” The main characters are 4 American women in prison on charges of murdering their husband or lover (i). After many years of tolerating unjust violence from their husband or lover, the women resulted to killing the abusers at the price of being accused of murder.
One by one, these women talks quietly about their psychological state of mind caused by cruel mental and physical violence they had continued to bear – an experience that cannot be simply expressed by words like “human rights violations against women.”
What choices did they have? Even if the only choice left was to kill, the psychological process that led to their act can only be understood by those that actually experience the situation.
The film contains footages from video recordings taken during police interrogation and beat-up face photo shown as evidence of violence, but the film exclusively is composed of testimonies of four women.
As a connector of these independent testimonies, footage of an ex-DV victim, a district attorney and university professor, is inserted as she talks about “punishment” and “sin” of women before the students of the Harvard University School of Law.
According to the movie, the criminal law of the United States (at the time of filming) judged the act of killing by DV victims as a first -degree murder which was a heavier crime than that of the serial killer or serial rapist. Through the voices of these female victims who had to resort to killing to protect their own life, it can be said that the significance of this work is to appeal to the public the lack of awareness of justice system on DV.
“I fought. Thus I am alive.” These words of a young black woman spoken at the end of the film hit my heart hard. This is a shocking movie, an eye-opener, based on a rare testimony of survivors.
Lecture by a Lawyer, Yukiko Tsunoda, Following the Screening
Yukiko Tsunoda was one of the members of women’s group that introduced the concept of DV in Japan after conducting a survey on domestic violence for the first time in Japan in 1992. She lived in the United States from1994 to 1996 to observe how DV Prevention Law operated. At that time, she found what was great about the system was that along with the operation of the DV Act was the mechanism of American DV survivors participating in a process to make the law. In Japan DV Prevention Law was enacted for the first time in 2001. Even after 20 years, the point this movie produced in 1993 (ii) tried to reveal to the public has continued to be a “new” topic in Japan, is beyond comprehension for Ms. Tsunoda.
She further pointed out the lack of understanding of DV by the Japanese judiciary by bringing up an example of two trials she was involved in. They were both incidents similar to the cases of women who appeared in the film, Defending Our Lives. One is the case in 1991 which took place before Ms. Tsunoda introduced the concept of DV in Japan. The concept of DV at that time was unknown in Japan even to Ms. Tsunoda so that DV and violence which had been in the background of the case was not recognized by the prosecutor nor the judge; and as a result, the defendant, the DV victim, was imposed a severe sentence. The other case was that which occurred right after the DV Act was established and enforced in 2001. In this case, the DV Act worked against the defendant. The judges applied the newly enacted DV Act to question the defendant why she had not consulted with a lawyer to seek resolution through law before taking an action of murdering. Ms. Tsunoda made an important point that, “someone can acquire the profession in law even if that person has absolutely no knowledge or understanding about rape and DV, which is the core problem.”
Structure of submission and domination produced by violence place such a grave psychological and mental impact on women that they are pushed beyond the limit of “No Way Out” and left with no other choice but to kill their abusers. This is what Defending Our Lives is all about, depicted through the voices of women.
Immediately after watching the movie, to hear a concrete story from Ms. Tsunoda who dealt with similar trials in Japan, I was able to re-confirm how important it is to understand the issue from the viewpoint of the victims of DV. I think the main point in question is the need for the society, including the police and lawyers, to recognize the problem of DV correctly from the standpoint of the victims. I truly hope from the bottom of my heart that law, reflecting the voices of victims and survivors of DV together with the social structure to support the DV victims will soon function properly and effectively.
The last point made by Ms. Tsunoda was that DV is said to be an emotional abuse against children. It is also the problem reflected in the second film, an animation titled, Dad, don’t Hit Mom. The need for gender education for children has also been proposed in order to break the intergenerational chain of DV. To do so, budget is needed. And to ensure such a budget, we need to enact such a law. The lecture was concluded with Ms. Tsunoda’s strong statement, “The root of the budget is the law!”
Defending Our Lives (1993 production)
Director: Margaret Lazarus
30 min / Japanese dubbed version / incl. study guide
DVD with screening rights ¥ 40,000 (tax not included) (Limited to schools and public use)
Received 66th Academy Short Documentary Film Award in1994
(i) All the women in the movie, including the four who made the testimony are members of the victim support groups in the private sector, BWFB (Battered Women Fighting Back!). The organization was launched in order to help the women in prison for killing their abuser, and it is actively appealing to the public that DV is currently a serious human rights violation threatening women and children.
(ii) The film was produced by Cambridge Documentary Film. It is an NPO that has produced, directed, and distributed documentary films on various social issues such as image of women, DV, trauma, rape, eating disorders, self-awareness, media literacy, homophobia, labor movement, gender roles, career counseling, nuclear war, health crisis related to sex and reproduction, and parenting by gay and lesbians. Films produced have won many awards, including an Academy Award, and it has been screened at the United Nations, the National Assembly, and in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Translated and adapted by M. Doioka from the following Japanese site: