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March 30, 2006

Questioning Strength: A Film about its Physical & Emotional Aspects

The 44 minute documentary from 2002 Siłaczka [The Strongwoman] by Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz reports the story of Justyna, a young girl who was a champion weightlifter in Poland, who brought charges of alleged sexual abuse committed on her and her sister Aneta by their trainer, an older man and respected member of the community. A young journalist learns about the scandal in Malbork and goes to investigate why justice wasn't served. What she discovers is something neither she nor the viewer are likely to suspect. The neighborhood, it seems, decided to support the alleged molester (even though all of the weighlifter's friends attested to the journalist that "Justyna's story was true) . . .

Siłaczka [The Strongwoman]. Dir. Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz. 44 minutes. Telewisja Polska [TVP], 2002. (NOTE: This photo is of a different Polish weightlifter--Aneta Florczyk--and NOT the person depicted in the documentary).

. . . The reportage is an enlightening expose into the contemporary justice system of Poland and how a community can so quickly turn against the cries for help from one of its own members, in this case a young girl. Justyna's own sister makes the harsh decision to deny the story, moves out of her house and denounces her own parents. Her fellow teammates are too intimidated to stand up for their friend on public record (which requires making a deposition with the courts). Zmarz-Koczanowicz shoots this documentary from the perspective of the journalist (although she does have a short cameo in one of the final scenes) and follows the process of something that should have turned out in a way that redeemed a violated child but instead ends up with a defamation suit against the girl's parents.

Director Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz (left) graduated from the Wroclaw Academy of Fine Arts (painting) in 1978, and the School of Film and TV in Katowice (film directing) in 1982. She is the recipient of numerous awards. Find a listing of her work HERE.

Students who saw this subtitled film in class were asked to develop an argument type response of their own design. They were given the following questions to consider as jumping-off points:

Discuss the title of the film. Why “strong” woman? What and/or who is the word “strong” describing and why?

Talk about manipulation in the film Strongwoman.

Discuss Power in the film Strongwoman.

What does this film have to say about justice? Where do you stand? What is your argument?

Do you believe Justyna’s story or not? Why or why not? Do you think the journalist believed Justyna’s story? Why or why not?

Is there a double-standard in the culture or neighborhood as represented in the film? How and why?

If you have seen a screening of this film, I invite you to comment below. Please feel free to tackle any of these though-provoking questions.



*Read more English-Blog Film Reviews HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at March 30, 2006 10:16 PM

Readers' Comments:

Professor Hobbs,

The movie Strong Woman had many things that I disagreed on. One of the major things is the outcome of the whole ordeal. I know first hand that the law can be sneaky and let the guilty walk and the innocent suffer the consequences because of the lawyers that the suspect has. It is not right that the family had to deal with the outcome. He is found innocent that’s one thing the whole family shouldn’t have to take the blunt of it. They shouldn’t have to deal with having figures pointed at them for lying. The girl’s knew what happened one of them were more scared to say what happened. They feel that they did wrong even though they didn’t do wrong. They were both scared of the outcome and the outcome was there worst nightmare. One of them didn’t want to have to live with the pain so she kept saying that it was right and that he was doing nothing wrong the other was ready to put a stop to it. Its normal for this to happen but I just don’t get with all the evidence that the guy gave to the detectives why in the world he was allowed to walk. It is so wrong they just let a molester out free. He could do it again. I am sure he will. They had no right to allow him to do this to girls and he paid no consequences for it. This is what I think is wrong with the movie.

Jennifer Giuliani

Posted by: Jennifer G. at April 2, 2006 11:48 PM

Professor Hobbs,

The film, Strongwoman is about a teenage weightlifting girl. She admitted that she and her sister were allegedly sexually assaulted by their trainer. Although other female members of the gym admitted this as well, the neighborhood did not believe her. Many question whether or not to believe her. I felt that there are more reasons to believe her than to not believe her.

