This episode is being released on February 15th, the day after Valentine’s day, so we wanted to do something that we could tie to the holiday. We played around with the idea of a case where a husband killed his wife, a case that would have it’s anniversary this week, and a couple others, but ultimately we decided to go with a case that was actually a listener suggestion that has some lighter notes mixed in while also using this time to talk about the issue of domestic abuse. So today we are going to talk about Lorena and John Bobbitt. This case took place super close to where the three of us currently live and I heard about it when it happened. I thought it was common knowledge growing up, but have since learned that not as many people know about it as I thought. And those that do know about it, tend to only know about the flashy part of the case and not so much the backstory and what happened after. If you are among those that haven’t heard it, Rolling Stone published an article and I think their headline really summarizes it well. They called it “The castration that shook the nation.” If that doesn’t give you a clear idea of the subject matter, before we get into it, I do just want to give a heads up that this episode may be a little more graphic and we will be talking about a “male’s appendage” so maybe listen to this one with earphones if you have other people around you.
Lorena was born Lorena Leonor Gallo in Bucay, Ecuador in 1969. She grew up in Caracas, Venezuela with her 2 younger siblings. Her father was a dental technician and for her quinceanera her parents gifted her with a trip to the United States. Taking this trip to the U.S. was a turning point in her life as she decided that it’s where she wanted to live. Her family made an attempt to emigrate, but were unfortunately unsuccessful. She later was able to obtain a student visa in 1987 at the age of 18 and moved to the U.S. herself. As a way to earn some money she initially took a job as a nanny and eventually took a position at a nail salon. She also attended school at a community college in Virginia.
Shortly after, in 1988, she was at a club for enlisted men where she met a U.S. Marine named John. They began dating and by June of 1989 they were married. They had a bit of a tumultuous relationship and it definitely wasn’t smooth sailing. According to Lorena, just a few weeks after their wedding, John became a totally different person. He became violent and even hit her when she made a comment about his dangerous driving one evening. She said that this incident was really when it took a turn for the worst and from that point on he continued to hit and rape her
Both women and men can be victims of domestic abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline statistics, approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men over the age of 18 have been the victim of physical domestic violence, and almost 50% of both sexes have experienced some form of domestic psychological aggression. When you think about it, that is a particularly high percentage rate.
One really big incident was when Lorena became pregnant and John allegedly forced her to have an abortion. She said that while they were at the clinic he was taunting her about how the procedure could kill her.
John left the marines in 1991 (we are 2 years into their marriage at this point) and at this point Lorena’s work at the nail salon became their main source of income. They were under a lot of financial pressure because of this. They couldn’t keep up with their mortgage payments, so Lorena ended up stealing about $7k from her employer. She also shoplifted dresses, which interestingly enough, had nothing to do with herself, but was because she felt the need to improve her appearance in order to keep her husband from seeing other women.
They obviously had a lot going on and it wasn’t a healthy relationship. I feel like a lot of times people in situations of domestic abuse are going through it with no one outside the relationship knowing about it, but they actually had had police called to their home on multiple occasions. Now, in some ways I think this is kind of worse than no one knowing when everyone knows, but no one does anything about it. Not that either situation is good.
Well, neither instance is good realistically. In terms of outsiders, people outside the relationship, looking in, it may be that they aren’t able to determine if what they are witnessing is domestic abuse or conflict. So, let’s separate the two. Conflict is not uncommon, and is a part of most intimate relationships, at some point in that relationship. And, this is where having open communication & healthy conflict resolution skills are so important. In contrast, domestic violence, has no part in any relationship: dating, engaged, married, partnered, familial, etc. Let’s look at the definition of domestic violence. According to “Foryourmarriage.org”, “Domestic violence is any kind of behavior that a person uses, or threatens to use, to control an intimate partner.” As we are telling this story, be on the look-out for tell-tale behaviors involving, threat & control. As those are the 2 key elements in domestic violence. Also, domestic violence is not just a male vs. a female, it can be a female vs. a male, male vs. male, or female vs. female.
