The Vagenda

The Media Must Stop Turning a Blind Eye to Male Abusers

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“How could she hug him?”

That’s the question that kept running through my mind back in April as I watched Katie Couric interview Floyd Mayweather. Because Katie Couric is a journalist but she is also a woman. Floyd Mayweather is a famous boxer who was, at the time of the interview, preparing to fight Manny Pacquiao, one of the most anticipated match-ups in sport. But he is also a serial batterer of women. So I understood her interviewing him on a professional level but…how could she hug him? The arms that he put around her were the same arms he had when he was convicted of beating women in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2010 (not to mention the accusations that didn’t lead to convictions). They’re the arms he had when Josie Harris, his former partner and mother of three of his children, said she was convinced he’d kill her. The fists at the ends of those arms are the same ones that punched her repeatedly in the back of the head, a type of punch that he, a professional boxer, knows to be particularly dangerous.

So how could she hug him?

She could hug him for the same reason that, following Oscar Pistorius’ conviction for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, journalists like Simon Jenkins in The Guardian felt comfortable saying they didn’t think he should be jailed because, well, hadn’t he suffered enough? And this isn’t an attitude confined to sport. She hugged him for the same reason that countless reporters have kissed up to two time Oscar winner Sean Penn, despite knowing, somewhere in the back of their minds, that he once, in 1987, tied his ex-wife Madonna to a chair and beat her for hours. By the way, that’s the same Madonna who was recently pilloried for kissing a man 28 years her junior while Sean Penn’s actual engagement to the more youthful Charlize Theron is celebrated.

How could she hug him? She could hug him because the media treats the successes of abusive men as more important than their crimes? And every time they do that, they make it harder for women in abusive relationships to come forward. I know that because I was one.

I spent the better (well, worse) part of two years with a violent man who abused me emotionally, physically and sexually. He was arrested one night when an unmarked police car happened to drive past as he was choking me against a wall. It was the only lucky break I got during those two years but I, like so many women do in my situation, declined to press charges. The police, to their credit, encouraged me to do so, both that night and in a follow up interview. But I was terrified. He was my whole world- abusers have a way of isolating you to the point that you believe that- and what would our friends think? They knew he was troubled. That he drank too much. They all thought he was brilliant in his field and deserved more success than he had. They’d think I should have done more to help him. That’d I’d provoked him. They’d hug him and they’d turn away from me.

I am extremely privileged in so many ways. I’m aware, for example, that my experience with the police was not universal. I was a young, university educated white cisgender woman being attacked in a middle class suburb of Sydney so I have every reason to believe that I got more sympathetic treatment than I otherwise would have. I also come from a loving, close family who, when I eventually told them what had happened, were completely supportive. And yet even with all that, I didn’t have the courage to press charges or even to leave him right away. Because society made it very clear to me that it didn’t have my back.

I have blocked my former partner on all forms of social media and yet, 5 years on, traces remain. He shows up in the profile pictures of mutual friends, people who know what he did but decided it was too…awkward (?) to sever ties. When I returned home for a visit last year, I was invited to events he was at and though I explained, in as rational terms as I could, that asking me to break bread with my abuser was an unreasonable request, his invitation stood so I just didn’t attend.

I’ve learnt to live with that. I’ve learned to live with people who call themselves feminist allies closing their eyes when a living, breathing woman is telling them their friend is an abuser. Because we do. We learn to live with these things or we go mad.

But I couldn’t live with Katie Couric hugging Floyd Mayweather. The media owes it to us, to the countless women like me and like Floyd Mayweather’s former partners, to not act like abusing women is no big deal. Mayweather reportedly said on in May that he would welcome a rematch, meaning this Mayweather mania could start all over again. He’s certainly been a near constant presence in the news cycle for the last few months. But watching an athlete play their sport is not more important than an abused woman. Seeing an actor deliver an excellent performance is not more important than an abused woman. No film director’s skills will ever be more important than an abused woman.

Every time a public figure hugs one of these men, they are putting the arms of every violent man around them. They are putting the arms of my abuser around them. And they are reinforcing the idea that if women leave, they’ll be on their own. We deserve better than that.

- Brydie Lee-Kennedy

10 thoughts on “The Media Must Stop Turning a Blind Eye to Male Abusers

  1. I’ve been there too. “Yes but he raped me” apparently is no defense against “yes okay but he’s a fun guy.” C’est la vie, I suppose. I’m sorry you had that happen. Seeing your friends cozy up to your abuser in the hole name of not creating drama and fairness (gag) is the shittiest feeling in the world. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.


    Whenever the latest abuse scandal hits, especially in sports, I’m always reminded of the Michael Vick debacle. Because damn, how could I not be? Abuse dogs and the entire world will pile on to make sure you never ever live it down (and rightly so, clearly.) Abuse a woman and suddenly, well, it’s complicated isn’t it, and you know how it is, and don’t we as thinking people have an obligation to balance the bad with the good?

