As the violent saga of O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson unfolds, men and women are flooding domestic violence hot lines with questions about their own relationships.
“A lot of women are calling the shelter saying, ‘Maybe this is as serious as I thought; that when he says he’s going to kill me, it’s real,’ ” said Jan Tyler, director of the Human Options Shelter in south Orange County.
Calls there have tripled since transcripts were released Wednesday of Nicole Brown Simpson’s October call to 911, Tyler said.
“It seems the more this unwinds, the more the phones start ringing,” said Andrea Thompson Adam, hot-line coordinator for the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, where calls are up 80%. The commission’s hot line usually fields about 1,300 calls a month.
“The women say, ‘If it could happen to Nicole, it could happen to me. . . .’ The men say things like, ‘I’ve pushed my wife before. Does this mean I’m a batterer?’ It’s really shaken the tree,” Thompson Adam said.
According to the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council, the county’s other 18 hot lines for battering victims have reported increased calls and higher attendance at support groups.
Since the murders of Nicole Simpson and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman, increasingly graphic details of the Simpsons’ stormy relationship have emerged. He was convicted of misdemeanor spousal battery in 1989 after beating his then-wife so severely that she required hospitalization. On Wednesday, as O.J. Simpson awaited trial in the slayings, police released the 911 transcript. On the tape, which has been broadcast nationwide, she could be heard pleading for help because Simpson was breaking down her door.
The increase in calls to hot lines is the result of the unusual exposure of Nicole Simpson’s experiences and people identifying with her, said Patricia Occhiuzzo Giggans, executive director of the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women.
“They’re seeing their lives played out on TV--the intimidation, how fearful they are, how they keep the guy close to control his anger and abuse, how they almost accommodate him in some ways, especially when children are involved,” Giggans said.
At least half the callers volunteer that the Simpson case inspired them to call and more callers than before are using the words domestic violence to describe their situation, staffers said. The calls started to increase Monday and have continued to rise.
Derith Mason, who works on the hot line at the Women’s Transitional Living Center, the largest shelter for battered women in Orange County, said most of the callers have been asking how to get restraining orders, which Nicole Brown Simpson didn’t have.
Some of the callers worried that the media coverage would spur renewed attacks, she said.
“One woman said, ‘My batterer’s been away for four months and, seeing all this O.J. stuff on the news, I think he’s going to come back at me,’ ” said Mason, who has been handling a minimum of 30% more calls since the slayings.
Bill Harris, who runs counseling groups in Fullerton and Long Beach for men who batter women, said his phones also have been deluged with calls, most from men concerned about their behavior. Some past group members also have shown up, worried about backsliding, he said.
“Two people who hadn’t shown up in awhile were back this week,” Harris said.
The publicity given the Simpson case also has motivated some women to take the first step to addressing long-term abuse. Roz Wolpert, a volunteer counselor at Santa Monica’s Sojourn, a multi-service program for battered women, recalled one woman who said she had been in a battering relationship for seven years.
“She told me the only reason she was finally calling is what’s happening on the news,” Wolpert said. “I was beside myself, I was so happy that something good could come from this.”
But for some callers, the details of the Simpsons’ turbulent relationship have triggered flashbacks to previous traumas. “They say, ‘This is making me scared, the Simpson thing. . . .’ Some said they wanted to leave the area,” said Tyler of Human Options.
The calls have come from all parts of the region and beyond. Many have been referred to multicultural hot lines and shelters with programs that are tailored to the callers’ ethnicity and are conducted in their native language.
Most of the recent callers are women but the counselors have also received calls from men, a few of whom say they have been battered and some of whom wonder if they are batterers.
“A lot of times people don’t honestly recognize what this behavior is. It’s learned behavior,” Thompson Adam said. Some people may have grown up with violence in their home or neighborhood, where they heard men say, “You have to slap ‘em every once in a while to keep ‘em in line,” she said. “People believe that, even though it’s just a joke.”
Counselors said potential batterers might ask themselves questions such as: Am I controlling? Do I expect her to conform to my time schedule and list of priorities? Do I have her call in and report to me?
One counselor suggests that batterers try to see themselves realistically by tape-recording themselves as they lose their temper and then listening to the tape in a calmer moment.
They can also call a hot line without having to identify themselves or explain their entire story. One episode does not make an abuser, Thompson Adam said. “But you have to be careful and recognize this episode for whatever it is.”
Counselors at the Commission on Assaults Against Women identified a three-stage “cycle of abuse": the tension-building stage, when the victim feels as if she has to “walk on eggshells"; the violent or abusive stage that consists of anything from verbal abuse to a slap across the face to being beaten in front of the children; the honeymoon stage, a tender, making-up period that may include sex or, for the wealthy, “something from Tiffany’s.”
In many cases, the honeymoon stage eventually fades away, they said. In those cases, counselors tell women there are three ways out: He leaves and stays gone, you leave and he lets you stay gone, or somebody dies. Counseling may work, but they advise women not to rely on it.
Victims need to ask themselves if they have found outlets to talk about the violence, or if they need to call the police.
“There isn’t any easy advice,” Thompson Adam said. However, counselors often advise women to make an escape plan in conjunction with a local hot line.
“Every woman has to evaluate her own situation. What works for one woman may not work for another. A woman in one situation may be able to leave the first time, where another could suffer severe repercussions as a result. Only they can know when is the best time for them to get out.”
Times staff writer Tracy Weber contributed to this report.