Lorena Bobbitt Severs Her Husband’s Penis Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Lorena Bobbitt cut off half of her abusive husband’s penis while he was sleeping, then threw the penis into a field from her car window after she left their apartment. She was found not guilty of malicious wounding and was ordered to a psychiatric hospital for several weeks. John, whose penis was reattached by surgeons soon after the attack, was found not guilty of marital sexual assault. The case brought national attention to spousal rape and abuse, forced abortion, and battered woman, or person, syndrome.

Summary of Event

Lorena Bobbitt, born in Bucay, Ecuador, married a U.S. Marine, John Wayne Bobbitt, on June 18, 1989. The marriage was the first for both, but it was not a happy one. On the evening of June 23, 1993, Bobbitt, at this time out of the Marine Corps, had been partying and returned home drunk to the couple’s apartment in Manassas, Virginia. John demanded that Lorena have sex with him; she declined and he raped her. After John fell asleep, Lorena left the bedroom for some water in the kitchen. She testified that she saw an eight-inch carving knife on a counter and, wanting retribution against John for his continued abuse during the marriage, snapped, grabbed the knife, returned to the bedroom, and cut off half of John’s penis while he was sleeping. According to media reports, she had requested a restraining order against John just two days before her attack. [kw]Bobbitt Severs Her Husband’s Penis, Lorena (June 23, 1993) Bobbitt, Lorena Bobbitt, John Wayne Penis severing Rape;of Lorena Bobbitt[Bobbitt] Rape;spousal Marriage;Lorena Bobbitt[Bobbitt] Bobbitt, Lorena Bobbitt, John Wayne Penis severing Rape;of Lorena Bobbitt[Bobbitt] Rape;spousal Marriage;Lorena Bobbitt[Bobbitt] [g]United States;June 23, 1993: Lorena Bobbitt Severs Her Husband’s Penis[02610] [c]Violence;June 23, 1993: Lorena Bobbitt Severs Her Husband’s Penis[02610] [c]Psychology and psychiatry;June 23, 1993: Lorena Bobbitt Severs Her Husband’s Penis[02610] [c]Women’s issues;June 23, 1993: Lorena Bobbitt Severs Her Husband’s Penis[02610] [c]Law and the courts;June 23, 1993: Lorena Bobbitt Severs Her Husband’s Penis[02610] Reardon, David C.

Lorena Bobbitt and John Wayne Bobbitt.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

After severing John’s penis, Lorena immediately left the apartment while clutching the organ in her hand. She drove a short distance before rolling down the car window and throwing the penis into a neighboring field. She then returned home and called 911 to report the incident. The police conducted an extensive search for the severed organ. Upon finding it in the field, they packed it in ice and brought it to the hospital, where John had been taken after the attack. After more than nine hours of surgery, two surgeons were able to reattach John’s severed penis.

Lorena was charged with felony malicious wounding and could have been sentenced to twenty years in prison. Because the attack allegedly was in response to years of abuse by John, he, too, was charged with a crime—marital sexual assault. John was acquitted of the sexual assault in September, 1993, and Lorena entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. During trial, she testified that her husband abused her physically and mentally, raped her, and was unfaithful. She also said that John forced her to have an abortion one year into their marriage, which left her emotionally scarred. Several witnesses testified on Lorena’s behalf and confirmed her claims of abuse. She became one of the first to argue insanity as a defense in a case of battered woman syndrome (or battered person syndrome), whereby a battered person becomes unable to take action to stop repeated physical or psychological abuse, or both.

Despite its seeming popularity, the insanity defense is rarely used in criminal cases and is not likely to be successful. Meeting the legal definition of insanity is difficult in most states. Lorena, however, was successful in her case. A jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity based on the state of Virginia’s irresistible impulse test. Irresistible impulse is a test of a person’s volition (movement or action) and loss of control rather than his or her knowledge of right and wrong. Many state statutes provide that insanity is not a defense if the person committing the crime knows and understands the difference between right and wrong at the time the crime is committed. Lorena knew that what she did was wrong, and her insanity defense would have failed in most states. However, under Virginia’s irresistible impulse test, Lorena only needed to show that she was unable to control her behavior because of a mental “defect.”

Lorena’s attorneys argued that at the time of the crime she was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that she believed she had to escape from her husband—and his penis—because of past abuse. Lorena’s condition was supported by experts who claimed that her impulse to sever her husband’s penis became irresistible after the rape that same evening.