Lorena and John ended up separating in October 1991, but got back together a year later. In April 1993 they moved to an apartment in Manassas and by June 21st Lorena had started the process of filing for a protective order. Just to clarify, she was filing this but they were still actively living together. So I’m not 100% sure what the plan was with that, but I did feel it was important to mention. My understanding by watching an anniversary video on ABC’s 20/20, is that John wanted a divorce and that is not something that Lorena wanted due to her Catholic upbringing. On this episode of 20/20, John paints a very different picture of what you are about to hear. Just 2 days later, on June 23rd, John came home around 3am. He had been out clubbing, along with a friend of his and was, according to Lorena, very drunk. After getting home, John climbed into bed with Lorena and sexually assaulted her. She said that she told him “I don’t want to have sex,” but he ignored her. He then passed out and she ended up in the kitchen for a glass of water. John mentions in the 20/20 episode that he has a history of doing things in his sleep that he does not recall afterwards. He was asked by the reporter if he’s ever been known to have sex while sleeping, and he surprisingly responded “yes”. While Lorena was in the kitchen, she saw a knife and the next thing she went back in the bedroom, pulled back the sheet, and cut off John’s penis. Not knowing what to do, she took $100, John’s gameboy, and his penis, and got in her car. Can you imagine, penis in one hand, gameboy in the other? How did she open the car door? She started driving and not knowing where to go, she started heading toward the nail salon where she worked. At some point along the way she realized that she was still holding John’s penis and not knowing what to do with it, she rolled down the window and threw it into a field. She then arrived at the nail salon and realized it was closed, so she started driving to her friend’s house. This friend convinced her to contact the police and let them know what had happened. Her friend, coincidentally enough, was her employer at the nail salon, who she stole the $7,000 from. Apparently, Lorena made a deal to pay back the money over time, so her employer didn’t hold it against her. They had seemed to have formed a friendship outside of work, and Lorena would regularly confide in her about her relationship woes w/ John. She was even able to give them the rough estimate of where the penis had been thrown so that they could retrieve it.
While this was going on, John was back at home and woke up to immense pain and a pool of blood. He realized what had happened, told his friend, who he had gone clubbing with, and was actually sleeping at John and Lorena’s house through all of this, to drive him to the hospital. According to Debra Parrish, a nurse at the hospital, he came in through the emergency room and had a towel kind of tied around his fist and held down on his crotch. She said that their initial thought was that he had done something to his hand, but he quickly corrected them and showed the ER doctor. To say they were shocked was a huge understatement.
Because Lorena had told them where she had thrown the penis, they were able to retrieve it and I’m just imagining a group of police officers combing a random field looking for a severed penis. As if this scene wasn’t amusing already, they put the penis on ice in a Big-Bite hot dog box.
The staff at the hospital contacted a micro surgeon, David Berman, who wasn’t even on call that night, but they didn’t have anyone else who was skilled in that kind of microsurgery. As he had never done a reattachment of this kind before, Dr. Berman worked alongside a urologist named Jim Sehn to reattach the penis in a nine and a half hour operation. Somehow, they were successful and John was able to fully recover.
So what happened next?
Of course, John & Lorena had to make their statements about what happened. Obviously with what had already happened, this case was going to make headlines and draw attention. Lorena’s statement, however, just added fuel to the fire. She said “He have orgasm and not wait for me.”
Here’s the thing, Lorena had only lived in the U.S. for a few years and her English wasn’t great. So she didn’t know how to say he had raped her. This was her attempt at telling them what had happened, but it came across completely wrong and really made it out to be a very different situation than it really was.
They were each charged with different offenses and went to trial. Lorena was charged with “malicious wounding” and John with “marital rape”.John vehemently denied having assaulted or raped his wife, instead saying that he only held her down forcefully when she was out of control to protect himself. Lorena though had bruises under her eyes, a cut lip, bruises to her arms, and other areas on her body, at different times over the course of the marriage. Despite this evidence, on November 11, 1993, a jury of nine women and three men found John not guilty of marital sexual assault.
