Tanya Brown told a gathering of 230 Rachel Coalition supporters in Livingston that her late sister was in many ways a “classic abuse victim.”
Nicole Brown Simpson — the ex-wife of football player and movie actor O.J. Simpson who was brutally murdered outside her Los Angeles townhouse along with her companion, Ron Goldman, in 1994 — recorded the incidents of her ex-husband’s brutality in a diary that she kept private. Its contents were not revealed until the 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson. (Acquitted of all criminal charges, he was later found liable for the wrongful deaths of the two victims in a civil court case. He is currently serving a prison sentence for other unrelated crimes.)
Tanya Brown was keynote speaker at the coalition’s Women to Women Luncheon, held April 5 at the Wilshire Grand Hotel. A division of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, the Rachel Coalition is a partnership of nine community groups that operates with the goal of improving the lives of women and children affected by domestic abuse.
To Brown, O.J., whom she had known since she was seven years old, was “Uncle O.J. He was part of our family. To you he was a celebrity. To me, he was the guy who would come to dinners and birthdays and Thanksgivings….”
She said her older sister’s diary — from which she read excerpts during her 40-minute speech — revealed repeated instances of how she had been verbally attacked by her husband. “He told her, ‘You’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’re a fat pig. Let me tell you how serious I am: I have a gun. Get the hell out of my house.’”
“As far back as 1978, Nicole had written, ‘I was so scared. He threw me on the ground and beat me up….” While her family was on vacation in Hawaii, Nicole wrote, “I was so scared that he would throw me out the window.”
On another occasion, she wrote, “He beat me up so badly….” But rather than reporting the abuse, Brown said, her sister wrote that she “went to the hospital and claimed it was a bicycle accident.”
Brown said those entries illustrate “how good victims of domestic violence are at hiding their experiences….” She urged those present to be aware of the signs of abuse and to take action when they see them. “When unexplained bruises pop up, don’t dismiss them as a bicycle accident.”
Brown said she knew nothing of what her sister was going through. “I learned all of this while sitting in court” at O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, she said. “I had no idea of what was going on” during her sister’s marriage and after their divorce. “I just thought it was a marriage that went bad. I had no idea that people actually kill people.” Brown said she believes that despite the acquittal, O.J. killed her sister. “That doesn’t happen to people like us. But then it hits you and your life is changed forever.”
‘Get in a safe place’
From the moment Brown heard of her sister’s murder — on June 12, 1994 — her life, she said, “changed forever.”
At 6:30 that morning she “heard screams from my bedroom, screams that were probably worse than any horror movie anyone of us has seen.”
Because of O.J.’s celebrity, her family endured everything from helicopters overhead to “nasty e-mails and horrific death threats every single day for months,” said Brown. “You don’t get a manual for how to handle tragedy, so you do the best you can….”
Brown’s own personal tragedies had begun years earlier when she was in high school. “I had to bury six friends of mine from drinking and driving accidents, and two years later I lost my best friend in a hit-and-run.
She learned the lessons of not confronting problems head on. “When we don’t face that pain, when we don’t walk through that tornado of chaos, it catches up with you,” she told NJ Jewish News in an interview prior to her speech.
In her case, it led to drug and alcohol abuse, attempted suicide, and weeks in a a hospital psychiatric unit.
Brown, who lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., works as a life coach and in hospice care providing stress management for caregivers.
“I am a bounce coach,” Brown said. “I help people bounce back after adversity.”
The author of Finding Peace Amid the Chaos: My Escape from Depression and Suicide (2014), she also promotes the work of the Nicole Brown Foundation, a national advocacy organization established by her father, Lou Brown, that educates communities on strategies for domestic violence prevention. Another sister, Denise, is foundation cofounder and president.
Brown urged anyone coping with serious personal issues to “get in a safe place and talk about it” instead of “living out your life as an angry person. Life is way too short to live that way.
“Listen to the signs,” she urged the roomful of advocates for abuse victims. “What happened to me is preventable. What happened to Nicole is preventable. We have to cope with what we are going through. Walk through that tornado of chaos.
“I don’t want what happened to us to happen to you.”