Day 6

After years of quiet advocacy, Lorena Bobbitt is telling her story — on her own terms

For years, Lorena Bobbitt was the butt of jokes about cutting off her husband's penis. The abuse victim, now known by her maiden name Gallo, is the subject of the Amazon Prime Video series Lorena.

26 years after she became a household name, her story resonates differently in the #MeToo era

Lorena Gallo shares the story of her abuse in the documentary series Lorena. (Amazon Prime Video)

Twenty-six years ago, Lorena Bobbitt became the butt of countless late-night jokes after she cut off her husband's penis and tossed it out of her car window as she drove away.

At trial, the jury ruled the incident was the result of years of abuse at the hands of her husband. A three-judge panel that examined her for the state concluded her husband had raped her immediately before she acted.

Today, amidst #MeToo and the Women's March, it's hard to imagine the jokes would fly so freely.

Late at night on June 23, 1993, in Manassas, Va., the woman now known as Lorena Gallo, cut off her husband John's penis with a kitchen knife and fled the house. Police found his penis in a field.

In a nearly 10-hour surgery, it was reattached and John Bobbitt made a relatively quick recovery.

This is actually ... a woman who survived just excruciating domestic violence for years.- Amy Chozick, New York Times writer-at-large

Bobbitt was charged with marital sexual assault but later acquitted and became a minor celebrity. Gallo spent 45 days in a psychiatric hospital after being found not guilty of harming her then-husband due to temporary insanity.

The trials generated sensational, wall-to-wall coverage, but author and New York Times features writer Amy Chozick says Gallo's voice got surprisingly little coverage.

"You heard very little about what she talked about on the stand in her trial and what a string of witnesses talked about which was the marital rape and abuse and assault," Chozick, who profiled Gallo, told Day 6.

Gallo's story is now the focus of a four-part documentary series by executive producer Jordan Peele on Amazon's Prime Video.

'Marital rape was an oxymoron'

The case opened a discussion about abuse, but Chozick said publications like the New Yorker and Ladies Home Journal, were skeptical about Gallo's claims.

At the time, marital rape was still legal in some states and media outlets "were debating whether marital rape was an oxymoron," Chozick said.

They were instead "obsessed" with the novelty of reattaching John Bobbitt's penis. Meanwhile, Bobbitt starred in adult films and became a regular on the Howard Stern Show.

He was later arrested several times over and served jail time after being convicted on charges related to a violent attack on his then-girlfriend.

Throughout this, Gallo laid low. "If you look at how these two people kind of live their lives after the trial when the cameras were gone, it's a really stark contrast," Chozick said.

Media flocked to cover the trial, often making jokes about Gallo dismembering John Bobbitt's penis. (Amazon Prime Video)

It wasn't until filmmaker Joshua Rofé approached Gallo in 2016 about doing a documentary that she opened up.

Rofé, who previously produced a documentary series about youth serving life sentences, came from a social justice background. Peele, who later came on board, focused on amplifying marginal voices. She felt comfortable with the pair, Chozick says.

With sexual assault permeating the news cycle — and the election of Donald Trump, who has faced allegations of sexual misconduct — Gallo felt the time was right to share her story.

"We've created this image of this crazy jealous monster who cut off her husband's penis in a fit of rage and this is actually ... a woman who survived just excruciating domestic violence for years," Chozick said.

Long-time activist

Gallo still lives in Manassas with her partner of 20 years and their 13-year-old daughter. She runs an advocacy organization for victims of domestic violence. She volunteers with her daughter's volleyball team — a "typical suburban mom," said Chozick.

Reliving the abuse and the trial was re-traumatizing for the 49-year-old Gallo.

Not only did she talk openly about what she went through, she was reminded of the jokes made at her expense.

"They have clips of Howard Stern talking with John on the show [about] how he couldn't possibly have raped her because she's not that good looking," Chozick said.

After being acquitted of charges relating to the abuse of Lorena Gallo, John Bobbitt, pictured, was convicted of raping another woman. (Amazon Prime Video)

But Gallo gets it. She understands that there will always be jokes about the incident — indeed, the documentary series makes light of it too. According to Chozick, she puts up with it knowing it's a gateway to a platform.

That said, Chozick believes that Gallo never got her due for the advocacy she did on behalf of women nearly three decades ago. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was passed into U.S. law.

"An activist told me that between Anita Hill, Lorena Bobbitt and then O.J. Simpson and his trial, that was the traction they needed to finally get the conversation going," Chozick said.

"With the clear eyes of our more evolved selves, now I think she will be more viewed in that through that prism," she added.

To hear the full interview with Amy Chozick, download our podcast or click 'listen' at the top of this page.