“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade”: An Interview with Lorena (Bobbitt) Gallo

By Amanda Knox with Christopher Robinson

Lorena Gallo, formerly Lorena Bobbitt, became a tabloid staple and household name in the ‘90s when she was put on trial for maiming her then-husband, John Bobbitt. Her case was sensationalized, but it also brought domestic violence and intimate partner sexual assault to the forefront of national discussion. Gallo was ultimately found innocent by reason of temporary insanity resulting from the prolonged physical, sexual, and emotional abuse she suffered over the years of her marriage.

Gallo has since become an advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. She founded a non-profit charity organization called the Lorena Gallo Foundation whose mission is to educate the public about the realities of domestic violence, and provide immediate support for victims fleeing abusive relationships in Virginia. 

In 2019, Amazon released a 4-part docuseries produced by Jordan Peele, Lorena, which unpacked both the nuances of the case and the societal response. Gallo also partnered with Lifetime to produce a film reenacting her story, I Was Lorena Bobbitt, which was recently released on May 25th.  

Amanda Knox

How are you surviving quarantine?

Lorena Gallo

It’s definitely shifted our lives. Our routines are not the same. We have to adjust, like every other person in the world. We say in Spanish, “al mal tiempo, buena cara,” which means if life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. So that’s how we’re handling it. We just have to put on our good face.

Amanda Knox 

Speaking of that, thank goodness you’re in the situation that you are today, where you can work from home and where you have a loving, supportive family. Do you at all think what it might be like to go through quarantine in the situation that you were in with your previous husband?

Lorena Gallo

I know this is very challenging for many, many victims of domestic violence right now, with COVID-19. It really is difficult to be trapped with your abuser. Before this coronavirus, domestic violence was already extremely high. One in three women have experienced intimate partner violence here in the United States. But since the resources are not there, domestic violence or intimate partner violence has been impacted very much by the lack of resources. Shelters are not taking people because they’re afraid of the infection’s spread. It’s like a domino effect. I’m trying to put together webinars and resources where I’m connecting with other advocates to help. Isolation is bad right now. We’re away from friends, family, and that really affects victims of domestic violence, when they have no outside contact. Abusers are able to assert control even more, because that’s a control tactic. Isolation. I was isolated by my ex-husband when I was with him. I had no contact with my family or my friends. People losing their jobs. They’re stressed out. There’s very much uncertainty about when they’re going back to work. It really triggers anxiety and depression. There’s a lot of things that could trigger the abuser to be violent at home with the victim. Children are out of the school and sometimes people are not in the state of mind, with all of the stress that we’re living right now, to deal with children. We have seen a lot of increases of ammunition and gun. This is really bad because it is a link with firearms and domestic violence. I mean, I can keep going on and on.

Amanda Knox  

It sounds like what you’re saying is everything that is necessary for people to do during a pandemic is also everything that would exacerbate a domestic violence situation. The Marshall Project was looking into the numbers. There has been a drop in the crime rate and in the reported incidents of domestic violence. But if people are feeling trapped, if people are feeling isolated, if people feel like there’s nowhere to go, are they going to report?

Lorena Gallo  

I believe that they can, because the jails are not necessarily closed. There are police officers who can come. The judicial system, I believe some of their offices are closed and so many cases have belated protective orders for people, so that’s really sad. But you still can call the police. It is very, very important to have a plan of action. When you do have to get out of the house to look for food to go to the grocery store, have a friend to pick you up, or a relative, a family member. It could be your neighbor, somebody who you can trust. Train your children to learn some kind of code and call 911. And speaking of 911, you can actually get an app called Smart911. If you cannot speak, they know that. They know your address. The dispatcher can record everything. You don’t need to talk. They can send the police immediately. So, stay connected, trust friends and families if possible. Set times or days to have people check on you. You use a lot of code words, like, “I go for pizza.”

Amanda Knox 

Can you remind listeners the name of your foundation and what you’re trying to accomplish with it right now?

