By Michelle, Administrative Assistant and former Advocate at The Hotline
On Sunday, March 11, 2018 FOX aired a special, never-before-seen interview with O. J. Simpson where he discussed his relationship with ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, who was brutally murdered in her Brentwood, CA home, along with Ron Goldman, in June 1994. In this interview, Simpson describes what he called a hypothetical account of what may have happened that night, if he had been the killer. Whether you believe O.J. Simpson is guilty or innocent, there were several themes from this interview that are all-too-common in many abusive relationships.
Gift-giving: O.J. describes a whirlwind courtship with Nicole where he purchased many expensive gifts to win her over at the beginning of their relationship. Abusive relationships can tend to move very quickly in their early stages, maybe even faster than the survivor is comfortable with. Many survivors report being swept off their feet by abusers, showered with gifts and affection like they’ve never experienced, and it can be a very exciting and intoxicating feeling. But abusers are master manipulators, and this affectionate behavior can be part of their strategy to ultimately gain power and control—a new partner may be more willing to accept their abusive “flaws” after they have shown so much generosity. Some abusers may also dote on their partners with gifts as a way to apologize for the abuse after the fact. O. J. often mentioned the gifts he purchased for Nicole as evidence of what a great partner he had been and how lucky Nicole was to be with him, almost as if she owed him for his financial support. It’s important to remember that your safety is priceless—you are never your partner’s property, no matter how much they spend on you.
Intimidation: O. J. describes an incident in 1984 where he damaged Nicole’s car with a baseball bat, saying he doesn’t know why everyone made such a big deal out of it. In his version of events, he was standing next to her car (which he mentions several times that he purchased for her), bouncing the bat off the tire, when Nicole warned him he would have to pay for any damage he made to the car. O.J. became upset that she would suggest he would have to pay for damage when he had been the one to purchase the car. To prove his point that he could do anything he wanted to his property, O.J. took the bat to the car. The police report notes a smashed windshield, and some accounts place Nicole inside the car at the time of the incident. Commentator Rita Smith astutely pointed out that even if O. J.’s version is true, simply standing next to the car with a baseball bat during a fight can in itself be a threatening act, “Subtle, and not so subtle, forms of violence are used to continue to keep control over their victim. So him just bouncing the bat off of the tire, initially, was a subtle message: I am in charge. I will determine the framework for this relationship. I will decide what happens, when it happens. You will not, or you will die.”
By trying to downplay the incident as not being a big deal, O. J. is attempting to minimize his own unhealthy and threatening behaviors rather than taking responsibility for his actions. He later chalks his reaction that night up to his “volatile temper.” While anger can contribute to an abusive situation, it does not cause abuse. Everyone gets angry, but not everyone makes the choice to engage in violent and abusive behaviors as a way to cope with those feelings. By blaming his actions on his temper, O. J. again seeks to avoid responsibility for his choices.
Rewriting the narrative: O. J. describes several incidents where Nicole “misunderstood” or “overreacted” to his unhealthy and threatening behavior; he even cites her “explosive personality” as a reason their arguments became violent. Even if Nicole reacted violently at times, it would not have excused O. J.’s choices. Nicole’s friend and commentator on the show, Eve Shakti Chen, mentioned that Nicole was definitely not violent and tended to withdraw when attacked, so it is likely that O. J.’s attempt to reframe Nicole as a combative person is another way he seeks to avoid responsibility for his abusive behavior.
Abusers often try to minimize their partner’s emotions or even blame victims for the abuse, which allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. This behavior can be a form of gaslighting, an emotionally abusive tactic where the abuser aims to make the victim question their feelings, memories, and experiences in order to gain power and control over them. While we can see survivors adopt violent reactions as a defense against the abuse they are experiencing, there is no such thing as mutual abuse, as one partner always has more power and control in the relationship.
Another area we can see this type of manipulation come into play is in abusers’ relationships with their partners’ family members. Since an isolated partner is more easily controlled, abusers usually seek to damage their partners’ relationships with those in their support system. Denise, Nicole’s sister, was very protective of her and critical of her relationship with O. J. He mentions that he tried warning Nicole about Denise’s “jealousy,” aiming to discredit her support by reframing her as a threat to Nicole. O. J. again dismisses Denise as being jealous when discussing her in his interview, hoping to discredit her accusations that he is to blame for Nicole’s murder.
