When Violence Hits Home

Suddenly, domestic abuse, once perniciously silent, is exposed for its brutality in the wake of a highly public scandal

  • Share
  • Read Later

Dana used to hide the bruises on her neck with her long red hair. On June 18, her husband made sure she could not afford even that strand of camouflage. Ted ambushed Dana (not their real names) as she walked from her car to a crafts store in Denver. Slashing with a knife, Ted, a pharmaceutical scientist, lopped off Dana's ponytail, then grabbed her throat, adding a fresh layer of bruises to her neck.

Dana got off easy that time. Last year she lost most of her hearing after Ted slammed her against the living-room wall of their home and kicked her repeatedly in the head, then stuffed her unconscious body into the fireplace. Later, he was tearfully despondent, and Dana, a former social worker, believed his apologies, believed he needed her, believed him when he whispered, "I love you more than anything in the world." She kept on believing, even when more assaults followed.

Last Tuesday, however, Dana finally came to believe her life was in danger. Her change of mind came as she nursed her latest wounds, mesmerized by the reports about Nicole Simpson's tempestuous marriage to ex-football star O.J. "I grew up idolizing him," she says. "I didn't want to believe it was O.J. It was just like with my husband." Then, she says, "the reality hit me. Her story is the same as mine -- except she's dead."

The horror has always been with us, a persistent secret, silent and pernicious, intimate and brutal. Now, however, as a result of the Simpson drama, Americans are confronting the ferocious violence that may erupt when love runs awry. Women who have clung to destructive relationships for years are realizing, like Dana, that they may be in dire jeopardy. Last week phone calls to domestic-violence hot lines surged to record numbers; many battered women suddenly found the strength to quit their homes and seek sanctuary in shelters. Although it has been two years since the American Medical Association reported that as many as 1 in 3 women will be assaulted by a domestic partner in her lifetime -- 4 million in any given year -- it has taken the murder of Nicole Simpson to give national resonance to those numbers.

"Everyone is acting as if this is so shocking," says Debbie Tucker, chairman of the national Domestic Violence Coalition on Public Policy. "This happens all the time." In Los Angeles, where calls to abuse hot lines were up 80% overall last week, experts sense a sort of awakening as women relate personally to Simpson's tragedy. "Often a woman who's been battered thinks it's happening only to her. But with this story, women are saying, 'Oh, my God, this is what's happening to me,' " says Lynn Moriarty, director of the Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Services in Los Angeles. "Something as dramatic as this cracks through a lot of the denial."

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6