Lorena Gallo

The purpose of my organization is to raise awareness and prevention of domestic and sexual assault, through education and community engagement. My main goal is to open an emergency shelter and provide immediate assistance to people escaping, or trying to escape, domestic abuse, such as housing, food, clothing. I reach out to the community, obviously right now via zoom or Skype or social media. There is a need for support within our communities. We need to understand that we can do the best we can with the resources we have right now.

Amanda Knox 

What extra challenges are victims of domestic violence facing and what resources are being made available to them that are out of the ordinary because of the pandemic?

Lorena Gallo 

There’s a lot of challenges. There’s a shelter in Tennessee that, they try to put victims of domestic violence in RVs. But there’s not so many RVs, so they can only do three or four families at the time. And not every shelter has the ability to get RVs because the funding is not there. I always tell this to my daughter, you have to find solutions to every problem. I still believe that this is not the end of the world. 

Amanda Knox  

Do you have any other clever solutions that you’re working on?

Lorena Gallo 

There’s other solutions. Hotels can actually provide rooms, if there’s an emergency.

Amanda Knox

And if they got government assistance to house women and men who are being domestically abused, that’s a win-win situation.

Lorena Gallo  

Right. But again, it all comes down to the fundings. So really, the challenge is to shift a lot of things that we’re not used to, in order to develop a plan B. A lot of things took us by surprise. We never experienced this. It’s just a matter of weathering the storm.

Amanda Knox 

You have other big news. Tell me about that new Lifetime film.

Lorena Gallo

For me it’s another platform. First of all, the documentary last year on Amazon Prime, and now this amazing platform, Lifetime. I definitely went with Lifetime because it has a rich history of developing movies inspired by real life events like mine. I can expect Lifetime to be a destination to tell interesting, true stories. These are stories that were part of the news cycle, that everyone could not stop talking about. The stories resonate with our society. It gives them insight of what really happened, so then people understand, they took me serious. This is a sensitive issue, domestic violence, sexual assault. I went with Lifetime because I wanted to be treated the right way. Amanda, we have been vilified, you know, too, by the media, how women were vilified in the 90s. And I wanted to keep telling my story, because victims of domestic violence, when they saw my story, it inspires them to get out. When I came to America, my goal was to live the American life, but unfortunately, I had a bad marriage. Through the years, I learned how important it is to stay resilient. I want people to know that a lot of people don’t have the strength to call 911. Domestic violence is rooted in control. We have to understand that. So I want people in abusive situations to understand that there is hope. I also want them to know that the #metoo movement has helped people to talk about it. Amanda, we didn’t have the Violence Against Women’s act. I didn’t have a Domestic Violence Hotline that I could call. A lot of things have changed. We have made significant progress helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, but there’s still much work to be done, Amanda. And I’m honored that Lifetime network gave me the opportunity to tell my story, in my own words. I always say silence is not an option. Because silence keeps the victim trapped. Survivors need to get support in order to escape, and to be heard in order to heal. To end the cycle of abuse, we must find the courage to break our own silence, Amanda.

Amanda Knox 

Tell me about your production partners. What did the filmmakers do to inspire confidence in you? And what was it like working with them to tell your story?

Lorena Gallo 

Starting with obviously Barbara Nance, the person who did the writing, she’s wonderful. She is actually a professor at the University of California. What give me confidence was the many women who were involved in this film. Danishka Esterhazy, she is wonderful woman director. The camera was in charge by Maya Bankovic, which was another amazing women. And I connected with Dani Montalvo, the young lady who portrayed young Lorena, and she was amazing. It was incredible. It was fantastic. I’m so thankful for it.

Amanda Knox  

So where can we see this new Lifetime film?

Lorena Gallo  

The premier came up already on Monday, May 25. You can watch it on Lifetime network.

Amanda Knox

Do you have any further thoughts, Lorena? 

Lorena Gallo 

Just for the victims of domestic abuse, I wanted to let them know that they’re not alone. Please stay safe. I know that COVID-19 is really taking a toll on us, but stay resilient. We’re going to come out stronger from this chaotic situation.