Lessons from the Bobbitt Saga

January 25, 1994

The almost segregated-by-sex reaction (women in favor, men not) to Lorena Bobbitt's acquittal suggests, in addition to the public's macabre fascination with her revengeful mutilation of her husband, that there is a lesson about women's state of mind following extreme physical and emotional abuse. Certainly women do not see the Bobbitt case as a model for revenge; there are better ways to get even. Still, "Burning Bed" scenarios in which women kill their abusers are not uncommon.

There were men on the jury, too, and there are plenty of signs that men and women are largely in agreement that America has passed the point where customs shaped by the instincts and predetermined roles of distant eras can prevail in society.

The same day the jury announced its decision in Manassas, Va., a courthouse in Baltimore County was the scene of a meeting just as important. On Friday, Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor announced the creation of a family violence prosecution unit to ensure that abusive spouses answer for their behavior in court. The announcement came at a meeting designed to educate prosecutors and judges on issues related to family violence, one of the key tasks in helping to turn around societal attitudes that violence between spouses is nobody else's business. That's the kind of focus local governments need to adopt to get the message across that practicing violence and terrorism on one's family is as much a crime as attacking strangers in the street.

Lorena Bobbitt struck back at her tormentor in a way that galvanized public attention. The twin trials emerging from one summer night of passionate violence gave Manassas a new reason to live in history. A century from now, no one will remember Bobby Ray Inman's ramblings or the ups and downs of last fall's NAFTA debate. But it's a good bet that a rather pathetic Ecuadorean manicurist and her equally pathetic husband may be firmly ensconced in folklore.

The sad saga of the Bobbitts goes far beyond their own limited horizons. Because it allowed public discussion of primal fears and passions, this story has eclipsed many another newsworthy event. If that can bring about better understanding of the terrors and tortures spouses can inflict on each other, then perhaps all the hyperventilation, all the bad puns, all the prurient interest shown in these trials will be worthwhile.

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