May 18, 2022

Amber, Johnny & Intimate Partner Violence: 3 Insights into Domestic Abuse.

Before you start groaning about another Johnny and Amber article, I promise this one’s different. I’m not delving into details or speculating on who’s to blame or whether there’s fault on both sides; there’s already too much Team Johnny v. Team Amber articles covering that ground. What does that offer beyond questionable entertainment anyway?

I want to examine how viewing their lives might help us change what we do and say in our own lives. I am not trivializing their suffering; these are real people with real feelings and real pain. That said, since we’re hearing about their tragedy every day, they’re also a strong point of reference for looking at intimate partner violence.

Unfortunately, I’m speaking from life experience in this area. I’ve been in a relationship dynamic much like theirs, including similar events and a significant court case after the split. I’m not going into further detail than that.

Abusive relationships can happen to anyone.

Amber and Johnny are wealthy, privileged, and surrounded by a close network of friends, family, staff, and ubiquitous paparazzi. None of that stopped significant abuse from occurring. Indeed, almost nobody witnessed the abuse beyond the two of them. Abuse thrives in the dark, in secret. If abuse can maintain cover under the scrutiny of a celebrity marriage, imagine its invisibility within the anonymity of relationships between regular people. We’re largely oblivious to the abuse family members and friends suffer at the hands of their partners.

Women can also be violent to men in relationships.

Clearly, there’s an asymmetry when comparing the violence perpetrated by men versus women. Men are responsible for more physical abuse than women. That doesn’t mean women don’t perpetuate abuse. The attitude that women can’t physically abuse men needs to be binned, pronto. When someone discloses they’ve been a victim of abuse, we need to believe them, regardless of gender.

Johnny and Amber are both alleging partner abuse against the other while proclaiming their innocence. It’s hard to know who’s telling the truth. This puts us in a dilemma. As you can probably tell, I don’t advocate deferring to the statistical asymmetries of male versus female intimate partner violence. I believe both as much as it is possible. How can we ascertain truth filtered through multiple layers of media covering a huge court case with an endless parade of witnesses and experts?

We must normalize abuse reporting.

Everyone knows rape or sexual assault need to be reported to the police ASAP including a hospital visit to treat the victim and collect evidence. If it hasn’t happened to someone we know, we’ve seen it on TV. We need the same awareness about intimate partner violence (“IPV”). We need to normalize male IPV survivors in terms of reporting and talking about them without the stigma of weakness. Many women disclosed their IPV survival to me, but I’ve heard from absolutely zero men.

If incidents are reported early, they’re dealt with early. There’s less chance of the he-said-she-said nightmare that’s playing out with Amber and Johnny. Lest I be misunderstood to be victim-blaming, I’m not. I wish that I’d reported what happened to me, as the long-term outcome could have been different. I also realize it’s not my fault.

Reactive abuse.

Reactive abuse is a close relative of our old “buddy,” gaslighting. Reactive abuse is when the abuser pounces on the victim’s reaction (when the victim’s in fight or flight mode). The abuser twists the victim’s defensive reaction to shift blame onto the victim. It can even be as simple as “look what you made me do” following an act of abuse. This dynamic may have played out with Johnny and Amber; it definitely did in my past. This often results in the victim undergoing misplaced guilt, bestowing a higher level of control on the abuser.

Looking out for friends, family, and neighbours.

If we see or hear an interaction that bothers us, check in on the person privately. If we witness IPV, report it to the police and check in on the person when and if you can. If something seems off or they have suspicious-looking injuries, have the awkward conversation. Be aware of the specialized support services and numbers to call in your area in case the need arises. If you’re in an intimate relationship, try to ensure both of you have people you trust and can talk to outside of it. That way, if the worst happens, you’re not isolated and helpless.

Perhaps we could spend less energy on the ongoing saga of Johnny and Amber and more on doing what we can to make IPV a thing of the past? I’d certainly like to give it a try.

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