Category Archives: Personal Stories

Speaker discusses personal experiences in abusive marriage

Kansas State Collegian/March 15, 2000
By Kelly Glasscock

Hedda Nussbaum, a victim of domestic violence, tells her story Tuesday evening to an audience in Union Forum Hall. There are 572,000 reports of domestic violence each year.

It wasn’t supposed to happen.

Her mom was a housewife, her dad a barber and neither of them ever hit Hedda Nussbaum or used drugs or alcohol.

Nussbaum, the baby of the family, grew up shy, trusting and a little chubby, she thought.

“My childhood was so normal, it was boring,” she said.

But because of this upbringing, she said, she became ready for meeting someone abusive.

Domestic violence was the topic of the speech she gave Tuesday night in Union Forum Hall. The speech was sponsored by Union Program Council’s Issues and Ideas Committee.

Nussbaum first made the news in 1987, when police arrested her and her companion, a lawyer named Joel Steinberg, after finding their 6-year-old adopted daughter comatose. Their daughter, Lisa, had been beaten by Steinberg repeatedly that day.

However, she was not the only one abused.

Steinberg repeatedly abused Nussbaum for 10 years, leaving her with a ruptured spleen, a broken knee, broken ribs, broken teeth, a cauliflower ear and endless scars.

During the time they were together, Nussbaum wasn’t allowed to leave the house or eat without his permission, and she sometimes had to sleep in the bathtub or on the floor without a blanket.

“Now, it’s just incredible how low I had sunk without realizing it,” she said. “I became a walking zombie, and I was unable to save Lisa on November 2, 1987, when Joel hit her.”

After she left the police station that night, she was surprised to see the press outside. She said she was so brainwashed that she did not understand why all those people were making such a fuss about her hospitalized daughter.

The press, some feminists and others accused Nussbaum of causing Lisa’s death. They asked why she couldn’t just walk out.

Warning signs of an abusive partner

He’s pushing the relationship too far, too fast. Is planning your future together from the moment you meet.

He hates his mother and is nasty to her. Chances are he’ll treat you the same way.

He wants your undivided attention at all times.

You feel controlled because he must always “be in charge.”

He’s very competitive and always has to win.

He breaks promises all the time.

He can’t take criticism and always justifies his actions.

He blames someone else for anything that goes wrong — often that someone is you.

He’s jealous of you close friends and family members.

He’s jealous of any man you talk to, always asks you where you went and whom you saw.

He has extreme highs and lows — both unpredictable.

He has a nasty temper.

He has no respect for your opinion and always says you don’t know what you’re talking about.

He makes you feel like you’re not good enough.

He withdraws his love or approval as punishment.

He pushes you to do things that make you feel uneasy — like taking the day off from school or work or doing something illegal.

While 95 percent of abusers are men, 5 percent are women. Men in abusive relationships are also encouraged to seek help.

“With a battered woman, it’s not a matter of ‘just,'” she said. “Now why didn’t I see this? The reason is, abuse is subtle and gradual.”

Nussbaum said many women are scared to leave these types of relationships, and people have to understand that the level of abuse gradually grows over a period of several years. By the time this happened, she was severely brainwashed, she said.

She didn’t meet Steinberg until she was in her 30s. Prior to that, she had dated throughout college and received several marriage proposals, but none were Mr. Right, she said.

They met in 1975, and she was very attracted to his charismatic ways and vibrant eyes.

“I just fell for him right away,” she said.

But after a while, Steinberg began criticizing who she was. He would sit down with her and critique her social skills. He would act as a therapist and tell her what she should do and what she should say.

Nussbaum was flattered and pleased that she had become more outgoing and had received promotions and raises at work.

“I gave Joel all the credit for all these things that were happening,” she said. “He was my savior.”

It was three years before Steinberg hit her. He smacked her with the heel of his hand and seemed sorry, but never said the words, she said.

