Content Warning: The story includes depictions of extreme violence. On the night of June 23rd, 1993, around 4:30 am, something came over Lorena Bobbitt. She had gotten up to get a glass of water in the kitchen when she spotted a knife next to the sink. Instead of putting it away, she picked it up and walked back into the bedroom she shared with her husband of four years, John. It was then that Lorena severed John’s penis, leaving him to bleed on the bed, while she got in her car and drove away — penis in hand. If you think Lorena Bobbitt's true story (now an Amazon docuseries) is intense in 2019, imaging hearing it in 1993. Back then, there was no such thing as Twitter, let alone any form of social media, so if you wanted to learn the news, you needed to watch it on TV, or read it in the paper (or, even worse, pick up a tabloid to learn who was being smeared that week). The press had an absolute field day when it came to covering Lorena and John Bobbitt’s story (it served as something of a warmup for another case that would grip the nation a mere six months later: the O.J. Simpson trial.) But the story flashed across televisions and newspapers then didn't exactly match what we know now.
The goings on between Lorena and John leading up to the incident and in the aftermath of the news storm were, to put it nicely, messy as all hell. To call their case a nasty he said/she said situation is a gross understatement, because the Lorena story not only shocked the nation and provided fodder for some wildly misinformed jokes and SNL sketches, but eventually brought the concept and possibility of spousal abuse and marital rape to the forefront of the national conversation.
As Amazon's docuseries details, John and Lorena met in their early 20s, while John was enlisted in the Marines and Lorena was studying at a nearby community college with a student visa from Venezuela. The two quickly hit it off, and not long after that they were discussing marriage — and while their stories vary (that’s a running theme in their long history), supposedly the marriage was rushed because Lorena’s visa was expiring. The two were married in the summer if 1989, and moved to Manassas, Virginia.
According to Lorena, their relationship turned volatile almost immediately. She claims that one month after they were married, John punched, unprompted, her while they were driving in the car. Things allegedly escalated from there, as both of them became physical with the other — or, that’s what they both claim. John, to this day, claims that he never hurt Lorena, and that the most he did was “restrain” her when they were fighting; Lorena claims the most she ever did was try to fight back in self defence while John was allegedly attacking her.
Over time, Lorena began to realise that what John was allegedly doing to her was not common in most marriages. They went through a few periods of separation, and the two of them talked about divorce, but Lorena was against it (she was raised Christian and didn’t believe in divorce, also, according to John, since they had only been married for four years she risked deportation). At one point, Lorena told John she was pregnant and she claims he told her that she needed to get an abortion. Lorena’s employer realised that there was something going on with her, when her quality of work began to slip and she was constantly nervous and shaking. Someone gave Lorena literature about marital abuse and rape, and it was only then that she had a realisation about what was going on between her and John.
It all came to a head on June 23, 1993. John went out with a friend for a night of drinking and came home completely drunk — he claims he doesn’t remember what happened after he came home. According to Lorena's claims, John forced himself on her, raping her before he fell asleep. That’s when Lorena went into the kitchen for water, and came back to the bedroom with a knife.
Since John was heavily intoxicated, he did not see, let alone feel, what was happening to him at the time. But what would drive her to do such a thing?
“I didn’t want to teach him a lesson,” Lorena explained to Vanity Fair in August. “No, it was survival. Life and death. I was fearing for my life.”
Lorena, who says she was in shock after the incident, got in the car and started driving, still with John’s penis in hand. John, meanwhile, woke up in a pool of his own blood and called for his friend to take him to the hospital, which is where Amazon's Lorena docuseries begins.
Soon, Lorena could no longer hold the penis and drive, so she threw it out the window, before continuing on to a friend’s house. At the friend’s house Lorena explained what had happened, and the friend managed to relay the location of John’s penis to the police. They shockingly found it by a 7-11, grabbed ice and a bag from the convenience store, and took it to the hospital where John was waiting to go in to surgery. The surgery lasted over nine hours, and the surgeon was able to reattach it.
Consequently, both were arrested and charged — John for marital sexual assault and Lorena for malicious wrongdoing. Prior to this, there had certainly been instances of domestic abuse that had made their way into the news, but nothing quite like this or on this scale. With Lorena sharing her claims about their marriage in court, sexual assault groups began voicing their support for her and all that she had been through, and Lorena became somewhat of a symbol for those suffering from domestic and spousal abuse.
“In the beginning, I’d say, ‘Why me?’” she explained in an interview with Huffington Post in December 2016. “But honestly, the way I see it, it happened to all of us... all women who were abused. I just happened to be the Lorena, but I’m not in the fight by myself. I’m in it for all women who have been victimised or will be victimised.” In the years since the trial, Lorena has started her own foundation, which is called Lorena’s Red Wagon or the Lorena Gallo Foundation.
Since then, Lorena has managed to keep a relatively low profile. She started a new life with her longtime partner of 20 years, Dave Bellinger, and the two have a daughter, Olivia, according to the New York Times. Lorena spends her time taking her daughter to swimming and volleyball practice, and works with the local sheriff’s department on resources for victims of domestic abuse.
John, on the other hand, released two different porn films, had surgery to enlarge his penis even further, racked up a slew of other assault charges for which he would be found "not guilty" (one by his girlfriend and one by his third wife), plead guilty to grand larceny in 1999, and he eventually asked for his penis to be reduced to its original size.
With the new Amazon doc, this might very well be the actual end of the story of John and Lorena Bobbitt, almost three decades later. But while Lorena may finally be able to put the story to rest, her name will never fade away. With domestic abuse still often treated as a taboo, even in a courtroom setting, the details of this case will continue to be a lynchpin in the ongoing conversation.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.