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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press In a letter that surfaced after her 1994 murder, Nicole Brown Simpson detailed the fear and violence that framed her marriage to charismatic football star turned TV pitchman O.J. Simpson.

  • Snyder

Thursday, June 13, 2019 1:00 am

OJ case in 1994 helped shed light on spousal abuse

Associated Press

In a letter that surfaced after her 1994 murder, Nicole Brown Simpson detailed the fear and violence that framed her marriage to O.J. Simpson, the charismatic football star who became a TV pitchman.

Simpson gave her “disgusted” looks with each pound she gained in her first pregnancy in 1988 and “beat the holy hell” out of her a year later, when the couple told an X-ray lab she fell off a bike, she wrote. Three years later, on June 12, 1994, she and friend Ron Goldman were fatally stabbed outside her Los Angeles condominium as her two young children with Simpson slept inside.

Simpson's murder trial the following year transfixed the nation and raised troubling questions about the intersection of race, celebrity and criminal justice. What's sometimes forgotten, a quarter-century later, is how the case also shifted the country's view of domestic violence from a largely private matter to a public health concern.

As the trial unfolded, calls to hotlines, shelters and police exploded.

“Her murder hurled into the forefront a conversation that advocates had been having for years – that it could happen anywhere, to anyone,” American University professor Rachel Louise Snyder wrote in a new book titled “No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us.”

In the years that followed, with funding from the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, policy-makers began seeking new ways to address domestic violence beyond sending battered women to shelters and giving them restraining orders that often did little to protect them.

Advocates now see the need for comprehensive services to help victims start over. And more prosecutors are pursuing cases that rely on forensics, medical records and other hard evidence, rather than a victim's testimony, to bring suspects to court.

They try to assess the risk of homicide by weighing risk factors, including substance abuse, gun ownership, forced sex, children by other fathers, violence during pregnancy and stalking. Perhaps the biggest red flag of all is any instance in which an abuser tries to choke off a person's airway.

“Statistically, we know that once the hands are on the neck, the very next step is homicide,” San Diego Detective Sylvia Vella tells Snyder in the book. “They don't go backward.”

Efforts are also underway, often court-ordered, to try to counsel and rehabilitate batterers, who were once written off as incorrigible.

Nationwide, more than 1,100 women are killed each year by intimate partners, most often by gunfire, according to a 2018 report by the Violence Policy Center that used 2016 FBI data.

One in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are the victims of non-lethal domestic violence, which is defined as serious physical abuse, sexual abuse or stalking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Domestic violence hotlines receive 20,000 calls every day in the United States, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Simpson was acquitted of the double murders at his 1995 trial but found liable for the deaths at his civil trial, when Nicole Brown Simpson's undated letter to him was introduced. He said he had never seen it before her death.

Anyone reading it might wonder why she stayed with Simpson for so long and reconciled for a time after their 1992 divorce. It's a common question to ask, but the wrong one, Snyder believes. Many victims work on their exit for years.

“We do not recognize what leaving looks like, and how dangerous it is and how long it takes,” Snyder said in an interview.