First, there were other girls from the same gym that said they either knew that girls were being assaulted or that they were being assaulted as well. Second, why would a girl whose dream was to become a national weightlifting champion, just stop going to the gym and stop her training. Finally, it is sad to hear that if a girl was sexually assaulted, no one would believe her. In America, in most cases if a girl was sexually assaulted, most people would believe her.

It is heartbreaking to hear that something so terrible could happen and people actually would question if it ever happened at all. It is even more horrible that charges of fraud and such were put upon the parents. It is just another example to show exactly how people’s morals are just thrown right out the window.

Kelly J.

Posted by: Kelly J at April 3, 2006 12:03 AM

Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz's 'The Strongwoman' is a documentary following the story of a young girl, Justyna, and her personal struggle with her weightlifting coach's mental, as well as sexual abuse. Throughout the film, I had my doubts on the truth of Justyna's allegations. Although this horrible act is very possible, and isn't very unheard of, much of Justyna's story could have been easily be picked clean of the truth based on her beginning statements.
She claimed that winning was no longer hard for her, and her only main challenge was to keep on winning each contest. Her dream was to one day become the world champion. When her dream was in jeopardy due to a car accident, she quit training at the center shortly after. Soon after she quit, the story came out about allegations of her trainer sexually abusing her and her older sister, Aneta. Although Aneta refused to admit that Justyna's accusations were true (if they even were), the trial still continued on. Eventually, due to insufficient evidence, the trial was dismissed. Although I have sympathy with those who have experienced such a terrible act, as well as Justyna (again, if allegations are true), I believe that the older man accused is not always the criminal. As stated before, her beginning statements in her story somehow made it hard for me to completely believe her side.

Posted by: Missy Z at April 3, 2006 01:57 AM

Professor Hobbs,

The use of the word “strong” in the title of Strongwoman has multiple meanings. One of the meanings is more obvious than the other. The obvious meaning is the fact that the main character of the film was a body builder. There was also a significance that was less evident in the documentary film. This is the strength which Justyna gained through enduring the trials and tribulations of first watching her sister and coach engage in sexual activity, then being raped, and ultimately once she came forward, being ridiculed for telling her story. In the end of the film, she says that she can finally not care what people are saying about her and move on. The multiple meanings to this film title give this film title depth and connotation.

Kelsey L.

Posted by: Kelsey L. at April 3, 2006 03:00 AM

In the documentary of Strongwoman, I found myself to feel bad for the victim telling the story. No one seemed to believer and justice was never served in the film. This was not the first time I had seen a documentary where athletes coaches have molests their students. So in other word I believe the girls story that she was telling. I don’t understand how some one would even want to make up a horrible story like that and have to live with the consequences that she is living through. The girl got very emotional at some points while telling her story. Unless she was a very good actor then she could pull off being as emotional as she was, but I really do think that she was telling the truth. It is not uncommon to hear about athletes that are young being sexually abused by their coach.

Posted by: Liz L. at April 3, 2006 03:18 AM

3 April 2006

Professor Hobbs,

In the film “Strongwoman” I believe that the girl was telling the truth. My only basis behind this is what she said. And from what she said it’s hard to tell. There were many things in the film that made me think that maybe she was lying, but the films perspective that she was cheated made it hard to believe that she was. I would like to think that she was lying so that I can argue it, but in all honesty she seemed like she was real. Some things that were odd about her were her openness and her lack of emotion. Perhaps it’s just because time has passed, but there was no real evidence that she was telling the truth, so I can see why she lost the trial. The two main reasons I support her argument is that her sister would not talk about it. I think that if the girl were lying her sister would talk more because she would know that it’s a lie. Also the words in the email from the coach had a big impact on my opinion. The fact that he is a jerk doesn’t really hold up in court, but it sure dose in the mind of the viewer. I think a lot of the facts in the film were more emotional facts than hard evidence that’s why she lost her case. I can’t see her winning anytime soon with the facts that were presented in the video. I do still believe however, that she is telling the truth.

