The Bobbitts: Comparing Domestic Violence Prosecutions Then and Now

By Deborah J. Blum, Esq.

The pendulum has shifted far away from the nominal protections battered women were afforded and the limited arrests made for heinous acts of domestic violence at the time of John and Lorena Bobbitt’s infamous trials in November 1993 and January 1994. The Bobbitts gave women’s rights advocates a platform to get overdue legal recognition, safeguards and ramifications in place to combat violence against women.

Bipartisan members of Congress worked together to pass necessary domestic violence legislation and have it signed into law in September 1994. Just like many other bureaucratic processes, it took time for the bill to be funded and for its impact to trickle down to victims in need. Today, there are numerous organizations that provide extensive pro bono legal services for those who claim to have been abused by their male partners, whether fact or fiction. Domestic violence counsel will assist women, for free, across the board in civil matters that span years.

As a criminal defense and family law attorney, I have seen both ends of the spectrum; vile instances of domestic abuse and the weaponization and misuse of domestic violence protections. John Wayne Bobbitt’s dismemberment is a cringe worthy topic for men but so is the reality men face now where women who have not been truly wronged use the law as a sword not a shield. This statement is in no way meant to detract from palpable cases of abuse and wrongdoing but to highlight the sheer volume of baseless claims lacking credible proof which are zealously prosecuted, both criminally and civilly, in the #MeToo era.

When one of my clients filed for custody and visitation rights with his daughter, his wife, who he was separated from and was preventing him from seeing their child, retaliated by having him arrested for allegedly attacking her on a date he was not present in the home. She had him arrested again, for assault and other domestic charges, when he refused to meet her unrealistic demands for more money. That time, she inflicted harm upon herself in front of him and her children to bolster her false claims. Through diligent efforts we got his two criminal cases dismissed and are nearing the end to his multitude of family court matters, in which she has pro bono domestic violence counsel, yet the toll on him has been high. His employer is dissatisfied by the sheer number of days he has had to take off for court and he will never make up the missed time with his daughter.

Women who suffer endless physical and emotional abuse often do not report it and will go to great lengths to protect their abusers. I was revolted when I reviewed a domestic violence victim’s hospital records, as she was being treated for extensive burn wounds caused by the father of her infant child pouring boiling hot coffee on her upper body which rendered her unable to breast feed. She refused to provide the medical staff and law enforcement with the name of the person who harmed her.

Had John Wayne Bobbitt been tried today, it is likely that the prosecution would have gone forward on a greater number of domestic charges and that the Honorable Judge Herman Whisenant Jr. would have given the prosecution a far better uncharged acts ruling. The Judge limited the scope of accusations that Lorena Bobbitt could speak to in her trial against John to only the five days prior to the date of the charged marital sexual assault on June 23rd, 1993. Based upon the evidence presented at trial, there were sound reasons for the jury to doubt the veracity of the singular, narrow and specific crime John stood before them accused of. Starting only one year after his trial, John was re-arrested and prosecuted several times for domestic violence with similar patterns of abusive behavior against his then partners.

During Lorena Bobbitt’s trial for malicious wounding of John, also on June 23rd, 1993, the same Judge gave deference to the defense and allowed them to arguably elicit hearsay and call multiple witnesses who testified to their observations of abuse against Lorena they did not personally witness. One pivotal witness testified to the extensive bruising she saw days prior on Lorena’s arms and Lorena’s fearfulness and trembling as a result of John’s abuse she reported and detailed to her. This testimony went to Lorena’s mental state and the defense that as a result of John’s relentless abuse she was incapable of stopping and controlling her irresistible impulse to strike back. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity, which required her forty-five day inpatient stay for psychiatric observation and clearance for her release.

If the Bobbitts had their series of domestic incidents unfold today, systems in place, being utilized for the right reasons, might have removed John from their home sooner and greater pressure would be exerted to put an end to his cycle of abuse. Law enforcement were called and responded to their home a handful of times before John’s dismemberment. Nowadays, John would have been arrested sooner and an order of protection issued against him attempting to force his separation from Lorena. He would have encountered a greater number of roadblocks which unfortunately do not always stop the violence. For example, being subjected to compulsory re-arrest if John was alleged to have violated the order of protection and home checks by the police to make sure he was actually staying away.

Today various jurisdictions have and make mandatory arrests for alleged acts of domestic violence even when they do not see any signs of bruising or injury on the woman. Many times, men are the victims of domestic abuse, perpetrated against them by their female partners, and their need for help goes unheard.