On February 19, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled the 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda.Read More
by Daniel A. Nelson
Hey, everyone. It's been a busy month so thanks for sticking with us. We just wrapped up our most recent shoot in Los Angeles to interview Louis Pilato.
Louis is a lawyer in Los Angeles, but in 1992, he was Kim's defense attorney in Rochester, NY. This was the first time Louis had ever talked about Kim's case on the record since the trial. As we conduct these interviews, it's amazing what people remember almost 30 years later. Louis was sharp in his recollection about many of the key elements of Kim's trial.
The most important element we discussed was "justification." Kim was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. It was also the jury's responsibility to acknowledge whether or not Kim's actions were justified when she defended herself against her abuser. It was Louis' feeling that Judge Patricia Marks did not adequately convey that to the jury.
With Los Angeles done, we're finally wrapping up production and entering our post production phase. We're really excited to finally sit down with all the footage and start editing everything together. Stay tuned!
by Daniel A. Nelson
What a weekend it has been. We took red-eye flights back and forth from New York City to Ponce, Puerto Rico this weekend to conduct our most anticipated interview to date.
Angela Reyes was the assistant district attorney in Rochester, New York in 1992 and the prosecutor during Kim's trial. The conversation was spirited at times, but to tell Kim's story, it's important to understand how we have conversations about domestic violence from a legal perspective.
After we unpacked every corner of Kim's trial, we talked about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act and how she feels about the bill.
We look forward to sharing this interview. It was a critical piece of our documentary and it feels good to finally have it on camera. We also took out the drone for a few shots of the area. Whether they make it into the final cut remains to be seen, but here are a few for your viewing pleasure.
Look out for another update this week when we travel with Kim to Albany for the state legislative session. We'll be speaking with New York state senators about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act and what needs to be done for this bill to pass. Until then, thank you all for your support and keep spreading the word about our campaign!
by Kim Brown
In 1991, I was a domestic violence victim before I was defendant. At 24, I fought for my life as my boyfriend strangled me in our car in front of my mom’s house. The price of fighting for my life cost me 17 years in prison. In New York State, self-defense laws do not protect domestic violence victims who kill their abusers in a life-or-death situation.
If I had a nickel for every time I was asked, "Why didn't you leave," I would be rich. It's a misconception that battered women always have a choice. The fear of my abuser’s unexpected violent attacks and threats to end my life became so strong it paralyzed me. I was living in constant fear. Women, like me, are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship, according to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.
My home, my job—no where was safe.
One day, we were at a gas station and a male attendant gave me a free stick of gum because I mentioned that it was my birthday. I didn’t want to be rude and not accept the gum. But, I also knew my boyfriend was furiously watching my every move. When I got in the car, I handed him the stick of gum and said, “Here, I don’t want it,” because I knew he was angry. As I was driving to his job at Rochester General Hospital, he forcefully twisted my right arm behind my back. I was counting the minutes and seconds until he had to be at work. I was trying to not crash the car. I was trying to make it through the next 17 minutes. I was trying to survive. But, because he worked at the hospital, I had to be extremely careful about receiving treatment for my injured shoulder. I was in pain and couldn’t drive to a different hospital. I begged the hospital employees to not put my name on the triage board while they treated me. Nowhere was safe. Not even the hospital...and so I stayed.
It was easier to know when and where the blows were coming from rather than start over. At the time, I worried that all relationships escalated into violence. He was charming and tricked people into believing that he was a nice guy all the time. Behind closed doors, I had no self-esteem and no sense of individuality left. I was broken and felt worthless...and so I stayed.
Now that I’ve done 17 years in prison, maybe it's easier to just leave the domestic violence and trauma behind me. But, as a survivor, I’m staying in this fight to help others, especially those who helped me. It’s healing for me to turn my pain into action. When I was in prison, Jaya Vasandani and Tamar Kraft-Stolar from the Correctional Association of New York visited me and other incarcerated women frequently to assess and report on the quality of living conditions in the prison. One day, I asked Jaya, “Do you think I can help you guys do this when I come home?”
