The Bobbitt verdict

January 25, 1994

The media frenzy surrounding Lorena Bobbitt's acquittal had little to do with the reason for the verdict -- temporary insanity -- and everything to do with the public's macabre fascination with the method of her revenge on an abusive husband. Too bad. The lesson of the Bobbitt saga is not only the mutilation she inflicted on her husband but the years of cruelty that led to such a ghastly act.

Coincidently, the same day the jury announced its decision in Manassas, Va., a courthouse in Baltimore County was the scene of a meeting that offers hope to many women who feel as desperate and beleaguered as Lorena Bobbitt.

On Friday, Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor announced the creation of a family violence prosecution unit to ensure abusive spouses have to answer for their behavior in court. The announcement came at a meeting that was notable in itself -- a conference designed to educate prosecutors and judges on issues related to family violence. Too often, the criminal justice system has turned a blind eye on abusive behavior by one spouse toward another. The results are often fatal; of 29 murders in Baltimore County during 1993, county authorities say that at least five were a direct result of domestic violence, while others may have had indirect links. Attention to the issue at all levels of the judicial system are crucial in the effort to shift societal attitudes that have long regarded domestic crimes as less serious than other kinds of assaults.

If nothing else, Lorena Bobbitt has earned a place in the mythology of American culture. Years from now, no one will remember the intricacies of the debates about health care reform. There probably won't even be folk songs about Bill or Hillary Rodham Clinton. But we wouldn't be surprised if, despite their impending divorce, an Ecuadorean manicurist and her husband were forever linked in folk legend.

Let us hope that any future ballads about Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt will go beyond the sensationalism and bad puns inspired by their trials to convey a better understanding of the terrors spawned by abusive lovers. Brutality can never be love. If more women and men can begin to learn that lesson then perhaps all the shameless fascination with these trials will serve a higher purpose.

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