Legal issues: Viewers of the program saw shocking photos of Nicole’s injuries after O. J. assaulted her on New Year’s 1989, which later required a trip to the hospital. When police arrived, Nicole ran out of the bushes, yelling, “He’s going to kill me!” She expressed frustration that police had not taken any action against her partner, despite this being the ninth time they had been called to the Simpson residence for domestic violence-related issues. O. J. was later arrested and charged with spousal abuse, plead no contest and was sentenced to 120 hours community service, two years probation, and a $700 fine. A New York Times article describes the preferential treatment O. J. was given during sentencing, and the leniency with which his sentence was enforced, “That arrangement was characterized by domestic violence experts today as highly unusual and ineffective.” Nicole told many of her friends and family about the abuse she experienced both before and after this assault. Their written testimony was later submitted as evidence during O. J.’s murder trial. O. J. and Nicole later decided to get a divorce, but Nicole would not allow the abuse to be discussed during the proceedings. O. J. mentions in his interview that he appreciates how Nicole “wouldn’t lie” about him abusing her, implying that her many calls to the police, stories to friends, and even documentation of abuse were all made under false pretenses. Interviewer Judith Regan suggests that Nicole may have been too scared to be honest about her abuse during the divorce; indeed, many survivors may fear retaliation from their partners if they are truthful about their experiences.
While calling the police or pursuing legal action against an abuser are not always the safest or even best options for survivors, safely documenting the abuse in the moment with photos or witness statements as Nicole did can help to build evidence against an abuser in the event legal action (including custody proceedings) is taken down the line. Should a survivor choose to document what they’re experiencing, it’s crucial to find safe ways to do so. Assisting a survivor in safely documenting can be a great way for concerned friends or family members to support someone in an abusive relationship, as long as the survivor expresses wanting that kind of support. Unless someone is in immediate danger, we discourage involving the police on behalf of someone else unless they have asked you to do so. If you need help finding ways to safely document an abusive situation, please reach out to one of our advocates today.
Stalking: Unfortunately, divorce is not usually enough to stop an abuser from seeking power and control over their ex-partner, and they may find new and different ways to abuse once the relationship has ended. We often see emotionally abusive behaviors such as stalking, which is loosely defined as “any course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” O. J. described several incidents where he claims he coincidentally ran into Nicole, but Nicole shared with friends that she felt he was stalking her, showing up everywhere she went. In his interview, O. J. talks about a time when he showed up at Nicole’s house, only to watch her having sex with a new partner through the window before knocking on her door to interrupt them. By following and watching Nicole after their break up, O. J. continued to assert power and control over her, and his behavior was emotionally abusive. O. J. also discussed an incident in which he physically broke down Nicole’s door to talk to her about behavior of hers he did not approve of. Nicole’s 911 call from that night was featured on FOX’s program, and O. J. can be heard in the background making threats, yelling, and calling her names. While O. J. justified his actions as being necessary to protect his children, that reasoning does not excuse his behavior. If O. J. had concerns about Nicole’s parenting, he had the option to discuss them with her respectfully. Putting her in physical danger, breaking both physical and emotional boundaries and trying to control her choices were abusive decisions that he made, and they were not Nicole’s fault.
Reconciliation: O. J. and Nicole separated and got back together several times over the course of their relationship. While many people think it is easy for a survivor to walk away from an abusive relationship, that is not usually the case. There are many reasons a survivor may choose to reconcile or stay with an abuser, including wanting their children to have a full, loving relationship with both parents, as Nicole did. It takes survivors an average of seven attempts at ending an abusive relationship before ending it for good.
Blaming it on love: O. J. wrote about Nicole in a note to his lawyer, Rob Kardashian, “If we had a problem, it’s because I loved her so much.” We often see the jealous or protective partner romanticized in our society, and abusers may claim to be acting out of love. While love can definitely exist in an abusive relationship, it does not excuse abuse in any way. In healthy relationships, partners trust one another to make their own choices and never jeopardize their partner’s safety, even when they’re upset.
If themes from O. J. and Nicole’s story felt familiar to you, please call or chat with an advocate today. Advocates can help you identify abusive behaviors, develop a personalized safety plan, connect with local legal resources, and so much more. Call or chat with us 24/7/365 by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or chatting with us by selecting, “Chat Now” at the top of our website.