Chrissy Monroe is a force of nature. She is a TV personality, author, actress, model, brand ambassador and entrepreneur. Her story in an inspiring one, going from a homeless teenager to VH1’s hugely popular show Love & Hip Hop. It was shortly after the show ended, when her career was soaring, that she nearly lost her life to domestic violence. A savage beating at the hands of her boyfriend left her with a black eye, broken tooth, cracked rib and black and blue hands from protecting her face while he kicked her. He threatened to kill her if she told anyone and Chrissy felt trapped by both her boyfriend, and her fame.
Celebrities face unique challenges when reporting abuse by an intimate partner. It may look like a glamorous life from the outside, but celebrities are still burdened by the common barriers that make leaving an abusive relationship so difficult: love, power, control, doubt, isolation, promises from their partner to change, children, financial abuse, fear of the unknown and many more. They also must contend with how the fallout will impact their careers and the public backlash.
In Chrissy’s case, these fears kept her from reporting the abuse to the police for four months. “If I came forward with it, I thought I would be blackballed and it would ruin my career,” she recalls. “I assumed people wouldn’t want to work with me because they would worry I might show up to set with a black eye or bring drama with me.” As a result, she isolated herself, missed out on booking jobs and lost income opportunities. Even though she was out of the relationship, she was still suffering from financial abuse. In the back of her mind, Chrissy also worried about how she would be treated by her fans and the public.
Celebrities are often hammered in the comment sections of articles, news coverage and on social media after coming forward. This is particularly true when their partner is also a celebrity. Case in point, this TMZ article targeted Amber Heard because the paparazzi snapped a photo in a moment where she happened to be smiling and laughing the day after seeking a restraining order. Celebrity domestic violence victims are often publically shamed, blamed, scrutinized and their integrity is questioned on a global scale. The Facebook post accompanying the TMZ article generated 6,100 reactions and 2,100 comments, which attacked and demeaned Amanda. This wouldn’t have happened if she had stayed quiet about the abuse. The implications from how celebrities are treated extend well beyond the celebrities themselves.
This public backlash creates a causal relationship between reporting abuse and a negative and hostile reaction by others. It communicates a disincentive for domestic violence victims everywhere to come forward. The movement to end domestic violence is predicated on empowering and supporting survivors. Celebrity victim blaming and shaming runs directly counter to that message. I used to think that the celebrity impact on my clients ended there, but I was wrong.
Social media now expands the celebrity domestic violence paradigm to anyone. While not experienced at the same magnitude, anyone with a social media following is a target for negative treatment by friends, strangers and acquaintances. My clients have reported being harassed and judged on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and others. The larger the following, the greater potential for a victim to receive the “celebrity treatment.”
In these situations, my clients are often questioned as to why they don’t just delete their social media accounts or make them private. This line of questioning puts the blame back on the victim, which should always be avoided. This isn’t their fault. While some may choose this option, others won’t for a variety of reasons. Disconnecting from social media may mean shutting oneself out from their life and support system. This can be particularly devastating for victims who were isolated and alone before they freed themselves. We live in a world where social media is part of our lives; domestic violence survivors should not be forced to self-isolate. Then, there are the financial considerations.
Chrissy, a social media influencer, has over 217,000 followers on Instagram alone. She books jobs, networks and derives income through her social media presence, so shutting it down was not an option. While the public reaction to her story has been mostly positive, she continues to experience hateful comments and insults on her Instagram page. “Oh, it still happens, but I don’t let it phase me,” she says. “I just block and delete and move on. That’s my advice to anyone in that situation, you can’t let them get to you.” She will also report any inappropriate conduct to Instagram or the police. Chrissy’s advice has broad appeal because social media can be a tool to achieve financial independence.
Social media platforms boast economic opportunities where one can network, be discovered, interact, book jobs, receive paid endorsements and communicate. It would be unfair to unilaterally ask survivors to forgo these opportunities. Every situation is different and participation on social media should always be done safely. For example, in addition to her ‘block and delete’ practice, Chrissy delays her posts until after she has left a particular location. If she is attending a public event, she doesn’t go alone or confirms there will be security present to meet her. Survivors should always be careful about posting any personal or identifying information or sharing that information with anyone contacting them via social media.
Celebrity or not, the decision to come forward as a domestic violence survivor is a deeply personal one. Chrissy uses her celebrity to speak out about domestic violence and founded Survive to Thrive Global, a New York based non-profit that raises awareness and provides domestic violence survivors with services like free dental care and credit repair. Amber Heard elected to donate the millions from her divorce settlement to charity and has appeared in a PSA on domestic violence. Across the country, survivors who give back and raise awareness fuel the domestic violence movement. Celebrity or not, I am constantly inspired by the social media accounts of individuals proudly identifying as domestic violence survivors and using them as a platform to share their stories in hopes of helping others.