One defense expert, David C. Reardon, testified that Lorena may have snapped because of her forced abortion from years earlier. Lorena told Reardon that she continued to have flashbacks about the abortion, and Reardon suggested that she was suffering from a mental condition known as postabortion trauma. Lorena also claimed that she had been having anxiety attacks and abdominal cramps days before the attack on her husband, symptoms Reardon interpreted as characteristic of PTSD and likely caused by the forced abortion. Finally, he suggested that Lorena’s fear that she would not be able to have children in the future because of the abortion also contributed to her temporary insanity and inability to control her behavior. He compared Lorena’s forced abortion to sexual mutilation and testified that Lorena was seeking retribution against her husband by castrating him.

On January 21, 1994, Lorena was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Virginia law required that she be sent to a mental hospital for observation and diagnosis to determine if she should remain institutionalized or be released. She spent forty-five days in a state mental facility and, based on reports from the psychiatric hospital, was ordered released because she no longer posed a danger to herself or others. Lorena, however, was required to have weekly outpatient therapy and was forbidden to leave the state.

Impact

Lorena and John Bobbitt were divorced in 1995 and Lorena resumed her birth name, Gallo. Although Lorena became a symbol for women’s self-defense against domestic abuse, she continued to have legal problems. In 1997, she was charged with assaulting her mother with a punch while her mother was watching television. Four months after the incident, Lorena was found guilty of the assault.

About a year after having surgery to reattach his penis, John was declared fully recovered. Needing money to pay for his medical costs, he formed a musical band called the Severed Parts. The band was not successful, however, so he turned to making Pornography;and John Wayne Bobbitt[Bobbitt] pornographic films, including John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut (1994) and Frankenpenis (1996). This venture failed as well. John has had various jobs since the attack, including bartender, mover, tow-truck operator, brothel employee, and chapel minister, and also had more legal problems. He was convicted of several crimes, including domestic abuse, assault and battery, and larceny, and he violated his parole.

The media sensationalized the Bobbitt case, and it became a humorist’s treasure trove. New words were coined from the case, and the Bobbitt name, which became synonymous with male castration, has been mentioned in musical lyrics, books of fiction, and on television shows. One common motto following the scandal was “Lorena Bobbitt for Surgeon General.” Even though Lorena used a violent method to defend herself against her husband, feminist and women’s groups defended her, and she became a sort of hero.

The media’s attention to the Bobbitt case brought to light domestic violence, the psychological impact of forced abortions, marital rape, and battered woman syndrome. All became topics of national debate and discussion. For many, Lorena’s attack was an understandable act of self-defense, and it has since come to symbolize the anger, rage, and resentment felt by abused women and has come to justify their fighting back against their abusers. Bobbitt, Lorena Bobbitt, John Wayne Penis severing Rape;of Lorena Bobbitt[Bobbitt] Rape;spousal Marriage;Lorena Bobbitt[Bobbitt]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davoli, Joanmarie. “Reconsidering the Consequences of an Insanity Acquittal.” New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement 31, no. 1 (Winter, 2005): 3-14. A journal article that examines the use of the insanity defense in light of studies of the effects of acquittals based on a person’s claim of insanity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pershing, Linda. “His Wife Seized His Prize and Cut It to Size: Folk and Popular Commentary on Lorena Bobbitt.” National Women’s Studies Association Journal 8, no. 3 (Fall, 1996): 1-35. Contrary to this article’s fun-and-games title, the discussion focuses on the academic topic of language use in popular culture in the aftermath of the Bobbitt scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ragle, Larry. Crime Scene. New York: Avon Books, 2002. Explores the collection of crime-scene evidence and the role of forensic science and medical technology in solving unusual crimes, including the Bobbitt case.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walker, Lenore E. A. The Battered Woman Syndrome. 2d ed. New York: Springer, 2000. Walker explains the characteristics of battered woman syndrome, its relation to post-traumatic stress disorder, and its use in insanity-defense cases.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Westervelt, Saundra Davis. Shifting the Blame: How Victimization Became a Criminal Defense. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998. Discussion of the insanity defense, as employed by abuse victims, including Lorena Bobbitt. Also discusses verdicts of not guilty by reason of insanity in cases of spousal abuse.

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