Who Is Lorena Bobbitt?
In the early hours of June 23, 1993, Lorena Bobbitt took an eight-inch knife from her apartment's kitchen and cut off the penis of her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt. She then drove away from their apartment and threw the severed organ into a field in Manassas, Virginia. After her actions became public, the media swept in to cover everything from John's successful penis reattachment surgery to Lorena's trial in 1994. Lorena has stated that she was a victim of domestic violence throughout her marriage and that her husband had raped her shortly before she castrated him. Though John denied any abuse, Lorena was found not guilty of wounding her husband due to temporary insanity brought on by the trauma she'd endured. She has resumed the use of her maiden name of Lorena Gallo and become an advocate for victims of domestic violence.
Lorena was born Lorena Leonor Gallo in Bucay, Ecuador in 1969. She grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, with two younger siblings. Her father worked as a dental technician and the family led a middle-class lifestyle.
After a trip to the United States that was a gift for her quinceañera, Lorena wanted to live in the country. Though her family was unsuccessful in an attempt to emigrate, in 1987 she obtained a student visa. To earn money she worked as a nanny, and later took a position at a nail salon.
Relationship With John Bobbitt
In 1988, Lorena met John, then a U.S. Marine, at a club for enlisted men. At the time Lorena was a community college student in Virginia. John became Lorena's first boyfriend when they subsequently began dating. The pair were married on June 18, 1989, when Lorena was 20, and John was 22.
Lorena has said her husband became violent a few weeks after their 1989 wedding, as John hit her when she voiced disapproval of his dangerous driving when they were returning home from a bar. Per Lorena, the violence in the relationship continued from that point, with John striking and raping her. Arguments often stemmed from her questioning his spending or habit of having people stay in their apartment with no advance notice.
According to Lorena, John forced her to get an abortion when she became pregnant. She's said that at the clinic he taunted her about how the procedure would kill her.
After John left the Marines in 1991, Lorena's work at a nail salon became the couple's main source of income. She also stole from her employer, stating that she acted due to financial pressure, as she and John were unable to keep up with mortgage payments on a home they'd purchased in 1990. She also shoplifted dresses, which she said occurred because she wanted to improve her appearance to keep her husband from seeing other women.
Police were called to the Bobbitts' home on multiple occasions. In February 1991 John pleaded guilty to assault and battery, though the charges were dismissed after he went through counseling.
The couple separated in October 1991 but reunited a year later. In April 1993 they moved into a new apartment in Manassas. On June 21, 1993, Lorena began the process of filing for a protective order.
John has denied he was abusive during the marriage. In his version of events, Lorena was extremely jealous and the one who hit him; if he struck her it was while protecting himself. His attorney stated that terminating Lorena's pregnancy was a mutual decision.
John has offered the explanation that Lorena was upset that he planned to divorce her, putting her green card and ability to become a U.S. citizen at risk. In 1993, Lorena denied that her marriage took place because she wanted to stay in the country. She once told Vanity Fair, "I thought John was very handsome. Blue eyes. A man in a uniform, you know? He was almost like a symbol — a Marine, fighting for the country. I believed in this beautiful country. I was swept off my feet. I wanted my American Dream."
June 23, 1993: The Castration of John Bobbitt
According to Lorena, in the early hours of June 23, 1993, her husband came home drunk. He then raped her in their apartment. After the attack, she spotted a knife when she went into the kitchen. She returned to the bedroom and cut off her sleeping husband's penis.
Lorena, still holding the knife and the severed organ, then drove away from their apartment building. She tossed the penis into a field before ending up at a friend's house. At her friend's urging Lorena contacted the police and told them where she had thrown the penis. Police located it and reattachment surgery was a success. Meanwhile, Lorena had a rape kit examination in the same hospital.
News of Lorena's actions resulted in a whirlwind of media attention. Some women's rights activists thought the incident could lead to more awareness of domestic violence, but instead, the case became a tabloid sensation and fodder for comedians.
In November 1993, John went on trial for marital sexual assault. (Though Lorena had accused him of rape, at the time Virginia law required couples to be living separately or for serious physical injuries to occur for a charge of marital rape.) He was found not guilty.
In January 1994, Lorena's trial began. She had been charged with malicious wounding, which put her at risk for up to 20 years behind bars and possible deportation from the United States. During the televised proceedings, Lorena testified that her husband had raped and hit her throughout their marriage. Her defense team argued that she had been tormented by years of abuse and driven temporarily insane, and that in slicing off her husband's penis she had been subject to an "irresistible impulse."
The prosecution's case included a statement Lorena had given to police, in which she said, "He always have orgasm and he doesn't wait for me to have orgasm [sic]." She later stated that the interview was inaccurate because she didn't have access to a translator.
During Lorena's trial, John testified that he had never committed any acts of violence against his wife. However, other witnesses corroborated that Lorena had appeared with bruises and stated that John had been seen hitting and shoving his wife. Friends of John's said under oath that they had heard him express a liking for forced sex.
Outside the courtroom, there was an almost circus-like atmosphere. One radio station served up hot dogs and Slice soda. Chocolate penises and T-shirts with the slogan "Manassas: A cut above the rest" were available for purchase. But not everyone considered the case a joking matter. Though they weren't the focus of much media coverage, members of the Hispanic community regularly came to the courthouse to show their support for Lorena.
On January 21, 1994, Lorena was found not guilty due to temporary insanity, meaning she did not have to spend time in prison for wounding John. Following the acquittal she was sent to a hospital for a 45-day psychiatric evaluation, as required by Virginia state law, after which she was released.
Life After Acquittal
Despite her notoriety following the attack and trial, Lorena chose to remain in the Manassas area. When asked why by The New York Times in 2019, she responded, "I live here. This is my home. Why should he have the last laugh?"
Lorena became a U.S. citizen in the summer of 1994. Her divorce from John was finalized in 1995. She accepted money for some appearances in South America but has said she rejected the $1 million offered if she would pose for Playboy. To earn a living she worked as a cosmetologist, an administrative assistant, and a real estate agent.
Domestic Violence Advocate
With the Lorena Gallo Foundation, founded in 2007, Lorena created an organization to help victims of domestic violence and their children and to raise awareness of the issue. She has explained she didn't know of the option to seek refuge in a shelter during her marriage. She has also revealed, "As an immigrant woman, I was often too scared to call the police for help. My abusive husband always threatened that he could have the police detain me and have me deported back to my country."
Later Relationship and Daughter
While attending Northern Virginia Community College after her trial, Lorena met David Bellinger. The two were friends before a romantic relationship developed. Their daughter, Olivia, was born in 2005. Though Lorena has sometimes referred to Bellinger as her husband, she opted not to marry him.
Documentary and Lifetime Movie
Lorena took part in Lorena, a 2019 documentary that was produced by Jordan Peele. The program revisited how her claims of domestic violence had been swept aside in 1993 as the media focused on John's severed penis. Lorena also served as an executive producer and narrator for the 2020 Lifetime biopic I Was Lorena Bobbitt.
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