Forget self-restraint violence gets sympathy

January 14, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

How violent has life in America become?

Well, you could look at drive-by shootings or drug wars if you want examples.

Or you could look at the actions of the Menendez brothers and John and Lorena Bobbitt.

This latter group is different: While gang members and drug lords rarely expect sympathy for their actions, the Menendez brothers and the Bobbitts not only expect it, but have received it.

Lorena Bobbitt, who admits cutting off the penis of her husband, John, was cheered when she left the courtroom in Manassas, Va., Wednesday.

John, who was acquitted of marital rape charges two months ago but is convincingly accused of terrible acts of violence toward his wife, is finding no shortage of women now willing to date him.

The Menendez brothers, Lyle and Erik, who admit to blowing their parents to bits with 15 blasts from two shotguns, receive fan mail on a daily basis.

All are twenty-something: John is 26, Lyle is 26, Lorena is 24 and Erik is 23. And if Generation X has a motto, it seems to be: Just say yes to violence.

The Menendez brothers claim they were abused by their parents for years and had to kill them to escape further abuse. Being adults, the brothers could have left home. Instead they stayed and killed.

Lorena Bobbitt also stayed home and cut off her husband's penis to escape further abuse. Why didn't she leave?

Her lawyers have crafted a defense: She is from a strict Roman Catholic family in which, Lorena has testified, leaving one's spouse was "not allowed." Further, as a good Catholic, she said she could not have divorced her husband and therefore could not have married again or raised children with anyone else. And so she stayed.

Which is not a bad argument. Except that Lorena admits to having had an abortion, which is also forbidden by the Catholic Church. So her adherence to church doctrine seems to have been somewhat selective.

Was Lorena brutalized and abused by her husband?

I am sure she was. She not only is very credible on the stand (while John appears to be an awful and constant liar), but she has corroboration in the form of reports to police, photographs and the testimony of her friends.

What Lorena lacks is something that shows that maiming her husband was a reasonable last resort.

Lorena left John for a year, but then he showed up one day and she agreed to take him back.

"I was glad to see him," she said of the man she testified had repeatedly raped and savaged her. "I wanted to make my marriage work."

And who doesn't? It is not easy for a woman to leave her husband, even if he has been abusive. Everybody wants his or her marriage to work. Everybody wants to love and be loved. Nobody wants to admit failure.

It is especially hard for a woman to leave her home when she has children, no source of income, no skills she can use outside the home and no friends to go to.

But Lorena Bobbitt had no children, had a job, had skills and had friends who would have taken her in.

She stayed with John nonetheless. She stayed and she says the abuse continued and she ended up commiting a terrible act.

And now what is society supposed to say about that? What is a jury supposed to say?

That the maiming of her husband was justifiable? Understandable? Nothing to worry about?

About 6 million women are battered each year in this country. What shall we say to them about how they should respond?

There are alternatives to violence. They are imperfect, but they do exist. There are the police, the courts, government agencies and shelters.

And the victims of violence can, if they try, put distance between themselves and their abusers until the justice system can do its work.

But this takes restraint. Which does not come naturally. Not anymore.

These days it is too tempting to reach for the gun or reach for the knife and hope that you get sympathetic commentators on Court TV, a made-for-TV movie deal and a percentage of the T-shirt sales.

Violence is no longer our last resort in America.

It is becoming our first instinct.

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