October is both LGBT History Month and National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and for lesbian filmmakers Renee Sotile and Mary Jo Godges, the intersection of the two issues is deeply personal.
Nicole Brown Simpson, the divorced wife of former football star OJ Simpson, and her friend, restaurant waiter Ron Goldman, were found brutally murdered on June 13, 1994 outside her home in Brentwood. OJ Simpson was arrested and after a controversial televised trial, was acquitted of their murders on Oct. 3, 1995.
Just as women the world over were triggered by the testimony of sexual abuse survivor Professor Christine Blasey Ford in the Brett Kavanaugh Senate hearings, the trial testimony about how OJ Simpson abused and threatened Nicole triggered victims of domestic violence. So many women came out about their experiences, then-District Attorney Gil Garcetti (father of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti) took to the airwaves to publicize the DA’s Family Violence Division, which Garcetti created the previous year.
During that time, Renee Sotile worked as a news cameraperson for local TV stations, covering the murder trial for more than 100 days. “Sotile never forgot the impact Nicole Brown Simpson’s death made on her. Imprinted in her mind are the shocked and heartbreaking expressions on the faces of Nicole’s family. She and Mary Jo Godges want the world to remember Nicole and all women who suffered and continue to suffer from domestic abuse,” they write on their “I Remember Nicole” Facebook page.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Nicole’s murder, Sotile, a two-time Emmy winner, and her tech-savvy spouse Godges dedicated more than a year to producing a moving music video “to bring a resonating voice to the voiceless” that they hope will “raise awareness and empower victims” to reclaim their power over domestic violence. The video features an original song written by Sotile & Godges and Pat & Pete Luboff and is performed by American Idol Hollie Cavanagh and Melodye Perry, who, they say, is the “daughter of music legend Edna Wright and niece of music legend Darlene Love, for music aficionados.”
There are some familiar faces in the video, such as lesbian icon Ivy Bottini and LGBT ally Pauley Perrette to illustrate that domestic violence is not relegated to straight couples.
“Domestic abuse and violence, also known as intimate partner abuse and violence, is a pattern of behavior in which an intimate partner or former partner attempts to control the thoughts, beliefs, and/or actions of his/her partner. It may include physical, sexual, psychological, and/or financial abuse and it’s just as common among same-sex couples as it is among heterosexual couples,” according to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (1-800-799-7233). Abusive partners in LGBTQ relationships use all the same tactics to gain power and control as abusive partners in heterosexual relationships — physical, sexual or emotional abuse, financial control, isolation and more. But abusive partners in LGBTQ relationships also reinforce their tactics that maintain power and control with societal factors that compound the complexity a survivor faces in leaving or getting safe in an LGBTQ relationship.”
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline outlines the Tactics of Power & Control
- “Outing” a partner’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Abusive partners in LGBTQ relationships may threaten to ‘out’ victims to family members, employers, community members and others.
- Saying that no one will help the victim because s/he is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or that for this reason, the partner “deserves” the abuse.
- Justifying the abuse with the notion that a partner is not “really” lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (i.e. the victim may once have had/may still have relationships, or express a gender identity, inconsistent with the abuser’s definitions of these terms). This can be used both as a tool in verbal and emotional abuse as well as to further the isolation of a victim from the community.
- Monopolizing support resources through an abusive partner’s manipulation of friends and family supports and generating sympathy and trust in order to cut off these resources to the victim. This is a particular issue to members of the LGBTQ community where they may be fewer specific resources, neighborhoods or social outlets.
- Portraying the violence as mutual and even consensual, or as an expression of masculinity or some other “desirable” trait.
Sotile and Godges premiered “I Remember Nicole” during a special West Hollywood presentation Oct. 1. On hand for the ceremony was Nicole’s sister Tanya Brown.
“You portrayed Nicole so beautifully in this video,” Tanya Brown told Sotile and Godges. “But first and foremost, I really want to say—being part of the Brown family, everybody was invasive and intrusive and very few people respected our privacy and what we were going through. These two ladies – every step of the way of this project, you were more concerned about ‘are you OK with this?’ ‘Is it OK if we put this in?’ And so from the bottom of my heart, I really want to say, thank you for respecting me, my family – but more so, Nicole.”
If you need help, call the 24-hour national domestic violence hotline at 888-799-7233 (SAFE).
Also, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s STOP Domestic Violence and/or Domestic Violence Legal Advocacy Project offers services by LGBT-domestic violence specialists, including certified domestic violence counselors and mental health professionals and attorneys who have been trained in LGBT-domestic violence issues.