TRAPPED IN A PATTERN OF PAIN
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You won't ever know the worst that happened to Nicole Brown Simpson in her marriage, because she is dead and cannot tell you. And if she were alive, remember, you wouldn't believe her.
You heard Lorena Bobbitt, after John Wayne Bobbitt had been acquitted of marital rape. At her own trial for malicious wounding, she described beatings, anal rape, humiliation. She had been persistently injured, hit, choked, by a husband who liked hurting her. John Wayne Bobbitt, after a brief tour as a misogynist-media star, beat up a new woman friend.
It is always the same. It happens to women as different as Nicole Simpson, Lorena Bobbitt--and me. The perpetrators are men as different as O.J. Simpson, John Wayne Bobbitt and the former flower-child I am still too afraid to name.
There is terror, yes, and physical pain. There is desperation and despair. One blames oneself, forgives him. One judges oneself harshly for not loving him enough. "It's your fault," he shouts as he is battering in the door, or slamming your head against the floor. And before you pass out, you say yes. You run, but no one will hide you or stand up for you--which means standing up to him. You will hide behind bushes if there are bushes; or behind trash cans; or in alleys; away from the decent people who aren't helping you. It is, after all, your fault.
He hurts you more: More than last time and more than you ever thought possible; certainly more than any reasonable person would ever believe--should you be foolish enough to tell. And, eventually, you surrender to him, apologize, beg him to forgive you for hurting him or provoking him or insulting him or being careless with something of his--his laundry, his car, his meal. You ask him not to hurt you as he does what he wants to you.
The shame of this physical capitulation, often sexual, and the betrayal of your self-respect will never leave you. You will blame yourself and hate yourself forever. In your mind, you will remember yourself--begging, abject. At some point, you will stand up to him verbally, or by not complying, and he will hit you and kick you; he may rape you; he may lock you up or tie you up. The violence becomes contextual, the element in which you try to survive.
You will try to run away, plan an escape. If he finds out, or if he finds you, he will hurt you more. You will be so frightened you think dying might be OK.
If you have no money, can't find shelter, have no work, you will go back and ask him to let you in. If you work, he will find you. He may ask you back and make promises filled with repentance. He may beat you and force you back. But if you do stay away and make a break, he will strike out of nowhere, still beat you, vandalize your home, stalk you.
Still, no one stops him. You aren't his wife anymore, and he still gets to do it.
Nicole Simpson, like every battered woman, knew she would not be believed. She may have been shrewd enough to anticipate the crowds along the Orange County freeways cheering on O.J. Every battered woman has to be careful, even with strangers. His friends won't stop him. Neither will yours.
Nicole Simpson went to many experts on domestic violence for help but none of them stopped him. That's what it takes: The batterer has to be stopped. He will not stop himself. He has to be imprisoned, or killed, or she has to escape and hide, sometimes for the rest of her life, sometimes until he finds another woman to "love." There is no proof that counseling the batterer stops him.
It was Nicole who asked the police to arrest Simpson in 1989, the ninth time the police had been called. Arrest needs to be mandatory. The 1989 assault on Nicole Simpson should have resulted in O.J. Simpson's ninth arrest. We don't know by what factor to multiply the number nine: How many episodes of being beaten women endure on average, per phone call to the police. In 1993 alone, there were 300,000 domestic violence calls to the police in New York City.
Wife-beating is not America's dirty little secret, as the press and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala say. Feminists have spent two decades exposing wife-abuse with insistence and accuracy, organizing refuges and escape routes and changing law-enforcement practices so that, increasingly, wife-beating is recognized as a violent crime.
Wife-beating is commonplace and ordinary because men believe they have rights over women that women dispute. The control men want of women, the domination men require over women, is expressed in this terrible brutality. For me, it was for a four-year period, 25 years ago in another country. For 4 million women in the United States, one every 15 seconds, it was yesterday and today.
What no one will face is this: The problem is not with the woman; it is with the perpetrator. She can change every weakness, transform every dependency. She can escape with the bravado of a Jesse James or the subtle skill of a Houdini. But if the husband is committed to violence and she is not, she cannot win her safety or her freedom. The current legal system, victim advocates, counseling, cannot keep her safe in the face of his aggression.
Accounts of wife-beating have typically been met with incredulity and disdain, best expressed in the persistent question, "Why doesn't she leave?" But after two decades of learning about battery, we now know that more battered women are killed after they leave than before.
Nicole Simpson was living in her own home when she was murdered. Her divorce had been finalized in 1992. Whether or not her ex-husband committed the murder, he did continue to assault her, threaten her, stalk her, intimidate her. His so-called desire for reconciliation masks the awfulness of her situation, the same for every woman who escapes but does not disappear. Having ended the marriage, Nicole Simpson still had to negotiate her safety with the man who was hurting her.
She had to avoid angering him. Any hint that her amiability was essentially coerced, any threat of public exposure, any insult to his dignity from his point of view, might trigger aggression. This cause-and-effect scenario is more imagined than real, since the perpetrator chooses when he will hurt or threaten or stalk. Still, the woman tries. All the smiling photographs of them together after the divorce should evoke alarm, not romantic descriptions of his desire to reconcile. Nicole Simpson followed a strategy of appeasement, because no one stood between her and him to stop him.
Escape, in fact, is hell, a period of indeterminate length reckoned in years, not months, when the ex-husband commits assaults intermittently and acts of terrorism with some consistency. Part of the torment is that freedom is near but he will not let the woman have it. Many escaped women live half in hiding. I am still afraid of my ex-husband each and every day of my life--and I am not afraid of much.
Maybe you don't know how brave women are--the ones who have stayed until now and the ones who have escaped, both the living and the dead. Nicole Simpson is the hero. The perpetrator is the problem, stupid.