The next morning, she had a black eye and was worried what people at work would think. She went to the hospital, and after telling the doctor that her boyfriend had hit her, she regretted it. So she had the doctor cross out the reason for her black eye.

This was Nussbaum’s first rejection of reality.

“There is always a next time,” she said. “Women tend to think that it will never happen again, but it always does.”

There was a honeymoon period in Nussbaum’s life after she and Steinberg decided to adopt Lisa. But the abuse started up again, and Nussbaum was fired from her job because she didn’t show up, trying to cover her black eyes.

Then the mental abuse escalated.

Steinberg convinced Nussbaum that she had done horrible sexual things, and that she didn’t remember it because of her amnesia.

He also made her believe that her family was evil and the root of her behavior. He would make her smoke freebase cocaine with him, make her take ice-cold baths and hit her over the head every night with an exercise bar.

Nussbaum had to leave.

She did, five times, but returned every time. She sometimes would call him when she ran away to make sure he wasn’t worried about her.

During all these years, Nussbaum never told anyone the truth. She said she didn’t know why her family didn’t find out or why the police, when they visited her twice, didn’t take notice.

Those days are gone for Nussbaum.

Gone are the days of the trial, when she was granted immunity if she testified against Steinberg, and gone are the days of recovery, when she was placed in a psychiatric hospital.

Today, Nussbaum speaks out against violence and is the editor of Women’s News, a monthly publication distributed in northern New York.

Janet Bozarth, senior in English and Issues and Ideas Committee chairwoman, said the committee decided to bring Nussbaum to K-State because domestic violence is such a serious issue.

“The Issue and Ideas Committee is really here to make students think,” she said. “Sometimes it helps to have a controversial speaker, because we can look at an issue more deeply and from different angles.”

Nussbaum said she doesn’t have a boyfriend now, but she’s not afraid to have one.

“I’m not scared of it, but men are scared of me,” she said.

However, Nussbaum is concentrating her efforts on informing people on domestic violence for Lisa.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t see,” she said. “I’m sorry it’s too late to see. But we can help others.”

Trying to Flee

Los Angeles Times/October 8, 1995
By Andrea Dworkin

Five days before Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered on June 12, 1994, she called a battered women’s shelter in terror that her ex-husband was going to kill her. The jury was not told this, because she couldn’t be cross-examined. Guess not. Most of the rest of the evidence of beating and stalking, from 1977 to May, 1994, was also excluded.

O.J. Simpson had stalked her not once, as represented to the jury, but over at least a two-year period. Prosecutors had been permitted to introduce seven incidents of stalking, but they chose to admit only one into evidence. The jury, predominantly women, was not responding to the wife-abuse evidence, said observers. In fact, during an interview late last week, one woman juror called the domestic-abuse issue “a waste of time.” Polls during the trial confirmed women were indifferent to the beatings Nicole Simpson endured.

I was battered over a four-year period nearly 25 years ago, and am still haunted by fear and flashbacks. As a woman who escaped an assassin husband, I agreed with Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher A. Darden that, in 1989, Nicole Simpson knew someday her husband would kill her. She’d told many people, including her sister, Denise, that he’d kill her and get away with it. In fact, you can take a battered woman’s knowledge of her abuser’s capacity to inflict harm and evade consequences to the bank.

But five days before Nicole Simpson was murdered, she knew, for sure, she would die. How? Why? Something had happened: a confrontation, a threatening phone call, an unwanted visit, an aggressive act from Simpson directed at her. She told no one, because, after 17 years of torment, she knew there was no one to tell. The police virtually everywhere ignore assault against women by their male intimates, so that any husband can be a brutal cop with tacit state protection; in Los Angeles, the police visited Nicole Simpson’s abuser at home as fans.

Remember the video showing Simpson, after the ballet recital, with the Brown family–introduced by the defense to show Simpson’s pleasant demeanor. Hours later, Nicole Simpson was dead. In the video, she is as far from Simpson, physically, as she can manage. He does not nod or gesture to her. He kisses her mother, embraces and kisses her sister and bear-hugs her father. They all reciprocate. She must have been the loneliest woman in the world.

