If you are like me, when you hear the name “Lorena Bobbitt,” you probably only remember a grotesque story about a woman who maimed her husband’s phallus in a fit of rage. You might think she was seeking revenge after he cheated on her. However, her story is much more complicated and expands beyond the horrifying events of a single night. Now, Lorena Bobbitt has made it her life’s work to advocate for victims of physical and sexual abuse and is reclaiming her story, one interview at a time.
The night of June 23, 1993 will always be memorable to Lorena Bobbitt – who now goes by her maiden name Gallo. After years of allegedly suffering cruel and barbarous treatment at the hands of her husband, including multiple instances of rape, the 24-year-old immigrant from Ecuador took action against the instrument of her abuse in what her legal team described as an action brought on by PTSD and battered women’s syndrome.
Shortly after this series of events, Lorena was in the spotlight, her name splashed across tabloids and the punchline to every late night host’s opening joke. Lorena said that the media only focused on what happened to her husband and not what had happened to her. Her husband was tried with marital sexual assault, but he was acquitted. He was later accused of domestic violence with other women. One woman said he tied her to the bed and repeatedly raped her over the course of several days. He was convicted and spent time in jail for the offense.
Lorena’s trial came next. According to her husband’s version of events, he was planning to leave her, and she maimed him after he refused to have sex with her that night. Although Lorena admitted to committing the violent act, the jury acquitted her by reason of temporary insanity. Many witnesses testified at her trial about observing bruises on her arms and neck or hearing her husband brag about forcing her to have sex with him. There were also multiple 911 calls where Lorena reported the abuse.
At the time of her trial, marital rape was a legal concept that had only recently emerged and was not widely accepted. It was even more difficult to prove. As a young immigrant, Lorena lacked access to resources to help her escape from her alleged violent situation. She was still learning English and claimed her husband used her immigration status as a way to threaten her. She was married at 19 and in her recent portrayal in the Lifetime movie I Was Lorena Bobbitt, her family acted as though it was her responsibility to placate her husband and she was somehow to blame for his alleged violent outbursts. However, the film also showed her trying to record evidence of the abuse, reporting the abuse, and turning to friends for help, which are ways to stand up against sexual harassment. Finally, on that fateful night in June 1993, the abuse came to an end and Lorena was thrust into the public spotlight.
After the media circus, Lorena could have easily moved away, never to be heard from again. However, she says that she didn’t want to give her husband “the last laugh,” so she stayed in the same area and dedicated her life to helping other victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Her story served as one of the inspirations for the historic Violence Against Women Act. Later, she trained to be a domestic violence advocate, sometimes facilitating a 15-week educational and support group with local abused women. She even started Lorena’s Red Wagon, a charity established to help domestic violence victims and their children. She has assisted with toy drives for local shelters and has recently even opened one of her own domestic violence shelters.
Now, Lorena is taking even more direct steps to reclaim her story. She doesn’t want people to remember her just for doing that. Instead, she emphasizes that her story is one of a victim – and one of a survivor. In addition to her recently released Lifetime movie, Lorena also recently starred in a four-part Jordan Peele produced documentary about her on Amazon Prime Video so that she can tell her story in her own words. She explains that she was trapped in a cycle of domestic violence and wants to “use her platform to spread her important message.” Over the years, she has made calculated media appearances in which she lets the host treat her as a punchline as long as she has the opportunity to raise awareness about domestic violence, which has extended to increased awareness of fighting sexual harassment in the workplace with or without a lawyer.
Lorena said that her case came before the Women’s March and the #MeToo Movement when “we were all less evolved as humans.” Later, there would be the Time’s Up movement, the termination of several high-ranking executives and political figures, the trial of Harvey Weinstein and subsequent conviction, and claims of sexual harassment by women who were fed up with being objectified as a condition of earning a living. While most of the media attention on Lorena at the time focused on a single act that affected her husband, she has been an instrumental part of making the necessary changes in the current era.
Lorena is making sure that the public discourse now includes an explanation of why she did what she did, not just a referendum on her actions on one single night. She says she accepts her role as an advocate and that she is “not in the fight by myself. I’m in it for all women who have been victimized or will be victimized.”
*Disclaimer – This story is written from the perspective of Lorena Gallo from interviews she has given and her portrayal in I Was Lorena Bobbitt. John Bobbitt disputes these allegations.