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“Crime After Crime” Director Yoav Potash Says Social Worker Played Key Role in Documentary

Debbie Peagler on "Crime After Crime" movie poster.

The award-winning documentary “Crime After Crime” charts the heroic campaign to free Debbie Peagler, a domestic violence victim who was sentenced to 25 years to life in a California prison for being complicit in the murder of her abuser.

But social workers may also be proud to learn social worker and lawyer Nadia Costa, MSW, plays a pivotal role in the film, which airs Nov. 3 at 9 p.m. Eastern on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Costa was part of Peagler’s defense team and was also an abuse victim, film director Yoav Potash said.

In the film Costa made a point of making it clear not all domestic abuse victims are poor, minorities, or come from the inner city. Costa grew up in an upper middle class California suburb.

“It took a lot of patience and back-and-forth for (Nadia) to even say what she did in the film,” Potash said. “I was able to convince her that it was important that people understand her story.”

Debbie Peagler met Oliver Wilson in the late 1970s when she was just 15 years old. At first he seemed charming but Wilson soon lured Peagler into prostitution. He also repeatedly and brutally abused her. Although Peagler went to the police for help authorities did not intervene.

Finally, Peagler’s mother enlisted two neighborhood gang members to scare Wilson away. However, they ended up murdering him and police charged Peagler with being partly responsible for the crime.

“Crime After Crime” follows the legal and emotional rollercoaster ride lawyers Joshua Safran and Costa and Peagler and her family endured to try to free Peagler after a new California law allowed domestic violence evidence in criminal proceedings.

The hearts of viewers will go out to Peagler. While in prison the mother of two daughters became a model inmate earning a college degree, leading the Gospel choir, tutoring illiterate inmates, and working for a prison industry electronics maker.

Lawyer and social worker Nadia Costa (right) comforts Debbie Peagler's daughter Natasha. Scene from "Crime After Crime."

Potash filmed the Peagler legal battle for five years. He said Costa’s social work skills were invaluable. In fact, it was Costa who reached out to Oliver Wilson’s family to gain evidence that might help Peagler.

“When they wanted to interview Oliver’s family it was a very delicate situation so it fell to Nadia to go and have those conversations in a sensitive way,” Potash said. “And she was successful.”

“Crime After Crime” has already garnered attention at the Sundance Film Festival and 14 awards, including top prizes at the Heartland Film Festival and San Francisco Film Festival, said Potash, 38, who grew up in San Diego and now lives in Oakland, Calif.

He is hoping the film will help other states pass laws to include domestic abuse evidence in courts. The day before “Crime After Crime” premieres on OWN Potash will be doing a free screening at New York University. The screening will support passage of New York’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.


Yoav Potash. Photo courtesy of

At least four other states are considering similar legislation, although New York is farther along, he said.

“I want to wake people and shake people up around the issue of incarcerated survivors of domestic violence,” Potash said. “I feel a responsibility to do the most that we can with this film. Move audiences beyond what is being seen on screen.”


Social workers often help clients who are victims of domestic abuse. A team of social workers reviewed an advanced copy of “Crime After Crime.” To read their conversation click here.

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