What would Nicole Simpson have had to do to be safe? Go underground, change her appearance and identity, get cash without leaving a trail, take her children and run–all within days of her call to the shelter. She would have had to end all communication with family and friends, without explanation, for years, as well as leave her home and everything familiar.

With this abuser’s wealth and power, he would have had her hunted down; a dream team of lawyers would have taken her children from her. She would have been the villain–reckless, a slut, reviled for stealing the children of a hero. If his abuse of her is of no consequence now that she’s been murdered, how irrelevant would it have been as she, resourceless, tried to make a court and the public understand she needed to run for her life?

Nicole Simpson knew she couldn’t prevail, and she didn’t try. Instead of running, she did what the therapists said: Be firm, draw a line. So she drew the sort of line they meant. He could come to the recital but not sit with her or go to dinner with her family–a line that was no defense against death. Believing he would kill her, she did what most battered women do: kept up the appearance of normality. There was no equal justice for her, no self-defense she felt entitled to. Society had already left her to die.

On the same day the police who beat Rodney G. King were acquitted in Simi Valley, a white husband who had raped, beaten, and tortured his wife, also white, was acquitted of marital rape in South Carolina. He had kept her tied to a bed for hours, her mouth gagged with adhesive tape. He videotaped a half hour of her ordeal, during which he cut her breasts with a knife. The jury, which saw the videotape, had eight women on it. Asked why they acquitted, they said he needed help. They looked right through the victim. There were no riots afterward.

The governing reality for women of all races is that there is no escape from male violence, because it is inside and outside, intimate and predatory. While race hate has been expressed through forced segregation, woman hate is expressed through forced closeness, which makes punishment swift, easy and sure. In private, women often empathize with one another, across race and class, because their experiences with men are so much the same. But in public, including on juries, women rarely dare. For this reason, no matter how many women are battered–no matter how many football stadiums battered women could fill on any given day–each one is alone.

Surrounded by family, friends and a community of affluent acquaintances, Nicole Simpson was alone. Having turned to police, prosecutors, victim’s aid, therapists and a women’s shelter, she was still alone. Ronald L. Goldman may have been the only person in 17 years with the courage to try to intervene physically in an attack on her; and he’s dead, killed by the same hand that killed her, an expensively gloved, extra-large hand.

Though the legal system has mostly consoled and protected batterers, when a woman is being beaten, it’s the batterer who has to be stopped; as Malcolm X used to say, by any means necessary–a principle women, all women, had better learn. A woman has a right to her own bed, a home she can’t be thrown out of and for her body not to be ransacked and broken into. She has a right to safe refuge, to expect her family and friends to stop the batterer–by law or force–before she’s dead. She has a constitutional right to a gun and a legal right to kill if she believes she’s going to be killed. And a batterer’s repeated assaults should lawfully be taken as intent to kill.

Everybody’s against wife abuse, but who’s prepared to stop it?

Testimony Opens in Simpson Trial with Account of Physical Abuse

The Washington Post/February 1, 1995
By William Claiborne

Los Angeles — The prosecution Tuesday opened testimony in its murder case against O.J. Simpson with a methodical recounting of the physical and mental abuse it claims Simpson inflicted on his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson before he allegedly killed her and her friend Ronald L. Goldman last June.

The first three witnesses whom prosecutor Christopher Darden put on the stand after seven months of pretrial hearings and jury selection provided the jury with details of a much-publicized incident early on the morning of Jan. 1, 1989, in which Simpson allegedly beat his then-wife. Simpson later pleaded no contest to a charge of spousal battery.

Police detective John Edwards testified that when he arrived at Simpson’s estate that morning, a trembling Nicole Brown Simpson emerged from the bushes, wearing only a bra and sweat pants, with a cut lip and bruised forehead. “He’s going to kill me!” he said she cried.

Lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. suggested to Edwards that she was drunk that night and that the couple may have merely been engaged in a “mutual wrestling match,” as O.J. Simpson later claimed. But the detective did not budge from his account.

Throughout the first long day of testimony, prosecutors made no mention of the killings, underscoring the strategy they had signaled in their opening statement last week.

Most of Tuesday’s testimony about the 1989 New Year’s incident had been disclosed in pretrial proceedings. A notable exception was Edwards’ assertion that Nicole Simpson told him her beating was preceded by an argument over her husband’s having had sex that night with one of two other women living in their house.

The prosecution’s first witness was Sharyn Gilbert, the 911 emergency operator who took Nicole Simpson’s telephone call early that morning and almost immediately entered in her computer: “Female being beaten at location could be heard over the phone.”

Gilbert said she heard a woman screaming and “someone being hit.” She immediately broadcast an urgent radio call for any police car in West Los Angeles to respond to the Simpsons’ estate in fashionable Brentwood.

In Nicole Brown Simpson’s Words

Los Angeles Times/January 29, 1995
By Andrea Dworkin

Words matter. O.J. Simpson’s defense team asked Judge Lance A. Ito to order the prosecution to say domestic discord rather than domestic violence or even spousal abuse–already euphemisms for wife-beating–and to disallow the words battered wife and stalker. Ito refused to alter reality by altering language but some media complied–for example, “Rivera Live,” where domestic discord became a new term of art. The lawyer who successfully defended William Kennedy Smith on a rape charge also used that term systematically.

Where is the victim’s voice? Where are her words? “I’m scared,” Nicole Brown told her mother a few months before she was killed. “I go to the gas station, he’s there. I go to the Payless Shoe Store, and he’s there. I’m driving, and he’s behind me.”

Nicole’s ordinary words of fear, despair and terror told to friends, and concrete descriptions of physical attacks recorded in her diary, are being kept from the jury. Insignificant when she was alive–because they didn’t save her–the victim’s words remain insignificant in death: excluded from the trial of her accused murderer, called “hearsay” and not admissible in a legal system that has consistently protected or ignored the beating and sexual abuse of women by men, especially by husbands.

Nicole called a battered women’s shelter five days before her death. The jury will not have to listen–but we must. Evidence of the attacks on her by Simpson that were witnessed in public will be allowed at trial. But most of what a batterer does is in private. The worst beatings, the sustained acts of sadism, have no witnesses. Only she knows. To refuse to listen to Nicole Brown Simpson is to refuse to know.

The law, including the FBI, and social scientists used to maintain that wife-beating did not exist in the United States. But in recent years, the FBI acknowledged that wife-beating is this country’s most commonly committed violent crime.

Such a change happens this way. First, there is a terrible and intimidating silence–it can last centuries. Inside that silence, men have a legal or a tacit right to beat their wives. Then, with the support of a strong political movement, victims of the abuse speak out about what has been done to them and by whom. They break the silence. One day, enough victims have spoken–sometimes in words, sometimes by running away or seeking refuge or striking back or killing in self-defense–that they can be counted and studied: Social scientists find a pattern of injury and experts describe it.

The words of experts matter. They are listened to respectfully, are often paid to give evidence in legal cases. Meanwhile, the voice of the victim still has no social standing or legal significance. She still has no credibility such that each of us–and the law–is compelled to help her.

We blame her, as the batterer did. We ask why she stayed, though we, of course, were not prepared to stand between her and the batterer so that she could leave. And if, after she is dead, we tell the police that we heard the accused murderer beat her in 1977, and saw her with black eyes–as Nicole’s neighbors did–we will not be allowed to testify, which may be the only justice in this, since it has taken us 17 years to bother to speak at all. I was a battered wife; I had such neighbors.

