Getting recognized by strangers happens far less often to Lorena Bobbitt these days as 23 years have passed since her face was on the front of every newspaper and magazine cover.
Even when she uses her maiden name, Gallo, she is still recognized- It is an inescapable part of her life. For Lorena, It’s nothing new.
“All the jokes, it hurt at first,” she said. “Now, I don’t care. I laugh, too.”
According to her telling of the story, in the early hours of June 23, 1993, her husband, former Marine John Wayne Bobbitt, came home drunk and raped her. He was frequently violent with her, she said, and forced her into sex whenever he liked. (John Wayne denies raping her, and he was acquitted of marital sexual assault in a separate trial in November 1993.)
Something in her broke that morning, Lorena said. She grabbed a knife from the kitchen and sliced off her husband’s penis as he slept. Then she fled the apartment, tossing his penis out the car window as she drove away. (It was later recovered by police and reattached in an operation lasting nine and a half hours.)
In 1993, the country was still one year away from the O.J. Simpson case and the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. There had not yet been a national conversation about domestic violence, even though many were trying.
That year, an estimated 2,160 women were killed by their intimate partners, according to data collected by James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University.
“They wanted to talk about his penis, not my story,” she said with a shrug. “Maybe it looked like a reality show from the outside, but we were not in a cast. It was real life.”
Lorena Bobbitt, now 47, had collected gifts for children in domestic violence shelters around the state each year. Board games, dolls and stuffed animals.
For kids living in a shelter, Bobbitt explained, the holidays can be especially hard. They may not have a Christmas tree or get to share a special meal with their extended family. But at least they would have a present to open.
Bobbitt lives a 20-minute drive from the same courthouse in downtown Manassas, Virginia, where she stood trial 23 yrs ago, she’s never left.
“I would have been recognized anywhere, and I liked it here,” she said. She doesn’t want to relive the details of the battering now, but Bobbitt said she is surprised that she made it out.
“I don’t know how I survived,” she said. A Newsweek poll found that 60 percent of the country followed her trial. CNN provided live coverage to spellbound viewers, while NBC and ABC televised live reports every night. Gay Talese was there too, on assignment for The New Yorker and would later chronicle the experience in his book A Writer’s Life.
Kim Gandy, then-executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, recalled the media circus eclipsing any meaningful examination of violence against women.
“Domestic violence organizations tried to have the conversation, women’s organizations tried to have the conversation, but the media wasn’t having any of it,” Gandy said. “I just remember feeling that there wasn’t any traction on the domestic violence part of it.”
“The fact that she was a victim of marital rape or domestic violence was a secondary aspect to the story,” he said. “It immediately became a story about his victimization at her hands.”
The jury acquitting Bobbitt by reason of temporary insanity. In a statement read aloud by the owner of the nail salon where she had worked, Bobbitt encouraged other abused women to seek help.
“She did once and will again seek her American dream when she is able, and if the publicity of her abuse can help one person find freedom, then all of this is not in vain,” the statement said.
Leading a normal life with her partner and child keeps her grounded, Lorena just hopes that as her story grows older, getting recognized at the grocery store will happen less and less.