Sam H.

Posted by: Sam H. at April 3, 2006 11:47 AM

Professor Hobbs,

After viewing the movie, "Strongwoman," I had a couple of strong reactions. First, I was upset, and appalled to find that they thought Justyna was lying about being sexually assaulted. I don't think that a person would go through all that trouble just to get out of a sport. There have been plenty of cases here in America where the supposed mentor was a sex offender. Justyna's coach probably assaulted Justyna because he wanted to feel powerful. I believe her story, and I hate that her coach was never convicted. Justyna went through a lot in her life from seeing her sister having sex with her coach, to her body changing drastically, to no one in her corner. I think that Justyna was very strong for this not only physically but mentally also.

Kashiff M.

Posted by: Kashiff M. at April 3, 2006 12:37 PM

Professor Hobbs,

The film Strongwoman addresses many different issues that are present throughout the world, not only in Poland. The film presents the story of Justyna, a young girl who was allegedly assaulted by her coach. The title of the film is very appropriate because it can be interpreted many ways once a person has watched the film.

The title Strongwoman could be talking about the strength of body that Justyna gained while working with the coach. She trained constantly and participated in many weightlifting competitions, all of which helped build her physical strength. The title could also be addressing Justyna’s emotional strength. Whether or not her story is true, she has had to endure many hardships during her life. Over time, Justyna was able to talk about what happened with strangers, willing to share her story with the people around her.

Although it is unknown whether Justyna or the coach is telling the truth, Justyna has had to face a lot and the criticism of many different people. She has proven that she is strong both mentally and physically. She survived her situation, even though she still has many personal issues that she must face throughout the rest of her lifetime. She has proved that she truly is a strong woman.

Ali L.

Posted by: Ali L. at April 3, 2006 01:13 PM

Professor Hobbs,

After viewing the film The Strongwomen, by Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, I was left with the question: Where is the Justice? I don’t understand how such a horrendous crime could be taken so far. The manipulation involved confused both the public and the people involved. If any investigation was involved, there would be answers that would reveal the situation.

Justyna was not only molested, but she must live everyday scared to death of men. She was abandoned by her sister and her community. Although she had club members behind her story about what happened to her, her story was observed as a lie. Her molester was able to spread lies about her and her family, making them look insane. How could this man get away with posting posters at school, and convincing the public Justyna’s parents beat her. Anyone who knew the family could tell that this was not true, so why did it ever escalate? This poor family had no one to look into the story and stop the ridicule this man was performing.

There was never any justice found in Justyna’s case, and now it has spun out of control. If there was any investigation, truth would be found. For such a serious case, a girls life ruined, why is there no action taken? Justyna’s story has gone unanswered for far too long. A case with so much propaganda should have the credentials checked. Maybe then the molester will be brought to justice, for all the abuse he’s put Justyna’s family through.

Samantha V.

Posted by: Samantha V. at April 3, 2006 01:18 PM


In the film strong woman there were two sides of a sexual molestation case. One side involved the story that Justyna which was that her weight lifting coach was sexually abusing her sister and herself and well as countless other teens. The other side came from the coach himself. He stood his ground and throughout the duration of the case he continued to accuse Justyna of being a whore and of being a rebel teen who just wanted to do as she pleased. Just from these few facts, a person in America would assume that he is the guilty person in this trial. His side of the story resembles that of an angry man who resents the fact that he has been caught and just wants to lash out on the victim.

I believe that because of the way I was raised, I am a lot more susceptible towards believing a sad story such as hers. Also we were able to listen to the Journalist’s emails that were sent by the coach and it allowed me to see just how cruel he was. I also believe that the reporter/ journalist did believe Justyna. She even said so in the film. The reported said that she was beginning to have doubts in Justyna’s story but after listening to the play backs one more time, she fully believed that Justyna was telling the truth. The reporter believed her despite the fact that Justyna didn’t tell anyone at first that their coach was performing sexual acts on her sister as well as her herself.