Every battered woman learns early on not to expect help. A battered woman confides in someone, when she does, to leave a trail. She overcomes her fear of triggering violence in the batterer if he finds out that she has spoken in order to leave a verbal marker somewhere, with someone. She thinks the other person’s word will be believed later.

Every battered woman faces death more than once, and each time the chance is real: The batterer decides. Eventually, she’s fractured inside by the continuing degradation and her emotional world is a landscape of desperation. Of course, she smiles in public and is a good wife. He insists–and so do we.

The desperation is part fear–fear of pain, fear of dying–and part isolation, a brutal aloneness, because everything has failed–every call for help to anyone, every assumption about love, every hope for self-respect and even a shred of dignity. What dignity is there, after all, in confessing, as Nicole did in her diary, that O.J. started beating her on a street in New York and, in their hotel room, “continued to beat me for hours as I kept crawling for the door.” He kept hitting her while sexually using her, which is rape–because no meaningful consent is possible or plausible in the context of this violence.

Every battered woman’s life has in it many rapes like this one. Sometimes, one complies without the overt violence but in fear of it. Or sometimes, one initiates sex to try to stop or head off a beating. Of course, there are also the so-called good times–when romance overcomes the memory of violence. Both the violation and the complicity make one deeply ashamed. The shame is corrosive. Whatever the batterer left, it attacks. Why would one tell? How can one face it?

Those of us who are not jurors have a moral obligation to listen to Nicole Simpson’s words: to how O.J. Simpson locked her in a wine closet after beating her and watched TV while she begged him to let her out; to how, in a different hotel room, “O.J. threw me against the walls . . . and on the floor. Put bruises on my arm and back. The window scared me. Thought he’d throw me out.” We need to hear how he “threw a fit, chased me, grabbed me, threw me into walls. Threw all my clothes out of the window into the street three floors below. Bruised me.” We need to hear how he stalked her after their divorce. “Everywhere I go,” she told a friend, “he shows up. I really think he is going to kill me.”

We need, especially, to hear her call to a battered women’s shelter five days before her murder. In ruling that call inadmissible, Ito said: “To the man or woman on the street, the relevance and probative value of such evidence is both obvious and compelling . . . . However, the laws and appellate-court decisions that must be applied . . . held otherwise.” The man and woman on the street need to hear what was obvious to her: The foreknowledge that death was stalking her.

We need to believe Nicole’s words to know the meaning of terror–it isn’t a movie of the week–and to face the treason we committed against her life by abandoning her.

When I was being beaten by a shrewd and dangerous man 25 years ago, I was buried alive in silence. I didn’t know that such horror had ever happened to anyone else. The silence was unbreachable and unbearable. Imagine Nicole being buried alive, then dead, in noise–our pro-woman, pro-equality noise; or our pro-family, pro-law-and-order noise. For what it’s worth–to Nicole nothing–the shame of battery is all ours.

Letter from Nicole Brown Simpson to O.J. Simpson

(This letter was introduced in Simpson’s civil trial)

 

O.J. — I think I have to put this all in a letter. Alot of years ago I used to do much better in a letter, I’m gonna try it again now.

I’d like you to keep this letter if we split, so that you’ll always know why we split. I’d also like you to keep it if we stay together, as a reminder.

Right now I am so angry! If I didn’t know that the courts would take Sydney and Justin away from me if I did this I would (expletive) every guy including some that you know just to let you know how it feels.

I wish someone could explain all this to me. I see our marriage as a huge mistake and you don’t.

I knew what went on in our relationship before we got married. I knew after 6 years that all the things I thought were going on — were! All the things I gave in to — all the “I’m sorry for thinking that” “I’m sorry for not believing you” — “I’m sorry for not trusting you.”

I made up with you all the time & even took the blame many times for your cheating. I know this took place because we fought about it alot & even discussed it before we got married with my family and a minister.

OK before the marriage I lived with it & dealt with (illegible) mainly because you finally said that we weren’t married at the time.

