Lisa Steinberg Case

Lisa Steinberg Case.

Case Study:

Lisa Steinberg Case

Lisa Steinberg Case. On 2 November 1987, at 6:45 A.M., the police and paramedics were called to a townhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village by a woman who reported that her six-year-old daughter had stopped breathing. When the police arrived, they found Lisa Steinberg unconscious. Her face was bruised; there were numerous marks on her arms, lower back, and calves, and she was covered in grime. Her hair was disheveled and dirty. Hedda Nussbaum, Lisa’s mother, had two black eyes, a split lip, and a nose that no longer had a bridge. She appeared confused and withdrawn and was slow in responding to the paramedic’s request for information about the child. Joel Steinberg, Lisa’s father, was disheveled and very nervous. A 16-month-old brother, Mitchell Steinberg, was found in his crib, dirty and smelling of urine. Lisa was taken to the hospital where she was diagnosed as brain dead; she died two days later. Upon questioning, Joel Steinberg said that 12 hours before the paramedics were called, Lisa had complained of an upset stomach and had vomited, so her parents had sent her to bed. When they checked on her, she was found unconscious.

The police investigation centered on Joel Steinberg as the obvious perpetrator. Following a 12-week trial, which was sensationalized in the media, he was sentenced to prison. What really happened to Lisa remained inconclusive. It was Steinberg who was tried, not Nussbaum. She was kept on the security ward in the psychiatric wing of a metropolitan hospital for security rather than medical reasons. Joel Steinberg became the central villain in the situation; Hedda Nussbaum became a cause celebre as a battered woman, even though there were many questions about her participation in the abuse of Lisa over the years and about the fact that she waited 12 hours to summon help for a six-year-old child.

Lisa Steinberg Case

The Lisa Steinberg situation, analyzed in great detail in reporter Joyce Johnson’s book What Lisa Knew (1990), became an extremely popular news story with the American public because it forced people to reconsider their assumptions about child abuse and the types of people involved in such matters. Hedda Nussbaum was a Hunter College graduate, she had worked as a secretary, a teacher, an executive assistant to the vice-president of an educational company, and later as a children’s book editor at Appleton, Century, Crofts. She came from an intact family where there was no history of abuse. She had involved herself in a variety of self-improvement therapies over the years. Joel Steinberg graduated from Fordham University and later from New York University Law School. At the time of Lisa’s death, he was a practicing criminal lawyer in Manhattan.

Hedda Nussbaum and Joel Steinberg moved in together in his small village apartment 12 years before Lisa’s death. They couldn’t conceive, and both wanted desperately to have a baby whom they could develop into a highly sensitive and loving daughter. Hedda and Joel began to have constant fights, and Hedda started showing up at work with black eyes. Then, a physician colleague of Joel’s arranged a private placement of an infant, Lisa, with Joel and Hedda.

Initially, everything went well. Then, as the baby became less like a doll and more like a miniature person who cried when she was threatened or needed attention, the responsibilities of parenthood became a wedge between Hedda and Joel. Joel gradually withdrew from his private practice and began to operate out of the small apartment in the Village. Hedda began to take the baby to work with her, where co-workers described them both as downtrodden. Eventually, Hedda was fired and became totally dependent on Joel for financial and emotional survival. Battering became a way of life as Joel intensified his supervision of Hedda’s “improvement.” Hedda ran away five times, always without Lisa and always to people who suggested in one way or another that she return home.

Lisa Steinberg Case

As Lisa grew, so did the discipline and control efforts of both parents. When she began her education in a private school in the Village, she initially displayed none of the signs associated with abused children. As time went on, bruises would show up and disappear. Then, as with Lisa, a colleague of Joel’s arranged for the private placement of another infant, Mitchell, in Hedda and Joel’s home. Family tensions escalated. In retrospect, after Lisa’s death, people in the neighborhood began to remember everything:

  • A student teacher at Lisa’s school saw the bruises and reported them to her supervisor, who chastised the student teacher for overzealous involvement with Lisa.
  • A social worker visited the home on a complaint by a neighbor in 1984, but found no damage.
  • Other neighbors made calls after hearing screams in the apartment, assuming that some collective file on the Steinbergs might prompt action (there were no collective files kept at that time; now there are).
  • The police responded to one call and entered the apartment. Hedda had been beaten but declined to file charges. The children were not examined by the police.
  • Photographers, who came to Lisa’s school during the last month of her life to profile the school, thought that Lisa looked neglected but assumed that the school was in control of such situations and made no comment.

On the Saturday night before Lisa’s death, a toll collector noticed she had bruises and was crying. She was in a car driven by Joel Steinberg. The toll collector took down the license plate number and reported the incident to state troopers. When Joel was stopped and confronted, he used his legal connections and manipulative skills to convince the trooper that Lisa was upset because of parental disciplinary actions. Lisa confirmed the account and supported Joel. Three days later, Hedda placed the call to police and paramedics because Lisa wasn’t breathing. This call and Lisa’s death led to the Steinberg trial and conviction.



One of the most common questions the general public asks about intimate partner violence (ipv) is “Why does she stay?”

In Module 1, Lawrence Green and his colleagues identified three types of factors that can affect the help-seeking process by either encouraging or discouraging action:

  • Predisposing factors – attitudes, perceptions, or beliefs that either facilitate or hinder personal motivation to act
  • Enabling factors–factors that either help by their presence or hinder by their absence like the ability to obtain necessary assistance (limited facilities, inadequate personnel, lack of funds)
  • Reinforcing factors – characteristics of services or attitudes of caregivers that assist in decision-making like the feedback or attention received.

For this purposes of this discussion topic please complete the following:

  1. Take a look at the Lisa Steinberg/Hedda Nussbaum Case Study listed in Module 1.
  2. Respond to the following:
  3. a) Explain the possible issues affecting the help-seeking behavior of Hedda Nussbaum, including issues in the victim and offender response system that inhibited appropriate intervention
  4. Please support your response with resources (including in-text citations).

Lisa Steinberg Case

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