I believe that the reporter did not do an adequate job of investigating all sides of the story. She took on a side very early into the case and instead of staying impartial to both sides of the story; she instead attacked the coach for his side in the whole ordeal. It didn’t help that the parents of the victim were then accused of abusing their daughters and probably prompting them to lie and behave in the alleged manner. I do not know who in fact the true victim is but I do know that the way that the coach handled himself did not lead me to believe that he was a very trust worthy man.

Emily S.

Posted by: Emily S. at April 3, 2006 01:30 PM

Professor Hobbs,

The film Strong Woman shows one side of a story about two young sisters who are torn apart by an older man. The girls are competitive weight lifters in Poland and get very involved in their training after spending some time with their new coach. Justynn is the sister who is being interviewed in the film, admitting to the disturbing experience she and her sister went through with their coach. The two girls were caught up in a controlling and abusive sexual relationship with their coach who was twice their age. The coach never got punished for his actions; in fact Justynn and her family were accused of lying in court.

I believe that Justynn is telling the truth about the situation. Justynn can tell much detail to where she stayed and what went on. All of the other competitors stayed at the same hotels but the two sisters and the coach. I am sure there was a reason besides the money, like the coach claimed. Also he said that he did not abuse them, they had sex. If Justynn was making the whole story up, the coach would never say this. He did says they had sex, and it is not abuse.

I think that Justynn’s family and friends also help my reasoning for why I believe her side of the story. At the time of all of the training, Justynn was not acting like herself, as her friends and family could see. Something was bothering her and her loved ones knew it. And her own sister ended up leaving the family to be with the coach. That convinces me of the way of their relationship. I believe the two were acting as Justynn said.


Posted by: cathy at April 3, 2006 01:38 PM

Dear Professor Hobbs,

I think the title Strongwoman has a double meaning behind it. It is implying that Jystine is a strong woman for coming out and dealing with the horrible things her coach did to her and her sister, but also refers to her being a weight lifter. It takes a strong person to deal with such horrible assults, because nobody believes her.


Posted by: Brendan at April 3, 2006 01:44 PM

Professor Hobbs:

Justice, in the film The Strongwoman by Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, was not served for Justyna, who was a young weightlifter in Poland. Justyna accused her trainer of molesting her and her sister Aneta, however, her community did not believe her and took the side of the suspected molester. Justyna was a champion weightlifter who even often beat men older than her in competitions. She was very successful in what she did and had enjoyed it very much, until it stopped being fun for her. Justyna told the reporter of the documentary of how her trainer, a man that she at some point trusted, mistreated her in the worst way possible for a young woman.

The case was brought to attorneys in Poland, but since Justyna’s weightlifting trainer was a well-respected man in her community, the attorneys did not believe Justyna’s story. Even though there were girls on Justyna’s team who was able to corroborate with what Justyna said, the attorneys yet again denied the young girl’s story. They did not give her a chance, because they listened to her former trainer’s comments about how messed up her family was. The trainer slandered Justyna and her family’s name and with the money that he obviously had, he was able to influence people.

Justice was not served for Justyna, because the attorneys had not looked at all the evidence that was completely obvious for anyone to see. Even when the trainer had wrote an article in the newspaper, slandering Justyna when she had not done anything, the attorneys did not find it relevant to the case. They did not look at the case at every angle and had dismissed it quickly, showing how careless they were. It was quite obvious that they were going to believe a successful older man over a young woman. It shows that woman are ignored when such matters occur and Justyna was evidently one of them.

Linda M.

Posted by: Linda M. at April 3, 2006 01:46 PM

Professor Hobbs,

The film Strongwoman was a very powerful documentary. The film was based on young girls being molested by their coach, a man posing to be very close to them, made it really hit close to my heart. I am now experiencing living on a college campus and hearing about rapes and sexual abuse is not uncommon. It is very unfortunate to hear that Justyna’s story did not hold up in court in Poland.

