Lorena my Mom and I– Translation

Lorena my Mom and I– Translation


► Lupa is our new app for Spanish learners who want to study with Radio Ambulante’s stories. More info at lupa.app.



[Daniel Alarcón]: Before we begin, a word of warning, in this episode there are scenes of violence that may not be suitable for all of our listeners. Discretion is advised.

Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. 

In some ways, today’s story is typical of an immigrant with big dreams. In this case, the main character is called Lorena. She is Ecuadorian, from a coastal town called Bucay. Her family had lived in Caracas for a time and from there, in 1987, she moved to the United States. She was 18 when she came to the state of Virginia, wanting to be a dentist. First, of course, she had to learn English. Therefore, she enrolled in an academy near where some friends of her family lived with whom she would stay.

A year later, a friend invited her to a Marine Corps officers dance.

And that’s where she met John, a 21-year-old who had entered the navy just a year ago. He approached her and asked her to dance. She accepted and then they sat down to talk. Despite the fact that Lorena did not know much English, there was chemistry between them. That night he asked for her phone number and she gave it to him. 

The next day John called her and he started dating her. They fell in love at first sight.


[Lorena Gallo]: As boyfriend he has been just fine… an honest person. Very attractive. I thought he was a very … a person who was very passive.

[Daniel]: This is Lorena in an interview with Telemundo. The issue is that this relationship with John would end up starring in the headlines of national and international media. We will get to that. For now, the important thing is that the family Lorena lived with did not approve of the relationship. It seemed to them that John was not well educated, that he drank too much, and it bothered them that she was the one who usually paid the bills when they went out.

But all that did not matter to Lorena. She was in love. 

They dated for about nine months until one day John asked her to marry him. Lorena, very excited, accepted. Three weeks later, they were married.

[Lorena]: Hey, I had no experience in life. John was my first love and I got married very much in love.

[Daniel]: It was on June 18, 1989. She was 20 years old and John was 22. Lorena took her husband’s last name. Bobbitt. 

Many know — or think they know — what happened to Lorena Bobbitt from that moment on. The real story is more complex, of course. But it would certainly impact many people around the world. 

In Ecuador, for our producer Lisette Arévalo and her family this story is particularly important. 

This is Lisette.

[Lisette Arévalo]: Before I tell you why Lorena’s story is so important to me, you need to know her. So, let’s pick up where we left off, on June 18, 1989, when she married John. 

At the beginning of their marriage, everything was going well. They lived in a small apartment they could afford with what little they earned. Lorena worked as a manicurist in a beauty salon and as a babysitter. And John was still in the navy, training every day. They had no furniture and slept on the floor. But that didn’t matter to Lorena. According to her, they were happy. They always had been. That’s what she said it in an interview with Telemundo, in 2019.



[Lorena]: I never actually saw any of the red flags, they warn about. Something such as: “Well he is going to be abusive during my marriage, whatever.” I never saw that.

[Lisette]: But just a month after their marriage, everything changed. At the time, a cousin of John’s was staying with them in his apartment. One night the three of them went out to a bar and John and his cousin started drinking a lot: beers, shots, everything. They stayed there for a couple of hours and didn’t leave until the place was about to close. 

Despite being very drunk, John decided to drive back. He was going very fast, zigzagging from lane to lane. Lorena was afraid. That’s how she described it during her trial.


[Lorena]: There was people coming into our next right hand side, ah, pushing the horn and scared. Making signals to us. 

[Lisette]: Cars went by, they honked and waved at them. Lorena asked John to stop going so fast, which was dangerous, but he ignored her. Then Lorena grabbed the steering wheel of the car.


[Lorena]: So I… I grabbed the steering wheel, and then he punched me. He said I cannot do this. He hurt me. He hit me in my left arm. And I just started to cry. 

[Lisette]: John hit her on the arm and Lorena began to cry.


[Lorena]: I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that he hit me there. 

[Lisette]: She was in shock; she couldn’t believe that her husband had hit her.


[Lorena]: And he was telling me bad names. Told me also that… that I had to stop crying and I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop crying.

[Lisette]: John just kept yelling, calling her names and telling her to stop crying. But she couldn’t stop. John’s cousin, who was in the back seat, didn´t do anything. 

When they got home, John got out of the car and furiously grabbed Lorena by the arm, took her out of the car and pulled her to his apartment. Once inside…


[Lorena]: He kicked me. He told me that “I told you to… not to cry” and he slapped me on my face, he pulled my hair and he squeezed my face.

[Lisette]: He kicked her. He told her he had already told her not to cry. He slapped her, pulled her hair, smashed her face. Until someone knocked on the door of her apartment. John went to see who she was. A policeman was outside, asking if everything was okay. 

John said yes and acted as if nothing was happening, very calmly. But the policeman did not believe him and asked Lorena if she wanted to leave and if she had a place to go.


[Lorena]: And I said no, but I leave anyways. So I… I left the apartment. I was crying and I was hysterical.

[Lisette]: Lorena said no, but she still wanted to leave. She was crying out of control. She got in her car and drove to the parking lot of the beauty salon where she worked. That night she slept there, in her car. She told me that she did not tell anyone what had happened.

[Lorena]: Everything that was happening to me, my God, I couldn’t tell. I was very ashamed to talk about everything that… was happening to me.

[Lisette]: In addition, it was difficult for her to understand what was happening. She was very confused. She had been married a month ago, and she had never seen this side of her husband, an aggressive, violent and cruel man.

[Lorena]: It’s very traumatic because I never thought my husband was going to be so aggressive like that. So that was very shocking to me, I will never forget that… that moment.

[Lisette]: But despite everything, Lorena hoped that it would not happen again. The next day, John apologized to her, and she forgave him. More than anything because she believed her job was to do whatever it took to make her marriage work.

[Lorena]: I was afraid of getting divorced. Divorce was taboo for me. It was a stigma.

[Lisette]: This is what her family of strong Catholic beliefs had taught her. Also, John looked remorseful and promised that he would never hurt her again. 

But that did not happen. He continued to torment her. He often came home drunk, beat her, kicked her, tried to strangle her and even raped her. 

The attacks occurred because of the smallest discussions: whether they should get a synthetic or a real Christmas tree, the size of the television or what program they would watch. Lorena tried to calm him down and asked him not to hit her, but he wouldn’t stop. She told me that he was also manipulating her.

[Lorena]: He made me feel very guilty of the things that happened, for our… arguments or arguments that we had.

[Lisette]: Lorena did what she could to protect herself. She crawled under the bed, locked herself in her room or the bathroom. But John would go as far as to remove the door handle with a screwdriver and go inside to continue assaulting her. 

Day after day, week after week, Lorena was trapped in her own home, and she was very scared.

[Lorena]: In a lot of rapes or… physical or… or a lot of physical abuse he… I could… I could be a murder victim. I mean, he could have killed me. 

[Lisette]: The abuse was physical, but also psychological: he made negative comments about her body, controlled how he spent his money, he was jealous of her, he did not let her go out with her friends, he kept her isolated.

[Lorena]: You feel trapped and the vicious cycle of domestic violence is very toxic.

[Lisette]: It is precisely this vicious cycle of violence that makes it very difficult for women like Lorena to leave their attacker. They are in a situation where there are periods of calm and affection in between periods of great violence. 

This is her during an interview on Telemundo, in 2019.


[Lorena]: Generally, he always told me: “Oh, forgive me.” So, I forgave him. And always, well: “This will pass, this will pass, this is only temporary.” But in reality… it never happened.

[Lisette]: A bond of emotional dependency is created that is difficult to break. And to this must be added the fragile mental state in which women are. 

Eventually Lorena told her boss, her clients and some of her neighbors what she was going through and they advised her to leave him. But for Lorena it was not so easy. She didn’t know where to go, there weren’t many shelters available, and gender-based violence was something that was not talked about. And if it was done, it was without the importance it deserved. Also, deep down Lorena believed that John would change. She wanted to believe it. 

She told me that she called 911 a few times to ask for help.

[Lorena]: I was very afraid of continuing to report him, uh, to the authorities for many of the mistreatments and for fear of… of being deported as an immigrant.

[Lisette]: John would take away her residency papers and threaten to have her deported – even though all her papers were in order. And it worked. Lorena came to believe that he could call immigration and, with just a call, get her out of the country. 

And when Lorena did decide to call the police, they weren’t very helpful.

[Lorena]: So, every time I called the police, they didn’t know how to help victims of domestic violence. 

[Lisette]: Because there was no clear protocol of what to do in those cases. For this reason, she only formally denounced him once, in February 1991, when the evidence of violence was evident: blows, bruises and a broken lip. That time, John accepted having assaulted her, but the charges were dropped after he went to a few therapy sessions. 

After two years of marriage, John and Lorena separated. But this lasted only a year and in April of 93 they went back to live together with a new promise from John. He told her that he had reflected and that he would never attack her again. She, once again, trusted him.

It didn’t take long for John to do the same things as before: the beatings, the rapes. Soon after, Lorena decided to break up again. In June she began to take her things out of the apartment little by little, but she was still sleeping there. Her plan was to leave in a couple of days. 

It was the end of June of that year and Lorena, desperate, went to a Virginia court to get a restraining order against John. However, it was not an immediate procedure. She was told to come back in two days.

In the early morning of June 23, the same day the restraining order was supposed to be issued, John came home very drunk, as usual. He was coming with a friend of his who was sleeping on his couch. 

Lorena was asleep in the room when she heard John open the door. Here she tells what happened in an interview in September 1993, with the ABC channel.


[Lorena]: He jumped on top of me, and he start to… Grabbing my arms really tight.

[Lisette]: She is saying he threw himself on her and grabbed her arms very tightly. She already knew what was coming. She knew exactly the level of violence and aggression she could expect. She knew because it had happened so many times.


[Lorena]: So, I said: “I don’t want to have sex”. 

[Lisette]: She didn’t want to have sex with him. She tried to push him back, but she couldn’t because he was holding her too tight.


[Lorena]: He forced me into it and I heard my, uh, my underwear was ripping off and I was just fighting it. 

[Lisette]: She says he ripped her underwear while she kept resisting. But he, once again, raped her. When the abuse ended, Lorena asked him why he kept raping her over and over again.


[Lorena]: And I told him why he do this to me again, and again, and again… (crying) He pushed me away… He say he doesn’t care, he doesn’t care about my feelings. 

[Lisette]: But John pushed her and told her he didn’t care. He rolled over and fell asleep. 

At that moment Lorena left the room and went to the kitchen to get some water to try to calm down a bit. During the interview with ABC she said she just entered the kitchen…


[Lorena]: The first thing that I saw was the knife. 

[Lisette]: The first thing she saw was the knife. At the trial she recounted what had happened that night. She said that as soon as she saw the knife, she began to remember what she had gone through during four years with John.


