HomeBerlin Letters & OpinionsBattered and bruised: The case that made domestic violence a cause

Battered and bruised: The case that made domestic violence a cause

The recent death of O.J. Simpson brought to mind the staggering events of June 1994, when the football great was accused of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend. It was a legal case that became a spectacle. 

We all know how that turned out. But O.J. Simpson’s death on April 10 inspired a nationwide rehashing of the story we couldn’t look away from – then and even now. Many of us know where we were the moment Simpson was acquitted in 1995.

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But behind that history is the fact that the murder case put a spotlight on domestic violence, a still intractable crime that affects more than 10 million adults – mostly women, but some men – each year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

Police made frequent visits to Brown Simpson’s home before she was killed and her ex-husband had already been convicted of spousal abuse. But that did not end her suffering: her death did. 

Domestic violence hurts not just spouses or partners, but their children, of whom one in 15 are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, according to the NCADV. About 90% of those children are eyewitnesses to the abuse. 

Repeated domestic violence can also have an effect on the victim’s extended family, the community and law enforcement. An abusive partner may threaten his target’s family or friends. Children who witness domestic violence bring those experiences to their schools. Ask any police officer and they will likely tell you domestic situations are their most dangerous calls.

Many believe the Simpson murder case resulted in Congress passing the Violence Against Women Act three months after Brown Simpson’s death, according to a New York Times op-ed by journalism professor Rachel Louise Snyder. The law also established the National Domestic Violence hotline.

“At that point in time (the 1994 murders), we were still struggling to get people to understand what domestic violence was,” Rita Smith, executive director of the NCADV, told Time magazine. “And now that term – domestic violence – is something that most people understand. It’s not something that was universally known prior to those murders.”

Yet each step forward is often followed by a step backward. That may be because repeated violence against women most often occurs behind closed doors, with most cases never reported to police, according to domesticshelters.org. While just 10 to 18% of those arrested for domestic violence are arrested again within six months, 15 to 30% face a second arrest within 28 months, according to the website.

Getting out from behind those closed doors isn’t always easy either. The refrain we often hear – Why doesn’t she just leave? – belies the fact that escaping abusive situations means being homeless, often with children. About 50% of all homeless women reported that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their situations, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.

Victims are still too often not believed when they report domestic violence. Many have a hard time admitting they’re victims, according to NPR. Still others are killed before they can report the crime. 

But progress has been made.

“It’s worth taking a moment to remember the ways his (O.J. Simpson’s) case – even in the light of the outcome – had profound and lasting consequences for domestic violence victims,” Snyder wrote, “for their advocates and for court systems.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call the 800-799-SAFE (7233) hotline. It operates 24/7.


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