I definitely have to side with Justyna rather than her coach. It is hard for me to believe that a young girl could ever make up such a serious, elaborate story based on her and her sister being molested. Although I do believe stories of the sort can be made up, the emotion and hurt in her eyes enables me to trust her words.

It seems apparent to me that the journalist was confused by what to believe in the beginning of the documentary but towards the middle and end, she seemed convinced that Justyna was telling the truth. After speaking with the coach himself and reviewing the tapes of conversations I feel that the journalist not only had faith in Justyna’s confession, but she pitied the fact that nothing was done about the molestations that took place.

The film does not do any justice for Justyna or her family. Not only did the court rule the coach innocent of all molestation charges, but then they began to question the family about other topics that should not have even been brought to attention. Justyna and her family will never get closure for the unfortunate events that took place with the coach running free to hurt other young girls the way that he hurt Justyna.

Angela H.

Posted by: angela h. at April 3, 2006 01:54 PM

Dear Professor Hobbs,

Justyna's story is one that now a days in our society would have been a simple case. I can't necesarily believe her story because I have no eveidence. I have been in so many situations that make it hard to just believe anybody. In the case it was simply word against word, and Justyna wasn't favored in the end. I'm not saying she didn't get sexually abused, but I'm not convinced because she had a story and cried a little bit. What I want to know is what happened to that fairness in our culture. Word against word in that situation almost always would have gone in Justyna favor in America. Over in her country he was fair just so happening that The coach wasn't put any wrong doing. I think that a case like that needs to be analyzed in the way they are handled in America today.

Paul B.

Posted by: P.Beckles at April 3, 2006 02:00 PM

Professor Hobbs,

Dr. Brod gave an incredibly informative lecture entitled, The Ethics and Erotics of Sexual Consent: What Men Who Stand Against Sexual Assault Stand For. There are similarities between Dr. Brod’s lecture and the documentary Strongwoman, for instance whether or not something should be considered sexual assault. Along with similarities, both the speaker and the documentary have their differences in that they give the audience different types of information.

Throughout the documentary, Strongwoman, the sexual assault victim, Justyna, explained her outlook about sex being forced on her and her older sister. Justyna went on to describe how her lifting coach did not exactly “rape” her when she was just a young teenager, but made Justyna feel that it was her obligation to have sexual relations with him. Justyna explained that her coach would threaten her power lifting career in order to receive sexual favors or he would even go as far as to buy Justyna gifts to show that he cared for her. Justyna admitted to that fact that she surrendered to his threats mainly because she was afraid of him, but she did not agree to have intercourse with him. As Dr. Brod described in his lecture, consent to one type of sexual act does not necessarily mean consent to intercourse. Dr. Brod gave the audience in depth details about how the words “yes” and “no” are very vague terms. This shows that Justyna could have said “yes” to sexual acts because she felt threatened, afraid, or was just too young to make a thought out decision. Dr. Brod also suggested that there are double standards when it comes to males and females. If two people may be close to becoming sexually active and the male does not say anything and just lets things progress, he usually means “yes” he wants to take it to the next level, yet when a female says nothing, chances are she means “no” she is not ready to have sexual intercourse with the male. Since Justyna was so young at the time that the sexual abuse between her and her coach took place, it is possible that she was too shy or afraid to speak out and say “no,” but in all reality she did not want him to touch her.

Throughout the documentary, the counselor reviewed tapes of the coach stating his side of the sexual assault case. The coach blatantly stated the fact that Justyna did not say no, therefore it was not rape. This does not help his case in any way if it is compared to what Dr. Brod’s lecture explained. Dr. Brod described that in a sexual assault situation, it does not matter what the woman/girl did not do or say. What matters is what the male said to the female. For instance, the male should question whether or not what he is doing is acceptable or the female. This relates to the affirmative consent standard, which means the only thing that is considered a “yes” is “yes.”