I assumed that your recurring nasty attitude & mean streak was to cover up your cheating and a general disrespect for women and a lack of manners!

I remember a long time ago a girlfriend of yours wrote you a letter — she said well you aren’t married yet so let’s get together. Even she had the same idea of marriage as me. She believed that when you marry you wouldn’t be going out anymore — adultery is a very important thing to many people.

It’s one of the 1st 10 things I learned at Sunday school. You said it (illegible) some things you learn at school stick! And the 10 Commandments did!

I wanted to be a wonderful wife!

I believed you that it would finally be “you and me against the world” — that people would be envious or in awe of us because we stuck through it & finally became one a real couple.

I let my guard down — I thought it was finally gonna be you and me — you wanted a baby (so you said) and I wanted a baby — then with each pound you were terrible. You gave me dirty looks of disgust — said mean things to me at times about my appearance walked out on me and lied to me.

I remember one day my mom said “he actually thinks you can have a baby and not get fat.”

I gained 10 to 15 lbs more that I should have with Sydney. Well that’s by the book — Most women gain twice that. It’s not like it was that much — but you made me feel so ugly! I’ve battled 10 lbs up and down the scale since I was 15 — It was no more extra weight than was normal for me to be up — I believe my mom — you thought a baby weighs 7 lbs and the woman should gain 7 lbs. I’d like to finally tell you that that’s not the way it is — And had you read those books I got you on pregnancy you may have known that.

Talk about feeling alone ….

In between Sydney and Justin you say my clothes bothered you — that my shoes were on the floor that I bugged you — Wow that’s so terrible! Try I had a low self esteem because since we got married I felt like the paragraph above.

There was also that time before Justin and after few months Sydney, I felt really good about how I got back into shape and we made out. You beat the holy hell out of me & we lied at the X-ray lab and said I fell off a bike … Remember!??

Great for my self esteem.

There are a number of other instances that I could talk about that made my marriage so wonderful … like the televised Clipper game and going to (illegible) before the game & your 40th birthday party and the week leading up to it. But I don’t like talking about the past It depressed me.

Then came the pregnancy with Justin and oh how wonderful you treated me again — I remember swearing to God and myself that under no circumstances would I let you be in that delivery room.

I hated you so much.

And since Justin birth & the mad New Years Eve beat up.

I just don’t see how our stories compare — I was so bad because I wore sweats and left shoes around and didn’t keep a perfect house or comb my hair the way you liked it — or had dinner ready at the precise moment you walked through the door or that I just plain got on your nerves sometimes.

I just don’t see how that compares to infidelity, wife beating verbal abuse —

I just don’t think everybody goes through this —

And if I wanted to hurt you or had it in me to be anything like the person you are — I would have done so after the (illegible) incident. But I didn’t even do it then. I called the cops to save my life whether you believe it or not. But I didn’t pursue anything after that — I didn’t prosecute, I didn’t call the press and I didn’t make a big charade out of it. I waited for it to die down and asked for it to. But I’ve never loved you since or been the same.

It made me take a look at my life with you — my wonderful life with the superstar that wonderful man, O.J. Simpson the father of my kids — that husband of that terribly insecure (illegible) — the girl with no self esteem (illegible) of worth — she must be (illegible) those things to with a guy like that.

It certainly doesn’t take a strong person to be with a guy like that and certainly no one would be envious of that life.

I agree after we married things changed — we couldn’t have house full of people like I used to have over and barbeque for, because I had other responsibilities. I didn’t want to go to alot of events and I’d back down at the last minute on functions & trips I admit I’m sorry —

I just believe that a relationship is based on trust — and the last time I trusted you was at our wedding ceremony. It’s just so hard for me to trust you again. Even though you say you’re a different guy. That O.J. Simpson guy brought me alot of pain heartache — I tried so hard with him — I wanted so to be a good wife. But he never gave me a chance.

Note: O.J. Simpson testified he never received this letter.