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.
Andrea Dworkin Los Angeles Times (January 1995)