DOMESTIC VIOLENCE : Trying to Flee
Five days before Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered on June 12, 1994, she called a battered women’s shelter in terror that her ex-husband was going to kill her. The jury was not told this, because she couldn’t be cross-examined. Guess not. Most of the rest of the evidence of beating and stalking, from 1977 to May, 1994, was also excluded.
O.J. Simpson had stalked her not once, as represented to the jury, but over at least a two-year period. Prosecutors had been permitted to introduce seven incidents of stalking, but they chose to admit only one into evidence. The jury, predominantly women, was not responding to the wife-abuse evidence, said observers. In fact, during an interview late last week, one woman juror called the domestic-abuse issue “a waste of time.” Polls during the trial confirmed women were indifferent to the beatings Nicole Simpson endured.
I was battered over a four-year period nearly 25 years ago, and am still haunted by fear and flashbacks. As a woman who escaped an assassin husband, I agreed with Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden that, in 1989, Nicole Simpson knew someday her husband would kill her. She’d told many people, including her sister, Denise, that he’d kill her and get away with it. In fact, you can take a battered woman’s knowledge of her abuser’s capacity to inflict harm and evade consequences to the bank.
But five days before Nicole Simpson was murdered, she knew, for sure, she would die. How? Why? Something had happened: a confrontation, a threatening phone call, an unwanted visit, an aggressive act from Simpson directed at her. She told no one, because, after 17 years of torment, she knew there was no one to tell. The police virtually everywhere ignore assault against women by their male intimates, so that any husband can be a brutal cop with tacit state protection; in Los Angeles, the police visited Nicole Simpson’s abuser at home as fans.
Remember the video showing Simpson, after the ballet recital, with the Brown family--introduced by the defense to show Simpson’s pleasant demeanor. Hours later, Nicole Simpson was dead. In the video, she is as far from Simpson, physically, as she can manage. He does not nod or gesture to her. He kisses her mother, embraces and kisses her sister and bear-hugs her father. They all reciprocate. She must have been the loneliest woman in the world.
What would Nicole Simpson have had to do to be safe? Go underground, change her appearance and identity, get cash without leaving a trail, take her children and run--all within days of her call to the shelter. She would have had to end all communication with family and friends, without explanation, for years, as well as leave her home and everything familiar.
With this abuser’s wealth and power, he would have had her hunted down; a dream team of lawyers would have taken her children from her. She would have been the villain--reckless, a slut, reviled for stealing the children of a hero. If his abuse of her is of no consequence now that she’s been murdered, how irrelevant would it have been as she, resourceless, tried to make a court and the public understand she needed to run for her life?
Nicole Simpson knew she couldn’t prevail, and she didn’t try. Instead of running, she did what the therapists said: Be firm, draw a line. So she drew the sort of line they meant: He could come to the recital but not sit with her or go to dinner with her family--a line that was no defense against death. Believing he would kill her, she did what most battered women do: kept up the appearance of normality. There was no equal justice for her, no self-defense she felt entitled to. Society had already left her to die.
On the same day the police who beat Rodney G. King were acquitted in Simi Valley, a white husband who had raped, beaten and tortured his wife, also white, was acquitted of marital rape in South Carolina. He had kept her tied to a bed for hours, her mouth gagged with adhesive tape. He videotaped a half hour of her ordeal, during which he cut her breasts with a knife. The jury, which saw the videotape, had eight women on it. Asked why they acquitted, they said he needed help. They looked right through the victim. There were no riots afterward.
The governing reality for women of all races is that there is no escape from male violence, because it is inside and outside, intimate and predatory. While race hate has been expressed through forced segregation, woman hate is expressed through forced closeness, which makes punishment swift, easy and sure. In private, women often empathize with one another, across race and class, because their experiences with men are so much the same. But in public, including on juries, women rarely dare. For this reason, no matter how many women are battered--no matter how many football stadiums battered women could fill on any given day--each one is alone.
Surrounded by family, friends and a community of affluent acquaintances, Nicole Simpson was alone. Having turned to police, prosecutors, victim’s aid, therapists and a women’s shelter, she was still alone. Ronald L. Goldman may have been the only person in 17 years with the courage to try to intervene physically in an attack on her; and he’s dead, killed by the same hand that killed her, an expensively gloved, extra-large hand.
Though the legal system has mostly consoled and protected batterers, when a woman is being beaten, it’s the batterer who has to be stopped; as Malcolm X used to say, by any means necessary--a principle women, all women, had better learn. A woman has a right to her own bed, a home she can’t be thrown out of and for her body not to be ransacked and broken into. She has a right to safe refuge, to expect her family and friends to stop the batterer--by law or force--before she’s dead. She has a constitutional right to a gun and a legal right to kill if she believes she’s going to be killed. And a batterer’s repeated assaults should lawfully be taken as intent to kill.
Everybody’s against wife abuse, but who’s prepared to stop it?*