Amazon's four-part documentary Lorena presents the 1993 case involving then married couple Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt and the domestic and sexual abuse claims Lorena Bobbitt made about her husband. It also shows how her allegations were disregarded and mocked by the media at the time, including in a Howard Stern interview with John Wayne Bobbitt.
Lorena was tried for “malicious wounding” in 1993 when she cut off her husband’s penis with a knife and later discarded it. In her testimony, Lorena claimed John had raped her before the incident occurred and that she had suffered from years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. The New York Times reported in 1994 that Lorena Bobbitt was found not guilty after the jury concluded that her actions were caused by temporary insanity. Despite the verdict and the revelation of the domestic abuse she allegedly face, Lorena Bobbitt and her story became a running joke in the media, with Saturday Night Live sketches and a TV movie parody. John, however had a very different experience.
The docuseries shows how Lorena Bobbitt was portrayed by the media. One newspaper headline reads “Hot Blooded Latina” and a sound bite is played with a woman calling Lorena “a jealous wife whose American Dream has been destroyed.” Meanwhile, John was given sympathy and turned into somewhat of a celebrity after appearing multiple times on The Howard Stern Show. Like much of society at the time, Stern doubted and joked about Lorena's reasons for cutting off her husband’s penis and at one point (as the doc shows) Stern said that he believed John didn't rape Lorena because "she's not that great looking."
But the documentary only shows so much of John and Stern's conversations. In a particularly upsetting full interview between Stern and John Bobbitt (which is on Youtube if you so choose to listen to the entire thing), Stern introduces John as “the man who survived” and initially focuses on his short-lived porn career and the function of his penis. When John mentions his sex-life with Lorena, Stern interjects and says, “She didn’t want to leave him, so, you know.” John agrees and Stern adds, “Let me tell you something, she must’ve really liked it if she didn’t want him to leave so bad.”
Robin Quivers, Stern’s co-host, offers that John is trying to “justify” his actions. Stern replies, “I’d go with him on this.” Stern then switches the conversation back to the topic of John Bobbitt’s girlfriend at the time and asks, “Did you have to smack this new girlfriend around or was she okay? Well sometimes they don’t listen, you know how that is.”
In addition to his multiple appearances on The Howard Stern Show, John was also a guest on Stern’s New Year’s Eve special when a clip was shown that jokingly recreated Lorena attacking her husband. Stern asked listeners to call in to donate to John.
But Lorena seems to be letting these incidents go. In a recent interview with Variety, Lorena Bobbitt and Joshua Rofe, the director of the upcoming documentary, were asked about Stern’s actions. The Variety article specifically mentions the clip in the Amazon doc that shows Stern doubting Lorena's testimony because on her physical appearance. When asked if she thinks Stern owes her an apology, Lorena Bobbitt replied, “The way how I look at it, if I was waiting for everyone to give me an apology, then that would have prevented me from moving on with my life.” She continued, “And I am not going to sit around for everyone to give me an apology. I think that Howard and many others missed tremendous opportunities to talk about these serious social issues.”
In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, Stern and the general media treatment of Lorena Bobbitt starkly contrast the way women have finally started to receive public support when sharing allegations of abuse. Victim blaming and shaming were all too present when Lorena Bobbitt first revealed her story. Tabloids can’t go back in time and make up for the way they trashed her, but everyone can now listen to her story and learn from the past.
Refinery29 reached out to Howard Stern's team regarding his comments about Lorena Bobbitt, but did not immediately receive a response.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.