By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
For several years after erstwhile football favorite O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her beau, Ronald Goldman, I wrote anniversary pieces on domestic violence. The writing was a reminder of the poignant irony of Simpson’s October 3, 1995 not-guilty verdict coinciding with Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It was also an ineffectual effort to demand recognition that even nice guys like Simpson abuse their mates, beat them, sometimes kill them. I eventually gave up the ritual, resolved to put the bitter disappointment behind me — until Simpson’s October 3, 2008 conviction on 12 counts, including kidnapping and armed robbery. Another sort of irony?
I took some deep breaths, an adult beverage or two, and prepared to gloat. But not even a wee rosy hint of gloat graced me. In fact, I wasn’t sure what it was I felt in response to the outcome — relief, disgust, vindication, frustration that the verdict was 13 years too late, the hope of a little peace for his victims’ families, rage that domestic violence persists unchecked and misunderstood? I was confused. So instead of writing, I stewed.
Two months later at his sentencing, Simpson was pleading to Judge Judy Glass for forgiveness. He said, “Your honor, I stand before you today sorry. … I didn’t want to hurt any of these guys. I know these guys. These guys have eaten in my home. I’ve done book reports with their kids. I’ve sung to their mothers when they were sick. You know I wasn’t there to hurt anyone. I just wanted my personal things and I realize that was stupid of me. I’m sorry.“
It was all so familiar.
I can still see the police officer who would have condemned me to the brutal hands of my husband as he discouraged me from pressing charges. An emergency room doctor who laughed at my self-denigrating humor while he repaired my face, a battered visage that should have elicited a gasp, not a conspiratorial chuckle and concurrence that next time I would duck to the left. A mother-in-law who rebuked me for humiliating her son and making him miserable as she furiously wiped my blood from her car upholstery. Neighbors who listened to violence by night and offered superficial smiles in the light of day. A husband who cried at the sight of the pretty face he’d turned to hamburger, whispering fervent words of remorse I, like countless others, wanted so desperately to believe.
Some of us learn not to. Some of us die for the failure to learn.
Judge Glass is not so gullible, calling Simpson arrogant and ignorant. She also said, “I’m not here to sentence Mr. Simpson for what has happened in his life previously in the criminal justice system. … I have to respect what happened in the case 13 years ago with Mr. Simpson. The jury decided. There are many people that disagreed with that verdict, but that doesn’t matter to me.”
True as that might be for Judge Glass, it is not true for me. Nor, I suspect, is it true for Simpson’s prosecutors and investigators, for the Browns and Goldmans or for the more than 2 million people abused or murdered by supposed loved ones each year in the United States.
Domestic violence victims are, like Nicole Brown Simpson, mates of beloved public figures — and teachers, executives, teenagers, store clerks, attorneys, scout leaders, unemployed parents, restaurant workers, medical professionals, assembly line workers and I, long ago. We are confronted by the flesh-crushing fists of significant others and then their tender loving words of tearful remorse — and by a society that does not understand the hopeless addiction of that dichotomy, the steady degradation of identity and self-esteem, the escalation of violence in abusive relationships; a society that does not understand the prevalence of domestic violence or our absolute right to live free from this abuse.
We’ve made little progress since 1995. So how should we feel about Simpson’s conviction? I’m glad the bastard is off the streets and I’m heartsick for the 5,479-plus people who were abused by intimates as I wrote this.
For more information:
If you are a victim, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 800-799-SAFE (7233).
Want to do something about domestic violence? Consider this update of an old Family Violence Prevention Fund campaign: “It’s hard to confront a friend who abuses a partner. But not nearly as hard as being the partner.” Then visit the Fund’s website.
©2008 Kit-Bacon Gressitt
(Poster courtesy of the UK Home Office Crime Reduction Catalogue.)