I can’t believe that 20 years have passed already.
There are important historical events that are forever etched in our brains. We remember where we were, and how they changed our world.
When AIDS became a major health threat (1981).
And most of all, I remember when Nicole Brown-Simpson, former wife of sports star OJ Simpson, was found murdered on June 12, 1994.
At the time, I was working as a battered women’s advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. I worked in the same shelter I’d found refuge at with my little daughters four years earlier. I facilitated support groups for victims, helped them get restraining orders in court. The part of my job I loved best was giving community presentations about domestic violence.
Back then, no one wanted to talk about domestic violence.
That all changed when Nicole Brown-Simpson was found butchered at her home in 1994. This, following a fifteen year-long abusive marriage that began when she was a pregnant teenager.
Why does a social issue need to happen to a famous person to become significant? Domestic violence was the leading cause of injury to women ages 15-44 back then, according to Surgeon General Koop, “more than rapes, muggings, and traffic accidents combined.”
And yet, it remained a dirty little secret.
The months and years following Nicole Brown Simpson’s death, phone lines were clogged at shelters all over the country.
“I’ve been pushed and slapped. Is this abuse?” Or, “My husband’s been threatening to kill me. What can I do? I have no money.”
And presentation requests? Through the roof. Grant money fell from the heavens, and soon, we expanded domestic violence programming to include hospital emergency response teams and a safe home program for Alaska Native women.
I would like to say that domestic violence advocates worked with the community to make lasting changes. I think it’s true. There was something that resonated about this beautiful and rich young mother of two who predicted her own murder, called the police repeatedly, and was slaughtered anyhow.
The messages we learned to tell our abused friends and loved ones?
You’re not alone
You deserve to be treated well.
It’s not your fault.
There are people and agencies that can help you.
We also learned what not to say.
You should leave.
Forgive him. He looks so sad.
What’s wrong with you?
History has taught that the most dangerous time in a violent relationship is just before or just after leaving it. So we advocates, we family members, we friends must remember to hold our tongues and keep our advice to ourselves.
Do you know someone who is being abused?