Next was the trial of Lorena for the malicious wounding of her husband. Her defense was arguing that she was temporarily insane at the time of the attack. Multiple witnesses testified on her behalf that they saw bruises on Lorena’s body & had witnessed John hitting & shoving his wife. Some of John’s own friends testified that he had a liking for rough sex. And, outside the courtroom, in Manassas, Virginia it was like a circus fest. There were large groups of people, with homemade signs, protesting both for & against Lorena. Vendors were selling T-shirts with slogans like, “Manassas: A cut above the rest”, “Don’t be afraid to cut people off”. But it wasn’t just vendors pro-Lorena, Bobbitt has a couple of friends of his, in a parking lot nearby, selling t-shirts for $20/ea, bearing the resemblance of a crazed woman, brandishing a knife, that said, “Love Hurts”. Supposedly, the money was to help pay for Bobbitt’s defense fund. If these weren’t comical enough, there was a woman selling chocolate penis’ while advertising a similar slogan to the popular M&M slogan, “guaranteed to melt in your mouth, not in your hand”. There was also a hot dog vendor, selling…what else… wieners, and if that wasn’t enough, in the background there played a song, “50 ways to cleave your lover”, a play on the original song by Paul Simon. There was even a guy that was selling t-shirts claiming “When you snooze, You Lose”, supposedly to raise money for the Make A Wish Foundation, though he said he wasn’t sure if the foundation would take the donation of the “bloodstained money”. It was like a festival outside the courthouse. Despite all the turmoil, two months later, on January 21, 1994, a jury of seven women and five men found Lorena not guilty of malicious wounding due to temporary insanity.
You might be thinking it all ends here, but that would just be too easy. They were both let off the hook and took their lives after this in very different directions.
Let’s talk about John first. At the beginning, it seemed he was trying to move on and leave the ordeal behind him. He worked odd jobs from truck driving to construction work. He had occasional brushes with fame, appearing on the Howard Stern show and this is where things started to get weird. He took a job as a knife thrower for a circus, got hired by a legal brothel and appeared on WWF (now WWE) raw, and then decided to appear star in pornographic films. Some reports say that he actually received further “enhancement” after all of this and became known as Frankenpenis. Fun fact: Dr. Berman actually admitted that he watched one of John’s films so that he could see his handiwork. He said that while everything worked as expected, the video was “classless.”
John also had some problems with the law and was charged with battery three separate times against two different women. He denied any wrongdoing in any of these cases and maintained that he was not abusive or violent. He was also arrested for stealing over $100,000 worth of clothes in 1999. So, obviously he’s got some issues and has struggled.
Unfortunately for John, while there was some initial fame from everything and people were intrigued when he moved to the porn industry, his porn star life didn’t last long. He ended up going back to odd jobs until 2014 when he was in a car accident and broke his neck. He has been on disability ever since, and resides in Las Vegas, NV.
Lorena took a very different approach to life after the ordeal. She had a 45 day stay in a psychiatric hospital and doctors determined that she wasn’t a threat to herself or the community, so she was released. She then went back to work at the nail salon and tried to keep a quiet life. She wanted to become a U.S. citizen and for her family to be able to join her. She accepted some offers for paid appearances in South America she turned down a lot of lucrative offers in the states because these were things like a million dollars to pose for Playboy which she felt was against her beliefs, integrity, and Catholicism. She easily could have accepted these types of offers, but chose to turn them down and work hard to make a living.
She ended up re-enrolling in community college where she actually met David Bellinger who she has now been with for over 20 years. The pair had a daughter together in 2005. Lorena chose to remain in the Manassas area. When asked why by The New York Times in 2019, she responded, “I live here. This is my home. Why should he have the last laugh?” She has become an advocate for domestic violence and in 2007, founded the Lorena Gallo Foundation. She started the foundation to help victims of domestic violence and their children and to raise awareness of the issue. She has explained she didn’t know that there was the option to seek refuge in a shelter during her marriage. She has also talked about how as an immigrant woman she was often too scared to call the police for help because John always threatened that he could have the police detain her and have her deported.
