Twenty-six years after becoming a tabloid fixation, Lorena Bobbitt is getting the opportunity to tell her story on her own terms. And although she takes no issue with recounting the infamous night in June 1993, when she cut off her husband’s penis with a kitchen knife, she tells the New York Times that she’s more interested in speaking on what preceded and followed that the crime: a story of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as the way ’90s tabloids vilified women.
“I was the subject of so many jokes in the ’90s and to me it was just cruel,” Bobbitt told the Times. “They didn’t understand. Why would they laugh about my suffering?”
She has come to identify with figure skater Tonya Harding and Monica Lewinsky — two other women who also became tabloid fixations in the ’90s. “We were vilified by the media, vilified and that is so sad,” Bobbitt told the Times, adding: “It happens to women.”
In Lorena, an Amazon documentary produced by Jordan Peele that’s set to debut on February 15, Bobbitt shares her full story in full — one that she has told over and over. This time around, though, she hopes people really listen. Bobbitt has said for years that she was a young, vulnerable immigrant from Ecuador, and that her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, abused her and frequently raped her — the night of the crime included. (John denied this in an interview with the Times.)
Bobbitt also says she never meant to cut off her husband’s penis. That night in 1993, she alleges that he came home drunk and raped her, and when she went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, years of abuse overcame her, and she grabbed the knife. She says she remembers nothing after that.
But media didn’t focus on Bobbitt’s allegations of abuse, or what she says led to that fateful night — instead, tabloids pulled out the most shocking details of the case, turning Bobbitt’s name into punchline. Men mostly shaped the discourse around Bobbitt: Charlie Rose brought male guests onto his show, who described her as unhinged; Al Franken, in character as a fictional self-help guru, told her to apologize to her husband’s penis on Saturday Night Live.
In the past few years, a cultural shift has led the public reevaluate the cases of Harding and Lewinsky, propelling both toward public redemption. And though Bobbitt would like the same, she hopes that if her upcoming documentary does one thing, it starts a conversation around domestic abuse.
“I’ll put myself through the jokes and everything as long as I can shine a light on domestic violence and sexual assault and marital rape,” she said.