Deborah Peagler stands behind security glass at the Central California Women’s  Facility prison, where she served time from 1983 to 2009.

Image: Yoav Potash

Imagine that someone is hurting you — even trying to kill you. Imagine that the police can’t help you. And when you defend yourself, you are sent to jail.

This scene is reality for many victims of domestic violence, and it’s the subject of a film Jewish Family Service of Seattle will screen in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

Crime After Crime tells the story of Deborah Peagler, who suffered a violent, abusive relationship in the 1980s. Even though Peagler repeatedly went to police and tried to leave numerous times, she was unable to escape her abuser. After gang members killed him, Peagler was arrested and received a life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder. She was released in 2009, by which time she had stage IV lung cancer. She died in 2010.

The award-winning documentary produced and directed by Yoav Potash follows the judicial system’s involvement in Peagler’s case over 30 years and how two pro-bono attorneys — including Joshua Safran, an Orthodox Jew now based in Portland — tried to free her.

 

“You see the system refuse to acknowledge the circumstances around her case and refuse to acknowledge her innocence,” says Liz Coleclough, JFS’s Director of Project DVORA Domestic Violence Services. “The system re-victimized her.”

Crime After Crime is an important film, according to Coleclough, because Peagler’s case is an example of a common issue in which victims of domestic violence, particularly women, are convicted of homicide following the deaths of their abusers. This injustice disproportionately affects women of color.

“If you come into the system without power, you will probably be in the system without power,” she says. “That’s something we see time and time again.”

Crime After Crime will screen with a panel of experts: Safran; Tamaso Johnson, the public policy director for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Martina Kartman, a fellow with the Public Defender Association; and Tracee Parker with the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence.

Through Project DVORA, JFS recently hired a full-time, on-site attorney — unique in King County — so its clients will have access to both advocacy and legal support. Coleclough points out that domestic violence is often viewed as an issue between individuals, but the justice system plays a significant role.

While JFS serves Jewish clients as well as the broader community, Coleclough sees this as a Jewish issue. “Understanding justice and freedom ties directly into Jewish values,” she says. “As Jews,  we are in a unique position to understand marginalization.”

 

CRIME AFTER CRIME

October 25 at 7 p.m.
$5 suggested donation

Stroum Jewish Community Center

sjcc.org/arts-ideas/film

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