The Domestic
       Violence Ribbon

The Battered Woman's Defense

Written and Created by Laura Yovanoff
for Senior Seminar in Political Science at Nazareth College

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Imagine that you are a young person, newly married and ready to start a family.  But just weeks after your wedding your spouse begins to physically abuse you.  The first time he hits you he says "I'm sorry.  Please forgive me, it will never happen again."  But months go by, and then years, and you live each day not knowing whether you will wake up the next morning with a black eye, a broken rib, or not wake up at all.  You are confined to your house and can not go anywhere without your husband's permission.  Your husband drinks, and with each sip of alcohol your life and the lives of your children are threatened.

Finally, you get the courage, with the help of a social worker, to file for a divorce, only your husband refuses to honor it.  You can't keep him out of your house, and if you try, he beats you until you can't remember where you are.  Every few days you come to expect that nothing you do is right, and that a hard fist, or swinging leg will soon make contact with your sore, bruised body.  Fighting back only makes him more angry and more determined to quiet you.

One day, he flies into a fit of rage and beats you and pulls your hair until clumps fall to the floor.  He makes you burn your school books and threatens to take a sledgehammer to your car if you try to leave.  He complains about your dinner, dumps food on the floor and breaks dishes and smears garbage in your hair, leaving you to clean up the mess.  He orders you to cook another meal, and afterwards forces you to have sex with him.

Finally, he falls into a drunken slumber and all you can feel is the emotional and physical pain of what he has done to you for the last fourteen years.  Anger and fear fill you, as you think of what he has done to your family- harmed you and your children with no remorse, only a sense of power and righteousness.  Barely thinking, you take a can of gasoline and pour it on the bed where your ex-husband now lays.  You strike a match and watch it burn for a second before throwing it on the bed to watch it burst into flames.  As your house burns, you drive furiously to the police and announce hysterically, "I did it!"

This is the real life story of Francine Hughes.  This is the horror that she lived for more than fourteen years of her life.  Her four children watched everyday as she was beaten and mistreated.  Her life was completely controlled by her alcoholic, abusive husband.  At the point where she felt she could not survive with her husband alive, she murdered him out of desperation for her and her children's safety.  Francine was tried by a jury of ten women and two men where she was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.

Francine's trial was one of the first nationally recognized cases of self-defense against an abusive spouse in the late 1970s.[1]  Her story became an affirmation of a woman's right to self-defense against violence in her home, and paved the way for the development of  the Battered Woman's Syndrome used in courts across the country today.


1.  The Burning Bed. Video. Directed by Robert Greenwald.  1984; USA: MGM.

Contact Information
Email: Laura Yovanoff

                   Nazareth College