O.J. Simpson’s acquittal has provoked a chilling backlash against battered women, say activists fighting domestic violence.
Less than three weeks after the verdict, they point to these reports:
Calls to domestic violence hot lines dropped drastically in some states.
Overnight, more than half the beds emptied at a women’s shelter in Texas.
Some prosecutors are saying that men accused of battering are now demanding trials because they think juries can see them sympathetically.
A northern California man slashed his wife’s face and neck with a butcher knife, saying all the while, “I will kill you. O.J. got away with it and so will I,” the woman, who survived, told police.
“My prediction is that the number of calls will continue to go down and the number of homicides will go up,” said Gail Pincus of The Domestic Abuse Center, one of Los Angeles County’s largest counseling agencies for abused women and men who batter.
The center’s phones stopped ringing after Simpson was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife, whom he beat and publicly humiliated during their marriage, and her friend Ronald Goldman.
“Our phones were dead,” Pincus said. “Then we started hearing from previous clients. They were in tears. To the women, (the verdict) said, ‘It doesn’t matter who you tell, what you do, because if he wants to kill you, he can get away with it.’ “
Joyce Coleman, director of a 65-bed women’s shelter in San Antonio had a similar experience.
Battered women stopped calling. Instead, the shelter received harassing calls from men who gloated and said, “Women deserve this.”
The day of the verdict, Oct. 3, with 58 beds occupied, she watched 37 women pack up and walk out.
“It was eerie,” Coleman said. “I’ve been the director here eight years and I’ve never seen anything like it. They just left. I don’t know where they went.
“I don’t know what it means,” Coleman said. “My fear is that battered women are afraid to speak out.”
That’s a drastic change from June 1994, when Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered and newspapers, magazines and television couldn’t provide enough details and photographs of her life as an abused wife.
Domestic violence became the cause of the moment, infused with newfound credibility and opportunity for change. Hot lines and shelters reported that calls increased by as much as 65 percent. Legislators passed bills for education programs and stricter penalties for first-time batterers.
At the trial, jurors heard Ms. Simpson’s panicky pleas on 911 tapes and saw photographs of her bruised face and arms.
After the verdict, at least two of the panelists, one of them female, said the evidence of Simpson’s brutality had wasted their time, that domestic violence had nothing to do with murder.
“That was part of the misinformation given by the defense - that domestic violence is not a risk factor for homicide. It’s irresponsible to say anything different,” said Marissa Ghez, associate director of The Family Violence Prevention Fund in San Francisco, a national clearinghouse for educational programs and studies.
Elsewhere, including New York, Missouri and Washington state, women’s advocates say the number of calls for help has remained steady since the verdict.
In the San Fernando Valley, about a half-hour’s drive from downtown Los Angeles, a 41-year-old mother of two lives in fear for her life.
Linda, who asked that her last name not be used, said her ex-husband broke her fingers, threw her across rooms, bashed her so badly she needed stitches.
She finally left after nine years, in 1991, taking the kids. “That was it for me. I couldn’t handle it anymore,” she said.
Don’t tell her about restraining orders and police reports. She’s done all that. He hasn’t hit her since she moved, but he’s violated the restraining order, kicked down her door and called 26 times in a single night.
Since the Simpson verdict, she hasn’t been able to sleep.
“That woman is dead,” she said. “She reached out and asked for help and nobody helped her.”