[Lorena]: I remember a lot of things he said to me… 

[Lisette]: She remembered the first time he raped her…


[Lorena]: I remember the first time he raped me.

[Lisette]: The insults… 


[Lorena]: I remember the put-downs he told me. There was just so many pictures on my head (crying).

[Lisette]: Lorena had fresh memories of the dozens of attacks she had suffered from John. That violation was her limit. She just took the knife, went to the room where John was asleep…


[Lorena]: I, I took the sheets off and I… and I… I cut him. 

[Lisette]: She lifted the covers and cut off his penis. She ran out of the apartment, got in the car, and started driving. 

Lorena insists that she does not remember the specific moment in which she mutilated him, it gave her a mental blackout. She remembers going to the kitchen, seeing the knife, and then just driving and suddenly realizing she still had the penis and the knife in her hands.


[Lorena]: And so, I looked and I screamed and I throw it out, out of the window.

[Lisette]: When she realized what had happened,  she screamed and threw it out the window. She drove very fast to her boss’ house, who was also her friend, and told her everything which had happened. She listened to her and told her that they should go to the police to report John for the rape. But when Lorena arrived at the station, the officer who attended her told her that before taking the complaint from her, he needed to know what she had done with John’s penis, that this was the most urgent thing. She gave them directions from where she had dumped it and they went looking for it.

Meanwhile, John had woken up from the pain, confused. He thought he was dreaming, but it didn’t take him long to realize what had happened. He applied pressure to the wound with the sheets, got out of bed, and went into the living room to wake up his friend to take him to the hospital. His friend did not understand very well what had happened, because he was completely asleep and did not hear anything of what happened that night.

They arrived at the hospital and from there they called the police. They immediately began an intense search to find John’s penis and be able to have surgery as soon as possible. When they found it near a gas station, they got it and the surgery lasted nine and a half hours.

Lorena arrived at the same hospital where John was. She was examined to determine if she had been raped. But they found no signs of recent trauma on her body. Each was charged with different crimes: John for “marital sexual assault” and Lorena for “maliciously hurting” her husband. If convicted, they could face twenty years in prison, each. 

For obvious reasons, in the following weeks the case began to appear in the media. It was the perfect news to sell and have a rating. The headlines tried to be the most creative and humorous. Things like “the worst cut of all”, “the war of the Bobbitts”, “feminist euphoria and macho fear”. And they classified Lorena as a “hot-blooded Latina” and a woman jealous of her husband.

Several men were interviewed on television and commented on what they thought of the case. And their reactions are the same that surely the men who are listening to me are having.


[Man]: The pain was going through my mind for Christ’s sake for this poor guy.

[Lisette]: This man couldn’t imagine the pain John felt. 

The comedians didn’t have to try too hard. The joke almost told itself. Listen to this:


[David Letterman]: Well, well, well, the Lorena Bobbitt trial got underway today in Virginia (laughs). 

[Lisette]: In other words, as soon as he mentions Lorena’s name, the audience bursts in laughter.

There were television skits where an actress disguised as Lorena sold knives that could cut anything…


[Comedian]: The Lorena Bobbitt Jinsu knife (laughs). This state of the art of a knife would cut through anything, and I do mean anything (laughs).

[Lisette]: Lorena had become a joke. And nothing more. When she mentioned the terror and abuse which she had suffered, it was like a detail, almost unimportant. 

The focus was more on Lorena’s act than on her history of violence with John. Because something maybe obvious must be said: the act of cutting the penis was what attracted people the most. It was a morbid situation.

[Lorena]: It was very sexist. Very intimidating because automatically people, uh … rather they were focused on … on the sexual organ of … of my ex-husband. It was sad to see that the media did not focus on something more important and critical, because it is about life… life or death, talking about domestic violence.

[Lisette]: And perhaps, if Lorena had cut another part of her husband’s body, it is possible that we would never have heard her story.

[Lorena]: If he had killed me. Nobody would have made a fuss about this case, right? But it was… it was the action I took that got everyone’s attention.

[Lisette]: Five months after the incident, John’s trial came. It was November 1993.


[Journalist 1]: The two Bobbitts sat together in the same courtroom today less than 20 feet apart. 

[Journalist 2]: She has admitted emasculating her husband last June.

[Lisette]: As we mentioned, John was not exactly charged with rape. In Virginia, under the laws of the time, a person could not be found guilty of raping her spouse unless they lived apart or if he caused bodily injury to her partner.

At first, John denied having sex with Lorena that night. But when they showed the evidence that they had found traces of semen in the medical examination, he had to retract and ended up saying that they had had sex, but that it had been consensual. He said that Lorena had mutilated him because he wanted to divorce her and she did not.

During the trial, the doctor who examined Lorena said there were no signs of a struggle and that it could not be proven that John had ripped her underwear. Furthermore, John’s history of assaults on her could not be used as evidence. Virginia law said that judgment could only be made based on what had happened five days before the incident. That everything else could not be taken into account.

So, after a two-day trial, John was acquitted and set free. 

Although the media was interested in John’s trial, it was nothing compared to the coverage of Lorena’s trial in January 1994. Since it was not a trial for a sexual crime and because it was considered, and I quote, “a social matter”, it was televised nationally and internationally and everyone heard Lorena’s testimony in detail.

The jury had to decide if Lorena had acted under a temporary mental disorder or if she was guilty of a crime. 

