Domestic Violence In The Media

Abuse is frequently romanticized—or even glamorized—in pop culture. Naughty people doing wicked things elicits a wink and a nod, practically an endorsement rather than condemnation. Even in news stories, the victim is blamed in sensational crimes that get shared on social media.

The social network’s self-righteous streak implicates victims as somehow complicit with perpetrators. Many asked why Rihanna and Janay Rice stayed with their partners, when they should have been focusing on the real question: Why and how did their partners become abusers?

The key question. Why do we ask victims to justify their behavior? Is there a need for #WhyIstayed?  Nicole Simpson tried to get away, was killed and still blamed, as though it was her fault for being dazzled and flattered by a wealthy, charming and handsome celebrity athlete.

The novels and movies, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, treat domestic violence as a playground for risk-takers. Edward and Christian dominate and control their partners. They’re extremely jealous and possessive. Both men are stalkers: Edward in Twilight commands Bella to stop seeing her friend Jacob. His watching her sleep is sinister, not tender.

Christian Grey is similar but his abusive behavior is on another level.  “Fifty Shades is not about fun,” says a BDSM practitioner, Sophie Morgan, in The Guardian. “It’s about abuse.” E.L. James’ story defines the relationship between Anna and Christian as benign and safe by calling it BDSM, even when Anna herself finally begins to admit that Christian’s behavior is frightening and sick.

A recent story on NPR’s This American Life gave a much more real and honest account of a teenage girl who became enthralled with a 21-year-old man who kept her prisoner in his apartment, made her quit school and beat her regularly. At the beginning of the relationship, the girl, 14, was vulnerable because she had little support from her family and was gradually cut off from her friends. She would leave him periodically, even for months at a time, but kept returning because she was lonely and addicted to his attention, no matter how violent he became.

Throughout the story, you think that she will end up dead, but instead she leaves him, finishes high school and goes on to college. What made her leave instead of being killed? The abuser found a replacement. A 15-year-old girl he took up with when he was 25.

Abusers and victims are prominent in the media, but the depiction of these situations are often skewed and distorted. The media can effect significant cultural change by telling realistic and honest stories about violence and abuse rather than turning them into romance novels.

As we increasingly control content, we should ask why do we prefer the fantastic and impossible to more humanistic and challenging stories? Does one person’s devastating news simply become entertainment for us?

Quick Escape