Telling Stories, Saving Lives: The Battered Mothers' Testimony Project, Women's Narratives, and Court Reform


In November 2002, the Wellesley Centers for Women’s Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project released Battered Mothers Speak Out, a report detailing human rights abuses committed against forty battered mothers and their children who had litigated cases in the Massachusetts family court system. Although the report initially generated a great deal of attention, the response from the courts was overwhelmingly negative, and the report prompted no change in the courts. Because the stories of these women resonated with my own experiences representing battered women, I wondered why the report had so little effect on system change. The official response of the courts was that the report employed a flawed methodology, both in its use of the narratives of the women affected and in its reliance on human rights investigation. In my article, however, I site the work done in Battered Mothers Speak Out squarely within the tradition of using narratives in social science, human rights investigation and the law and argue that “flawed methodology” is really a pretext for gender bias. The article contends that bias against battered women, presented both through social science research and the gender bias task force reports of various courts, was the real reason for dismissing these narratives. The article questions whether the authors would have achieved more if they had relied on third person narratives or a quantitative report. The article concludes that while there might be easier ways to reform courts, narratives, particularly battered women’s narratives, are essential for a number of reasons, including the need for battered women’s stories to be told and for courts to hear them.


Law and Gender

Date of this Version

March 2005