Outside the court you could find everything: dozens of journalists and curious people. Sellers of sweets and chocolates in the shape of penises, of T-shirts that said “love hurts” and underpants that said “don’t cut me short”, that is, don’t cut me. There were even musical groups performing songs they had written about John.


[Cantante]: Take out the knife, wife. Break out the blade… 

[Lisette]: It was a circus. A media show about what Lorena had to go through during four years of domestic violence. 

The trial began on January 10, 1994. In the video of that first day, Lorena is seen sad, staring, sitting on a chair and with her long black hair tied in a half-ponytail. She told me that she was very nervous, that she thought the jury would not believe her because John had already been acquitted.

[Lorena]: That crossed my mind a lot. I was scared. It was very traumatic. I mean no… not only the emotional trauma, but I was also scared and very afraid of… thinking about what my future laid ahead.

[Lisette]: But anyway, she knew she had to build up her courage and tell what she had been through before the incident.

[Lorena]: There is a history. This is not a question of… I’m going to get out of bed and do this to… my husband. No. It’s the years of trauma, right? Psychologically, emotionally, sexual abuse. This is a story of abuse.

[Lisette]: When the trial began, one of her lawyers began by saying the evidence would show that, for four years, Lorena suffered extreme violence from her husband…


[Lawyer]: Lorena Bobbitt who for four years, the evidence will show, suffered extreme brutality and violence perpetrated against her… 

[Lisette]: And that her psychiatric disorders were the product of years of violence and abuse…


[Lawyer]: Psychiatric disorders were the product of years of violence and abuse that she had suffered at the hands of her husband. 

[Lisette]: That this led her to a state of shock and breakdown that did not allow her to control her momentum on the night of June 23.


[Lawyer]: She reacted to defend her life, to defend her physical integrity, and to defend her dignity. 

[Lisette]: What Lorena did was react to defend her life, her physical integrity and her dignity.


[Lawyer]: In the end, ladies and gentlemen, what we have is Lorena’s Bobbitt life juxtaposed against John Wayne Bobbitt’s penis. 

[Lisette]: And that, ultimately, what they had to evaluate was Lorena’s life next to John’s penis.

The legal argument her attorney used is known as the “abused woman syndrome.” It is a subcategory of post-traumatic stress according to which a woman who has suffered so much abuse by her partner comes to believe that she deserves it and cannot get out of the situation. 

Her lawyer argued that as a result of this, Lorena acted under an “irresistible impulse” and had a reaction that was not premeditated. This was confirmed by a psychologist who during the trial said that, in addition, Lorena was suffering from anxiety and depression.

Lorena had to tell and relive what John had done to her, not only in front of the jury, but in front of the millions of people who were watching her on television. We already heard some of her testimony in this episode. In addition, several witnesses confirmed what Lorena was saying. 

John also testified during Lorena’s trial and gave conflicting accounts of what happened during her marriage. Which favored Lorena, because the jury realized that he was not sincere about what happened that night. 

While all this was happening, outside the court the journalists, the vendors, kept on going. But there was also a group of people from the Virginia Latino community who came to support her. They had signs that said: “For the dignity of women” or “Lorena, we are with you.”


[Crowd]: ¡Lo-re-na! ¡Lo-re-na! ¡Lo-re-na!

[Lorena]: I will never forget the support I had internationally from many people outside the court with their flags. And especially Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, all of South America. The worldwide support I had outside of court with their banners was something very incredible.

[Lisette]: In a video, which was recorded five days after the start of her trial, Lorena is seen leaving the courthouse and when she sees and hears them, she smiles and greets them. From the archive hours I reviewed, it is the only time I saw her smile in all the coverage videos of that time. 

On January 21, eleven days after the start of his trial, the verdict arrived.


 [Judge]: We the jury find the defendant Lorena Leonor Bobbitt not guilty of malicious wounding as charged in the indictment by reason of insanity. 

[Lisette]: Lorena was found not guilty due to a “temporary mental disturbance.” The jury determined that after so many years of abuse, she was not in control of herself that night. The judge ordered that she should be admitted to a psychiatric hospital in order, after a while, to determine whether she was a danger to herself or to the community. 

Lorena was released from the hospital five weeks later.

Some of you may already know Lorena’s story. Or maybe the name was familiar to them. I have very personal reasons for wanting to tell her story. And to explain it, I want to talk about a memory of my childhood, in Quito. I was about four years old, more or less, 1996 or so. I was in the car with my mother and a note about Lorena Bobbitt was played on the radio. 

I don’t remember exactly what the news were, but what I do remember is my mother’s name and gesture when I heard it: she raised her fist, as if celebrating a victory, and said: “Good, Lorena!” 

I asked her who she was and she told me that some years ago, she had defended herself against her husband. She didn’t go into almost any detail, but that was enough for me and I repeated: “Good, Lorena!” My mom laughed. I didn’t understand at the time why my mom reacted like this when she heard Lorena’s name. I couldn’t understand. I was too young. But a few years later it would become clearer to me. 

[Daniel]: After the break, what Lorena Bobbitt meant for thousands of women worldwide. And for Lisette’s mom. 

We’ll be back.

[Daniel]: We are back in Radio Ambulante. I am Daniel Alarcón. 

Lorena was released from the mental hospital five weeks after the trial. Some of the media – frenzy  had already passed, but as a result of all that process, something unexpected happened. 

While most of the coverage had either ignored the abuse Lorena suffered or treated it as a detail to mention before reaching for the mutilation of her ex-husband, John, Lorena realized that her story, the whole story, had indeed had an impact.