Since coming home from prison in 2008, I have struggled to get a job where I can financially support myself. Then, in 2009, Jaya and Tamar asked if I’d be a survivor advocate for New York’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, a bill that would save survivors from prison time for defending themselves against violent abusers. I just want to do what I can to prevent anyone from going through what I have had to endure. In my spare time and when I can afford it, I volunteer my time to speak at legislative conferences and domestic violence forums. I have worked with many advocates to ensure that this bill will be passed sooner rather than later. I want to protect victims of domestic violence before they turn into defendants as I did—and so I stayed in the movement to make systemic change. And I will stay until survivors are believed and the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act is law.
by Natalie Pattillo
Before my first day at Columbia Journalism School in May 2015, I knew that my master’s project would cover domestic violence, but I just wasn’t sure which facet. In 2011, my half-sister was killed by her then-boyfriend. Shortly after that, I found myself in an abusive relationship with a man I’m no longer with. Then in 2014, NFL player, Ray Rice, was caught on camera punching his partner, Janay Palmer Rice. That news cycle was brutal for me to watch. Many outlets criticized Janay for not leaving. There was an entire hashtag trending on social media dedicated to asking abuse survivors #WhySheStayed.
Why is the onus only on survivors? Why aren’t we questioning abusers for terrorizing their loved ones? Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship according to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (a statistic that’s often overlooked).
What happens when, as a society, we don't lend empathy or trust to survivors of abuse? Survivors lives are destroyed, violence perpetuates and, in many cases, women and children are killed. Our jobs, as journalists, are to tell these stories even if they are painful to bear witness to or hear.
In April of 2015, well before #MeToo, I spoke to Bruce Shapiro of the Dart Trauma Journalism Center about my interest in writing about gender-based violence. He suggested for me to read Dr. Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. “Read the part about the survivors’ mission,” he told me. “That will resonate with you.”
Herman wrote, “It is the law, not she, that must prevail. By making a public complaint or accusation, the survivor defies the perpetrator’s attempt to silence and isolate her, and she opens up the possibility of finding new allies.”
I decided to focus my master’s project on the incarceration of survivors who defended themselves against their abusers in life-or-death situations. It was newsworthy in New York because of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), a bill that would allow judges to sentence domestic violence survivors to less years behind bars or to alternative-to-incarceration programs.
Immediately, I reached out to advocacy groups like STEPS to End Family Violence and the Women in Prison Project. I knew if I wanted access to currently or formerly incarcerated domestic violence survivors, I would have to develop trust with these agencies. After interviewing Gail Smith at the Women in Prison Project, she told me that Kim Dadou and LadyKathryn Williams-Julien were interested in sharing their stories. Both women were advocates of the DVSJA and survivors who reportedly killed their abusers in self-defense. Since these women were advocates for the DVSJA, their stories were used as testimonies for the bill. I scoured Newspaper.com for archived articles and came across a few of pieces about Dadou’s court hearings.
Over a phone interview, Kim told me she was getting married to her partner Annie Bell. In July of 2016, I travelled to Rochester to attend their wedding. That same weekend, LadyKathryn invited me to attend a fundraiser event she was hosting for the bill. Reporting at these events helped me write vividly about these women’s lives—they are more than the abuse they endured.
When I found Kim’s prosecutor Angela Reyes through LinkedIn, I reached out. She responded within a day (I know, it surprised me too). Her point of view is essential because it represents how the justice system perceived domestic violence survivors in the early 1990s.
I learned from Kim and LadyKathryn that the system fails survivors even when they report the abuse. LadyKathryn is a result of what happens when a judge or prosecutor understands or considers domestic violence in relation to self-defense. Kim lost 17 years of freedom because she didn’t fit the “model victim” profile.
Last year, I published a deeply-researched, long-form print piece on Narratively and Salon about the story of Kim. Even though my Narratively piece covered much of Kim’s story, I felt her experiences in prison would be more powerful if told by her, which is why I was excited to produce a segment for Lena Dunham’s podcast Women of the Hour.
A few months later, producers from Criminal, a podcast by PRX’s Radiotopia, reached out to Kim and me because they wanted to feature her story on their podcast. A couple of days after Kim’s story aired on Criminal, my Republican, tough-on-crime uncle reached out to tell me how moved he was by her story. I was floored. Listening to Kim tell her story had softened his stance, at least for a moment.
Then, when my friend and former classmate Dan Nelson read my master’s project, he was shocked and angered about the injustice Kim faced. He approached me and asked, “What do you think about turning Kim’s story into a documentary?” I couldn’t say no.
So now, on top of my full-time job, freelancing and responsibilities as a mom, I’m making a documentary. I believe this film has the power to teach people about how domestic violence is ubiquitous and insidious. Silence is not an option. I won’t stop until Kim’s story is told. I won’t stop until justice is served. And I sure as hell won’t stop until we, as a society, trust the testimonies of survivors.
In addition to everyone else who has helped me with my reporting and writing, I would like to thank my daughter, Amora, for being a flexible kid who constantly tells me, “Don’t worry, Mama, you can do it,” when I’m stressed about a deadline.
Lastly, I would like to dedicate this project to my sister, Jennifer Pattillo, who died too soon in the hands of a violent partner.