Remember, I mentioned earlier that the elements of domestic violence were threat and control. Acts of domestic violence are about empowering the abuser and making the victim powerless. And, this can come in different forms of abuse. According to foryourmarriage.org there’s:
Physical – Violent actions such as hitting, beating, pushing, and kicking. In many cases physical abuse becomes more frequent and severe over time.
Sexual – Includes any sexual acts that are forced on one partner by the other
Psychological – Includes a wide range of behaviors such as intimidation, isolating the victim from friends and family, controlling where the victim goes, making the victim feel guilty or crazy, and making unreasonable demands
Emotional – Undermining an individual’s self-esteem, constant criticism, insults, put-downs, and name-calling
Economic – Examples include limiting the victim’s access to family income, preventing the victim from working or forcing the victim to work, destroying the victim’s property, and making all the financial decisions
The characteristics of victims of domestic violence are most commonly female, in their 20’s and 30’s, more likely to be dating or living together, than married, and nearly half of those women live with children. Many times, victims with children, are manipulated into believing they will lose their child or children if they leave. They may believe that they could suffer worse violence or death if they leave, rather than stay. Isolation is another means by which victims are kept from reaching out to others to help them. By cutting off a person’s livelihood, (no pun intended) I actually mean by limiting or removing a victim’s access to friends, family, or acquaintances, the abuser manages to gain an even stronger hold over them, because they feel they have no one to turn to, or that anyone will believe them. And, while in some instances, drugs or alcohol may be involved with domestic violence, they are 2 separate issues, the domestic abuse and the substance abuse, and subsequently need to be treated separately.
If you do choose to stay in your situation for whatever reason, there’s no judgment for this. Be sure, however, to have a plan of action for your safety should the abuse escalate & you decide to leave. Some things to consider are: hiding some money, keys to a car, personal documents: birth certificate, social security card, private bank account information & debit card – not to a shared acct, as your could be traced or tracked by your abuser, and identify in advance a safe space you can go to.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233. The line is available 24/7. (They offer English, Spanish, and over 200 other languages w/ an interpretation service they provide.) There are also chat and text options available online at ndvh.org. If you don’t feel comfortable calling and want to utilize the chat, but are worried about an abuser seeing you, the website has a very handy tool to quickly and safely exit the website quickly.
Thank you for joining us for our episode today on John & Lorena Bobbitt. We had a little fun w/ puns and innuendo, but domestic violence is not a joke. And I hope we were able to shed some light on an ongoing issue that affects so many, and is way too common in so many relationships. Don’t be afraid to speak up or out. Better to say something, than live with the regret later by not saying anything at all.
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Accessed February, 2022. https://www.grunge.com/286427/what-really-happened-with-john-and-lorena-bobbitt/
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/06/27/definitive-oral-history-of-the-bobbitt-case-25-years-later/
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/30/arts/television/lorena-bobbitt-documentary-jordan-peele.html
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/lorena-bobbitt-john-bobbitt-25-years-696573/
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/02/lorena-bobbitt-today-advocates-against-domestic-violence/583408/
Accessed February, 2022. https://time.com/5317979/lorena-bobbitt-today-anniversary-interview/
Accessed February, 2022. https://nl.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/victims-of-crime/contact-victim-assistance/
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.foryourmarriage.org/domestic-violence/
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/lorena-bobbitt
Accessed February, 2022. https://buffalonews.com/news/bobbitt-trial-brings-out-tastelessness-vendors-sell-t-shirts-chocolate-penises/article_2cc25d05-6816-5238-a81b-eb57e15c133e.html
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5Wvo8nFQ0o
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3liPsg21Cg
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8HwgxjKhB8
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLNALmt6KFs
Accessed February, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek56AgxwybI