[Lorena]: When I started to see the letters sent to me from many, many women, I said: “Well, this … I’m not the only one, right?” Actually, my case is the case of … of many women in the world.

[Daniel]: Hundreds of women, thousands, identified with Lorena, with all the trauma she had suffered and survived. With her act of revenge, too, clearly, although Lorena has said several times that she regrets what she did to John and that the last thing she wants is to motivate any woman to do something similar. 

One of the women who was struck by Lorena’s story was Gina. The mother of our producer Lisette. 

And that’s what today’s story is really about. 

I leave you now with Lisette.

[Lisette]: When I asked my mom what she thought when she heard Lorena’s story, she said:

[Gina Gross]: It was a small door for… for everyone. Hum, like a light, like a hope that someday women will also be able to react and that we will not allow ourselves to be abused by anyone.

[Lisette]: I suppose that is already clear, but somehow Lorena’s story is also my mother’s. And it is not easy for me to tell it. 

My mom met the one I’m going to call Luis at a party. It was April 1981. They were 23 years old. 

What did you think of him physically, when you met him?

[Gina]: Sure, he was nice. He had long curly eyelashes, pretty eyes. And they introduced me, and he told me: “The party just got better.” Then he began to become the conqueror, some kind of who knows … I didn’t like him one bit.

[Lisette]: My mom decided to ignore him and started dancing with another boy and hanging out with her friends. Until the party was over and my mom and her cousin were figuring out how they were going to get home. Luis overheard their conversation and offered to give them a ride.

[Gina]: So, he took us, he dropped us off. And there we became friends.

[Lisette]: In the car they had talked a little about what they liked to do, she told him that she was a translator, and he was an engineer. And then my mom liked him more. They exchanged numbers and from that day on they began to speak daily. My mom started liking him more and more.

[Gina]: He was very kind, respectful, sweet. And … and it felt like family, he spoke of his parents with affection, with love, so I liked that.

[Lisette]: Luis asked her to  be his girlfriend almost immediately, but she did not accept. She had recently gotten out of a long relationship, and she didn’t want to get into another one at the time. But he didn’t give up so easily. He invited her to eat, to ride in the car, to the parks of Quito. He was sweet and caring and she began to fall in love with him. It was like this for two months until Luis asked her to be his girlfriend again and she said yes. 

One day, six months after they met, when they had only been in a relationship for two weeks, he took her for a car ride.

[Gina]: He stopped the car and asked: “Do you want yogurt…”, and I… “and yucca bread?” (laughter). So, I said to him: “Fine”, but that’s how he surprised me.

[Lisette]: Yucca bread with yogurt, a very common combination in Ecuador. He surprised her because it wasn’t their plan for the day. They were supposed to go for a walk and have dinner. When they got to the store, she stayed in the car and he got out to buy the things. When he came back…

[Gina]: And he leaned over to my window and said, “Here.” I said, “Good.” I asked, “And you don’t… don’t you want to?” He said, “No, no.” So, I said how weird and he was acting strange. And he told me that he wants to marry me, that we should get married and I don’t know what else.

[Lisette]: She was struck cold. She didn’t know what to say. She was in love with him, but they hadn’t known each other for a long time. In addition, she was terrified of having to leave her job as a translator and dedicate herself to home and family. At that time that was expected of women and she did not want that for her life. So, there, in her car, she said to Luis:

[Gina]: “You see, I don’t like… I don’t know how to cook, I don’t like washing, I don’t like ironing, no…” He kept quiet, and he didn’t say anything to me and was silent the whole way.

[Lisette]: But despite this, Luis kept insisting for several days, telling her they should get married. She said no and repeated the same thing: that she did not want to become his housewife.

[Gina]: I mean, I knew he was a macho type of man. That he didn’t wash, iron or cook either, because the parents were super male chauvinist, the brothers too and… I don’t know, I realized it right away because… because of the things he told me: “My mom cooks, my mom does this, my mom knows how to stay in the kitchen.”

[Lisette]: My mother had it clear that women could do many things besides cooking and that they could also go out wherever and whenever they wanted. What’s more, she had big dreams.

[Gina]: I wanted to be a stewardess and I wanted to travel and travel a lot.

[Lisette]: And when she said that to Luis, he replied:

[Gina]: “It doesn’t matter, we’re getting married and you can be a stewardess. And I’m not going to bother you.”

[Lisette]: That motivated her a bit, but she still wasn’t sure. It seemed to her that it was too early to get married.

But it must be said that at home she was not free. Since she is the only daughter among three children, my grandfather controlled her a lot and would not let her do the same as her brothers. When she was young, he forbade her to play ball, climb trees and he always told her that it was better for her to stay inside. While her siblings watched television, she had to help my grandmother with the housework.

When she finished school, my grandfather did not let her study journalism because he thought it was not a career for women. And he always made a fuss when she wanted to go out with her friends. My grandmother didn’t say much. All of this happened over and over and my mom felt like she was suffocating. She was so overwhelmed that at some point she went to live with my great-grandparents, to escape from this environment for a while.

Here I want to clarify something: it’s not that my grandfather was a bad person, or anything like that. On the contrary, he is one of the most important men in my life. And while there is no excuse for raising his children in a family, it was expected of him at that time. He was simply following what society told him he should do with his only female child.

But of course, one thing is to see it from a distance now, and another is to live it, as my mother did. Like so many other women, she saw in marriage a way of escaping from her own home and from the male control that governed every detail of her life. She decided to accept Luis’s proposal, because she thought that if she got married, she could make her own rules in her own house. And well she did, after all she was in love with him.