Dr. Brod’s lecture and the documentary, Strongwoman, have their differences. Dr. Brod gave his audience of sorority, fraternity, and other college students an informative lecture mainly pertaining to what males should do when they are in a sexually compromising position with other females. Dr. Brod described what is acceptable when it comes to the response, or no response, of women before sexual activity takes place. In the documentary, Strongwoman, Justyna was telling her story about her personal experience with rape and sexual assault as a young teenager. She was honest in the statements that she made, for instance she admitted to consenting to some sexual activity between her and her coach. She also explained the difficult position she was put in between her beloved power lifting and her coach’s wishes.

Angela H.

Posted by: Angela H. at April 5, 2006 01:49 PM

Professor Hobbs,

In the movie Strongwoman, it is hard to say if Justyna was sexually abused or not. In our society today Justyna's case would have been closed with her trainer being guilty. Our society covers women if their is even the slightest possibility of them being abused. In this case the students of her high school agreed and all said that she had been abused because Justyna had been telling them that she was. All of the students were intimidated by the trainer just as the whole town was. The trainer was a modern day bully that was threatening the whole town.

The trainer openly stated that he had sex with Justyna's older sister but it had been "consential sex" by the minor. The man being open about this should have been at least guilty of sexual assault with one count of a minor. The family really had no say because they did not know whether Justyna was lying or not. The older sister said that she was lying about the whole thing and the trainer would never do that.

I cannot say whether I agree with Justyna's argument because she did not give enough evidence. If everything she says is true then she could of had the trainer caught a long time ago and all of this would of been over. She could of told her parents or the police or even stopped training all together to get away from her coach.

Thoryn S.

Posted by: Thoryn S. at April 24, 2006 01:56 AM

Dear Prof. Hobbs,

The title Strongwoman is symbolic for two things, the first is for the fact that the story centers around a young lady who trains to life weights. Thus the name strongwoman. The second is to illustrate her characteristic while enduring an intense ordeal dealing with her coach and his lawyers. Justyna was and witnessed rape and molestation on the part of her and her sister. She kept her mouth closed about it while training because she was fearful that her coach would do something harmful to her. She finally came to her parent's when she left his training, and told them all that had happened to her and her sister. Not only did the coach deny her allegations but her own sister as well. This proved to be a very difficult thing as they tried to file a law suit against the man.

While in his care, the coach brainwashed some of his girls (including Justyna's own sister) into believing what he wanted them to believe. He instilled a fear in them that if they told of what he was doing he would hurt and even kill them. There was much manipulation on his part towards the girls. He used the power of intimidation over the girls to maintain his own perverse order. Also the leverage that his attorney's had with the press, publishing things such as how much of a slut and liar Justyna is for having said such things about the coach. Surely intimidation was still at play as a power.

Justyna's case was a sad one because it seemed for a while that she was really making things up. All she had was the faith of her parents that what she was saying was truth. Her own sister disagreed with the testimony that Justyna gave, adding another block to the mix. The justice system showed in this film seemed to be fair. There wasn't enough evidence to actually "prove" what Justyna had alleged despite the demeanor her coach showed in interviews and posts about the litigation. Though he came off as a perverted jerk, there wasn't anything substantial enough to prove that she was a victim of rape. She had washed herself, so that eliminated any traces of semen or bodily fluids. It was just a sad situation.

I do personally believe that Justyna was raped. There was something about the story that enticed me to believe it. Though legally she had no standing at trial, emotionally there was something there that didn't seem made up. Her descriptions of the happenings wasn't the deciding factor in what made me believe her story, but in fact her attitude about it and the effect that displayed on her countenance and demeanor. She really came across as a rape victim.

Posted by: Holden B. Jones at May 7, 2006 03:55 AM

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