Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Response to Channel 5’s “One Night with my Ex”

I have written the attached and I wonder if it's the sort of thing you could share on your site? I've written my real name above but woukd like it shared anonymously.

For everyday victim blaming - One Night with my ex

There has been a lot written on social media today about the show aired by Channel 5 last night “One Night With my Ex”. The premise of the show is that couples who have recently broken up, go to an apartment which Channel 5 provide (complete with multiple cameras) and talk through the breakdown of their relationship, with the aim of deciding whether it is over for good, or whether they should try again.

The couple who everyone is talking about, Amy and Tom, had been together for 12 months, and split up recently. Amy described them as very much in love, and being each other’s “best friend as well as partner” however she ended the relationship because of his jealousy.

People can watch the show for themselves, however it is very uncomfortable viewing and contains a lot of triggers. To give a brief summary, the behaviour shown by Tom was classic emotional abuse. He was very friendly at the start, seemed charming (both to Amy and to the camera) however very quickly there were signs this was an abusive relationship. Amy told Tom that since they had split up, she had been out for one drink with another guy. As soon as this information was shared, Tom’s demeanour shifted, he alternated between talking slowly through gritted teeth and shouting, using the language of perpetrators that many are all too familiar with;

-you better think about what you are going to say to me next, you fucked it
-this is exactly why I did not trust you when we were together, you have proved me right
- oh dearie dearie me, what have you done?
-you need to leave me alone, I can’t talk to you right now
-shut the fuck up

We saw Amy try and explain herself but get shouted down several times. We saw Tom yelling at her that it was over, she had ruined it all, and he was going to leave (he didn’t leave.) We saw Amy pleading with him to calm down, trying to explain herself, getting frustrated, pointing out that they weren’t together at the time and she had done nothing wrong, and eventually, when Tom had confused her and broken her down to the point that he needed to, Amy began crying and apologising. Tom’s response was to smirk and hug her. At the end of the programme we were told they were still together.

Now there are issues with this programme being aired at all- this is clearly abuse and should not be used as entertainment. You would think that Channel 5 would have a duty of care to Amy (which was clearly neglected) and many have commented on the insensitive timing of the broadcast, straight after Celebrity Big Brother, which is “celebrating the female.”

However, my focus is on the social media response. I spent some time after the show last night, and also today, looking at the activity on Twitter. There have been some people tweeting in a helpful way – sharing helpline numbers, stating that this is not what healthy relationships look like, criticising Channel 5 for allowing abuse to be shown as entertainment, expressing concern for Amy (pointing out that once the show had aired, she would potentially be at more risk as Tom would be incredibly angry.)

However, there are also a huge amount of tweets that are victim blaming. Most of these people thought they were being supportive of Amy, but the language used is victim blaming. I am not going to reproduce specific tweets, as I don’t believe in naming and shaming people on social media, but some examples of tweets are:
- Tom would get a kick to the face from me if he spoke to me like that
- Amy should just run
- Amy get the hell away from Tom
- She needs to run as fast as she can
- Why be with someone who doesn’t treat you properly?
- He would have got violent if the camera’s weren’t there
- I would have laughed in his face, she needs to run
- Why is Amy even trying with Tom? He is disgusting
- I’m sure he would hit her if no one was watching
- So sad to see a woman begging for forgiveness when she did nothing wrong
- Tom needs to be sectioned
- How could she take him back?
- Tom was an arse, but what angered me was her pandering to him
- Tom is mental

The level of victim blaming here, as well as a lack of understanding of how abuse works, is heart breaking. I wish I had the time and strength to reply to every single tweet one by one, to tell people the truth – my hope is by writing this, some people may see it, as after all, if we don’t talk about victim blaming then we aren’t going to educate people about it.
We should not be pleading with Amy to change her behaviour, we should be telling Tom his behaviour is not acceptable. Comments like “run” “get the hell away” and “how could she take him back” “why be with him” are the same as people saying “why doesn’t she just leave?” She doesn’t leave because of how control and abuse works, because Tom did not start behaving this way on their first date, abusers charm, the relationship starts out well (wonderful in fact) and the behaviour that we are seeing from Tom now, manifests itself later. At this point the recipient of the abuse is likely to have been isolated from their friends, constantly had their self esteem knocked, asked to explain every male acquaintance they have, had their phone screened/checked, and feel they have no other option but to remain in the relationship, that is why she doesn’t “just leave.”

In response to those people suggesting if the cameras were not there he would have got physical, they are missing the point. This is emotional abuse, even if he has never been physical, what he is doing to her is abusive. (and if he has not been physical, he will likely do in future.) That is why there is now a new criminal offence of coercive control, because there are a whole range of behaviours outside of hitting someone physically which are not ok. Some survivors of domestic abuse (I can’t speak for them all) comment that the controlling behaviour, the constantly walking on eggshells, trying to keep him happy, dealing with all the questions and threats, is the most damaging thing to them, and they feel the impact of it many months and years after bruises have faded.

To those people saying Tom is a “psycho” “mental” a “nutter” there are a couple of things I would like to say in response to you. Firstly, those are not words we should be using to describe people anyway, we have names for mental health diagnoses which are less stigmatising. Secondly, even if Tom did have a diagnosed mental health condition, or a dependence on alcohol, or drugs, or was suffering stress at work, NONE OF THIS MAKES HIM ABUSE. Abusers are responsible for their behaviour, they are not “mental” – they are abusive.

My final point is simple – the only person to blame for abuse is the abuser. No one can control another person’s behaviour, survivors may have been given messages that they have prompted the behaviour, if only they didn’t act in a certain way their partner would not do what they do, this is not true. The perpetrator of the abuse is always the one at fault.

It is unlikely Amy is reading this, but if anyone in a similar situation to her is, I would want you to know it is not your fault, it is his fault, he chooses to abuse you, and I desperately wish that rather than society focusing on women needing to leave, needing to spot the signs, needing to educate you on abusers, we focused on educating men not to abuse women.



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