And so it happened. From the afternoon of the yucca bread with yogurt to the date of the marriage, barely two weeks passed. It was October 1981.

[Gina]: I was excited, I was happy. Above all… my parents did, they did want me to get married.

[Lisette]: My grandparents liked Luis and it was easy for them to accept him as their son-in-law. Because he made a good impression right away. He was kind, funny, polite, respectful. Especially when he was with his parents.

[Gina]: I thought that since he was a good son, he would also be a good father, he would be a good husband.

[Lisette]: They moved into a small apartment that my grandparents had given them. My mom thought things would go well, but as with Lorena, everything changed very quickly. After three months of marriage, while they were returning from buying some construction materials, my mother was getting in the car…

[Gina]: And then… a receipt fell. The receipt was in the truck, a door opened, wind came out and it flew away. And I couldn’t catch it. And he got hysterical about that: “Why didn’t I catch it, why did it fly away, this and that.”

[Lisette]: He yelled at her, waved his hands violently, hit the steering wheel of the car. All that for a piece of paper. My mother was shocked by this violent, disproportionate, irrational reaction.

[Gina]: So, there I … I stood in shock and I … and I. I mean, I wanted to cry, but no… I couldn’t.

[Lisette]: She was scared, nervous, confused. But also, and this hurt me when she told me about it, she assumed Luis’s irrational logic. She blamed herself.

[Gina]: I thought: “What a  fool, why did I not grab that receipt? Why didn’t I catch it? Just because it fell? I do not understand”. That … that’s what I thought. I mean, I felt stupid.

[Lisette]: In her own mind, she justified her husband’s aggression. The rest of the car ride, my mom was quiet. But from that day on…

[Gina]: It was no longer the same for me. He didn’t do anything to me, as they say, but the screaming and the… the reactions were for me like an aggression against me.

[Lisette]: It strikes me that my mom says, “He didn’t do anything to me,” because, from my point of view, it’s not true. What she means is that he didn’t hit her. But it is clear that he did something to her. Those screams and that anger that he unleashed on her were invisible blows that leave scars that are not erased just like that. They are aggressions that are not easy to forget. 

The receipt that flew away with the wind was the first incident. From that day on, several similar scenes occurred. They happened because of the slightest reasons. If my mom made a mess in the car, if the food wasn’t ready on time, if she took too long shopping at the market. And every time my mom reacted the same way: she kept quiet, not knowing what to do.

Shortly after getting married my mom got pregnant. She was happy and excited with the news, because she had always wanted children. In addition, she thought that perhaps the arrival of that baby would change the increasingly toxic dynamic between her and Luis. She hoped Luis would stop those angry outbursts and focus more on the pregnancy, on his daughter, on building his family. But it was not so.

[Gina]: He didn’t behave well during the whole … my whole pregnancy. I mean, he had… his aggressiveness wasn’t physical, it was psychological.

[Lisette]: He did things like talk about other women’s bodies and how beautiful and thin they looked. And he compared them to my mom. He would say things like:

[Gina]: “Whoa”, he said: “You used to have smaller clothes, now you have larger clothes”.

[Lisette]: Referring to the maternity clothes she wore. At night, Luis went to parties with his friends and never took her.

[Gina]: And I said to him: “Why don’t you take me?” he replied: “I am ashamed that you look like that.” I mean, I was pregnant.

[Lisette]: Although my mother suffered from the comments Luis made to her, it was difficult for her to see him for what he was: a cruel man who manipulated her. It was constant, comments here and there, and perhaps each one may seem harmless, but taken together, they weren’t. 

And indeed, in this case things did not take long to escalate. When Luis arrived drunk from meetings with his friends, parties or bars…

[Gina]: Yes, it was like a… the… a little physical aggression… Like… he would dig his… nails into my arm or punch me like that…

[Lisette]: There are always justifications for the one who seeks them. He is drunk. Or maybe it was an accident. My mom tried not to think too much about what was happening. Sometimes she even managed to erase her memory, until her very body gave him away.

[Gina]: Then my arm would turn purple and I would ask myself: “Why am I purple?” I thought: “He was drunk and he started pounding me with his fist,” I said… things like that, right?

[Lisette]: And similar things happened practically every time he drank. But what predominated in the relationship was verbal and psychological abuse.

[Gina]: Yes, he insulted me a lot, he insulted me a lot. But hey no … I’d rather not talk about that right now.

[Lisette]: This story is not the typical story I report. I do not pretend, nor do I want to be impartial reporting a story like this, which is about my mother, what she lived through. I don’t blame her for not wanting to talk about it in detail, I would even go as far as to say that part of me thanks her. It’s as if many years later she is still protecting me from him. As if she wanted to keep the damage to herself. 

Despite the abuse, her marriage continued and the family continued to grow. In 85, my second sister was born. And well, in ’92 I was born. Luis is my biological dad. But he is not my father.

My mom separated a few times during her marriage. I don’t remember much from these years and I think it’s on purpose. My older sisters do remember more. From time to time, we would go to my grandparents’ house, but I did not know that the reason went beyond one of the many visits we made to them. 

My mother did not tell my grandparents many details, she did not explain what had happened and why she was there. She was embarrassed. She only told them, superficially, that Luis had been rude to her, that he had drunk and that she did not want her daughters to witness any arguments. She did not want them to suffer knowing everything he did to her, and she preferred to make them believe that she was the difficult one.