    It’s a gross oversimplification, and I don’t mean to imply the media has made me feel like my safety and health are less important than a dog’s, but somehow I still get that feeling from time to time. SOMEHOW.

  2. I feel the same way.There are so many actors or athletes showed as talented for winning prices and heroes for winning games despite being complete assholes.I hate this sexist leniency !

  3. When I was a student I suffered a serious sexual assault at the hands of someone I considered a friend, albeit not a particularly close one, when we were both very active members of a particular society. When I eventually started telling people about it it emerged that he’d done the same to a whole host of women in our social circle, and that a lot of people in the society knew about it and believed the women’s accusations but chose not to say anything (or warn anyone), presumably because of the “awkward” factor. And they didn’t even especially like him – everyone agrees he can be “creepy” – but he’d made himself such a big part of the social scene that people considered it too difficult to do or say anything.

    My close friends did completely cut him out after I revealed what had happen, but I had to stop going to so many social events and participating in a society that had pretty much been my life up until that point. I’m not sure I’ll ever quite forgive him for that, almost more so than for the assault itself.

  4. This is such a good article, thank you. I completely agree. I’m still confused by why Chris Brown has a career, confused by why I live in a world where this could happen.

  5. This is a brilliant article, and thank you so much for writing it and having the courage to do so. It’s so important to read first hand accounts of abuse and how society has reacted to you. It really goes to show how far behind we are as social human beings and how we need to wake up and hold people accountable for their actions.
    I currently work in a domestic abuse charity supporting children and young people who have witnessed it/experienced it, but worked as a therapist with perpetrators of abuse for 4 years before moving over.
    Their delusions and ways of thinking are not only baffling, sociopathic (and sometimes psychopathic) and confusing, but it’s also utterly terrifying because they are almost impossible to spot. On my first day working in a prison doing 1:1 therapy with sex offenders I looked on my client list and found 4 of them were men I knew, or my family/friends knew, who I would never have suspected. Because “they were fun”, “the life and soul of the party”, “always had girlfriends”, and it made me shudder at the thought of them passing under my radar for so long to carry out their abuse on their victims, and how there were still people in the real world who chose not to believe the glaring evidence that they were the ones who carried out such abhorrent acts.
    There are so many myths surrounding domestic abuse and perpetrators that totally invalidate victim’s experiences, and your story you told really matters.
    When I tell people that I worked with male sex offenders and men sentenced for domestic violence, their initial thought is that these are wild animals who are chained to the wall in a padded cell, and that I go in with a stun gun and know martial arts to protect myself as they attempt to attack me with their rabies-infested fangs.
    As a matter of fact, and what still makes me sick to my stomach with anxiety, is that they are one of, if not the most charming group of men I have ever worked with. And that, is fucking terrifying. Because if I didn’t know their history, their stories of what they were in for, the victim’s statements, the police reports, the witness testimonies, the probation officers’ notes; they would tell me a version of events that removes them from all blame and their manipulation tactics make them so believable. Even when I challenged their lies, they would have an excuse ready to trickle off their tongue. This is exactly what they would do in real life. None of them made any progress, and all of them are still behind bars.
    I always recount these experiences to my friends and actually whoever will listen, because challenging this shit matters and opening people’s eyes a pair at a time needs to happen.

    Thank you for writing this article and I hope you are able to feel safe in your world.

  6. I see photos of the person who abused me on Facebook, posted by his daughters, my nieces. They call him “the best dad in the world” forgetting that he held his daughter by her neck, up against a wall and threw a glass bottle at his grand daughter, missing and hiring the wall. Forgetting that services were called in to help another troubled daughter. Forgetting that he abused me for years, used to beat them if they left their shoes somewhere he didn’t want them to be left and forgetting that he hurt their mum, my sister. The daughters don’t know that he cheated on her, that he killed their dog, that he was the reason for two miscarriages and that he was sleeping with a neighbour and doing drugs. Best dad in the world.

  7. Thank you for this article, and thank you to everyone who shared their stories in the comments. I have a much smaller example than the other ones here, but one that stuck with me and confused me for years.

    I had a small party when I was in my teens and one of my guy friends at the time stuck his hand down the pants of one of my girlfriends while she was asleep. At the time there were a group of about ten of us in my close circle. Half of us stopped talking to him entirely and cut him out of our lives. The other half stayed friends with him, and one of them even dated him years later. I was always shocked at how these people could react with such indifference. Even people that I respect and that I’m still close to.

    Chris Brown still baffles me. Not just the fact that he’s still making music, but that nowhere along the line in the big music machine did anyone stop and think that maybe targeting young girls at the beginning of his comeback wasn’t a igood idea. Not the managers, the labels, the radios or even the parents of his poor deluded fans. Disgusting.

  8. Wasn’t Mike Tyson convicted and jailed for rape? And now he’s in comedy movies?! WTF?