On June 23, 1993, something inside of 23-year-old manicurist Lorena Bobbitt snapped.
Her marriage to her husband of four years, John Bobbitt, was simmering with hatred and it had plunged into a terrifying spiral of abuse. The Virginia couple was planning to divorce. She was, she said, frequently subjected to violence and forced into sex.
She’d had enough.
And June 23 was her breaking point. In the early hours of that summer morning, her bar bouncer husband returned home drunk and, according to her, she was raped.
While he dozed off beside her in bed, Lorena made a split-second decision. She stormed into the kitchen to grab a 12-inch knife. Then, she returned to the bedroom and sliced off her sleeping husband’s penis.
As he lay there bleeding, she fled their apartment. Then she jumped in the car and, realising she was still carrying his severed penis, tossed it out the window into a field as she sped away.
The case was destined to become infamous. Almost as soon as the media caught wind of it, it dominated worldwide headlines. A young Latina wife. An all-American ex-marine husband. Sex. Domestic abuse. Unthinkable violence. It contained all the ingredients for a sensationalist, tabloid spectacle.
Lorena could not escape it. Her name became synonymous with cutting off a man’s appendage. ‘Bobbitise’ entered medical literature. Her life became the butt of cruel jokes and friends would laugh about ‘pulling a Bobbitt’.
But while the world chuckled and chose to focus on the lurid details of the case, a hugely important discourse was being left untouched. It should have been an opportunity to launch a global conversation about domestic violence. Instead, the public was cracking penis jokes.
And it wasn’t because Lorena wasn’t trying to talk about domestic abuse. Oh, she tried, and she tried.
“They wanted to talk about his penis, not my story,” she told Huffington Post in a 2016 interview. “Maybe it looked like a reality show from the outside, but we were not in a cast. It was real life.”
Shortly after Lorena mutilated her husband, she realised the gravity of what she'd just done. She called the police. After an extensive search, detectives found John's penis and it was successfully reattached in a nine-and-a-half hour operation.