[Gina]: So, they thought that I was… like I was the… the angry one, that I caused problems, that’s it. 

[Lisette]: Anyway, we didn’t stay there for long, because Luis always went to look for her and ask her to come back. He asked for her forgiveness and he always had an excuse: that he had had an argument with a friend, that he had not had a good day, or that he got a negative comment from someone. Whatever he could think of.

[Gina]: We got back together, mostly because I didn’t want to be in that situation  anymore. Going back to my parents or being separated and having them see me in bad shape or that they pity me. I didn’t like those things.

[Lisette]: In other words, at the time, there was also a lot of social pressure, right?

[Gina]: Sure, a lot, yes. And… and I think my dad suffered when I was separated like that or something, then I would come back just so my parents remained calm. And then I had to be quiet or hold it inside, or dissimulate.

[Lisette]: The math was simple, even though cruel. My mom would rather live hell than be singled out by society. She didn’t want people to look at her with pity. 

Perhaps you already imagined it, but my mom never became a stewardess as she had wanted because she preferred to raise us, her daughters. When she tells me about it, that contrast never fails to draw my attention. Between the life she imagined, traveling the world, getting to know the capitals of Europe, the freedom that implies and what she had with Luis. An oppressive, closed life, full of daily dangers and cruelty.

But she also did not dedicate herself to the house one hundred percent, as she feared. She worked as an English teacher in a preschool and she liked what she did. 

Things with Luis remained practically the same. There were moments of calm in which it seemed that things would improve, but then right away came the moments of tension and violence. It was a vicious cycle of violence, like the one many women go through. Like the one Lorena went through.

But my mom says she didn’t feel alone because she had us. We were the only thing that gave her strength. 

[Gina]: When I wasn’t with him, I was relieved, calm, happy. We were laughing, playing, hanging out and everything. When he was there it was tense, but I tried not to be with him.

[Lisette]: And when the weekend came… 

[Gina]: Then I stressed because I knew he was going to…  to drink. He was going to come drunk. I didn’t know how he was going to be… I never knew. I hated weekends.

[Lisette]: On two occasions, she went to a help center for women at risk to get what is known as an help certificate against Luis. It is a document that supposedly protects people who have suffered aggressions by giving them priority attention with the police in the event of a new attack. 

How effective that certificate is in protecting women has been questioned. Especially because many times they live with their aggressor or return to them and the violence continues. And sometimes they are even killed despite having that certificate.

[Gina]: Later I told him that I went to … to this place and I have a document that … that protects me. Because that was the only thing. But I knew that after a while no one was going to come and help me. But at least it was something.

 [Lisette]: She says this because she knew that the police and justice in Ecuador did not take gender violence very seriously, even less when it came to married couples. It wasn’t something that was being talked about.

So, in a way, my mom got used to living like this. Even though she had us, she didn’t have a support system to get her out of that situation. She did not tell her siblings or anyone in her family. The only two friends she told what she was going through weren’t very helpful. They never advised her to leave him, nor to break up with him. They just listened to her and comforted her. 

There were moments during the marriage when my mom did defend herself from Luis. It was after one of the many times that he got jealous for talking on the phone with her friends or for going out shopping.

[Gina]: And I said, “No, no, no, no. That’s it. This is not ok. I’m not going to put up with one more thing from him.” So, I started to always be on guard and everything he said to me, I would not let him. If … if he told me “A”, I would tell him the entire alphabet so he would say to me: “Oh, how have you changed”. I would reply: “Yes.”

[Lisette]: Apparently Luis was surprised that my mother reacted like this and instead of responding with more aggressions, they decreased — at least when he was not drunk. That was a small victory for my mother, within all that she had to endure in that marriage. 

It was around that time that the Lorena Bobbitt incident happened, in 1993. When my mom heard about her case on TV…

[Gina]: So, I was shocked when I heard, I said: “What? Is she Ecuadorian? And what happened to her?” And I wanted to know more, but that was the only news.

[Lisette]: Although my mother could not escape the violence yet, she could recognize what united her to Lorena. Then she celebrated what she had done, even in front of Luis.

[Gina]: And he would look at me, and tell me: “What are you saying?” And I would tell him: “Of course, I wonder what that guy did to make the … the … poor woman react like that. Well done,” I said.

[Lisette]: Little by little my mother began to learn about the case, she watched the news all the time and whenever she could, she talked about it with her acquaintances, her friends and her family. Some people asked her further questions, just because of the curiosity caused by the fact itself. 

And the truth is that local news hardly spoke about what led Lorena to react in such way. The Ecuadorian media hardly got into the long history of abuse and violence that Lorena had to go through.

And the simplification of her circumstances is what made her look smaller and allowed people to label her as crazy. My mom took it personal.

[Gina]: So then… if someone kind of wanted to say something negative about … about her, I would say: “Put yourself in her place, hmm, what would you have done?”, and things like that.

[Lisette]: Because while it may seem obvious to many people that the answer is to leave, fleeing an abusive situation is not that easy. Not for Lorena, not for my mother, not for millions of women in risk situations. 

My mom’s marriage to Luis lasted more than two decades. Two decades of abuse, shouting, insults, beatings. Until 2003. I was eleven years old. One day Luis had gone out for a drink with some friends and she was left alone in the house. My older sister was studying in Canada, my other sister had gone to sleep to my grandparents and I was on a friend’s farm. 

That night when Luis came back, he started yelling at my mom. She went up to the second floor of our house and locked herself in my sister’s room. But he kept yelling and telling her to open the door. Since my mom didn’t answer him, he started banging on the door with all his strength until he broke it. My mom managed to escape and got into the bathroom. She locked it. But he also broke that door.

[Gina]: I got into the shower because I know he is afraid of water when he is drunk. And he would yell at me and yell at me. And I don´t know … he didn’t dare to … bump into me because he would get wet. So, I was in the shower, hours in there, while he yelled, screamed, shouted, threw things and did things.

[Lisette]: Luis went on and on and there came a time when he ripped the glass door off the shower. My mom grabbed it to protect herself and she began to pray.

[Gina]: I said, “My God, give me strength. Please make him go away. I ask you to perform a miracle, make him go away. Now, because if not, I will kill him”.

[Lisette]: She told me that in that moment, she felt it was her life or his. She was going to do anything to protect herself. Suddenly Luis grabbed his arm and started screaming in pain. He had broken it when he broke one of the doors.

[Gina]: He screamed and screamed, swore and called his brother and said, “Come see me. Take me to a hospital because my f… wife broke my arm”, he said. So, he went to see him and oh, what a relief!

[Lisette]: My mom got out of the shower, got her things, got in her car and didn’t come back.

[Gina]: And I swore to God and said: “I swear, my God, on the lives of my daughters, on my life and on all lives, that he will not touch one of my fingers again, nor will he yell at me again, nor will he ever treat me badly. Because everything ends here.”

[Lisette]: And as she drove to my grandparents’ house to seek shelter, she couldn’t help but think of Lorena.

[Gina]: And I kind of think that’s how Lorena Bobbitt must have felt that time. A time when you feel so trapped that you want to do something to end it, even if you regret it later.

[Lisette]: Fortunately, she did not have to regret anything. There are several possible scenarios: that my mother would have hurt him to defend herself against him and she would have ended up in trouble, that Luis would have killed her or that things would have remained the same. What if I had been in the house that night? I was just a girl. I’m sure that seeing that level of violence would have marked me forever. Although just finding out what happened has already caused that.

But it all ended that night.

When you heard Lorena’s story, did you feel that somehow you were looking at yourself in a mirror? Because of everything you were going through with my dad?

[Gina]: Yes, yes. That was the first reaction and I said: “Good! Thanks Lorena”, too (laughs). “Help us to get even a little bit,” I said. And I hope that all men are afraid of … of women and that women can react at some point.

[Lisette]: You felt like she did justice for a lot of women who went through the same thing and couldn’t do something.

[Gina]: Yes. And it was like a door, a little light for all the women who… who had been abused, who had been yelled at and mistreated. Some kind of hope so that women will also be able to react at some point and that we will not allow ourselves to be abused by anyone.

I mean, if she recovered, why not me?

[Lisette]: Hmm, we are already recording.

[Gina]: Oh, ok. Hello, Lorena.

[Lorena]: Hi, Gina, how are you?

[Gina]: How are you? What a joy to be able to listen to you … to hear your voice. I never thought that I would be able to meet you. Hey, after so many years that I had heard about you.

[Lisette]: I decided to put them in touch because I knew my mom would be happy to talk to Lorena. After all, in a way, she helped her understand that it is possible to get out of violence, that her story was not the only one. 

My mom was a little nervous. I had already told Lorena about what she had survived.

[Gina]: And you know that you have helped some women a lot, even if you don’t even know us, but you have helped us … to get out of … this kind of thing, to realize that we are not alone. I thank you because you have been a light for us.

[Lorena]: Thanks, Gina. It is an honor for me to meet you too. It is something very special that we have communicated and there is that survivor connection, right? The things we have been through…

[Lisette]: The call was short, but it was nice. They shared a few laughs and thanked each other for their bravery. They didn’t have to say much to show the connection that Lorena talks about. One that didn’t need many words, or getting into details about each of her stories, it said: “I also went through the same thing. We are not alone”.

[Daniel]: Lisette’s mother lives in Quito. She lives a quiet life with her parents, daughters, her grandchildren, and a new partner. She’s happy.

Lorena Gallo lives in the United States. Now she has a foundation to help women survivors of gender violence called “Lorena Gallo Foundation”.

Virginia’s 1993 marital rape waiver was eliminated in 2002. Now all non-consensual sexual relationships between couples are considered rape. 

If you are a woman in a situation of violence, seek help at the women’s care shelters closest to you.

Lisette Arévalo is a producer at Radio Ambulante, she lives in Quito. This episode was edited by Camila Segura and myself. The music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri. Desirée Yépez did the fact-checking.

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Jorge Caraballo, Aneris Casassus, Victoria Estrada, Xochitl Fabián, Rémy Lozano, Miranda Mazariegos, Barbara Sawhill, David Truijillo and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.

Fernanda Guzmán is our editorial intern.

Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.

Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, and it’s produced and mixed on the program Hindenburg PRO.

Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.

[Jorge Caraballo]: It doesn’t really matter for how long you have been listening to Radio Ambulante, whether it is since the first season or for eight days, just by listening you are already Deambulante. But there is a way to make it official. Join Deambulantes today, our membership program. Your contribution, no matter the amount, will help us keep Radio Ambulante free and freely accessible to anyone in the world. And you will also have a full year of benefits. Join today at radioambulante.org/deambulantes. And on behalf of the entire team, thank you very, very much!



Lisette Arévalo

Camila Segura and Daniel Alarcón

Andrés Azpiri

Andrés Azpiri

Desirée Yépez

Daniel Liévano