Guest column: Family violence doesn’t look like what you see on TV


The authors are Cal State Fullerton students want to raise awareness about family violence. Their names are listed at the bottom of the column.

Intimate partner violence (IPV), which has historically been known as domestic violence, is a social issue warranting the time, attention, and efforts of everyone. IPV is estimated to affect 25 percent to 44 percent of women. It is characterized by acts ranging from stalking to causing serious physical and emotional harm.

Four of the five Cal State Fullerton authors

Four of the five Cal State Fullerton authors

The old adage, “you can’t always believe what you see,” is especially relevant when it comes to how intimate partner violence is portrayed in movies and television.

In the half-hour episode of your favorite television show or the two-hour movie you watched last weekend, one of multiple scenarios may occur in which IPV is depicted.

Though it takes, on average, six to seven attempts for a woman to complete an escape from an abusive relationship, media frequently shows the woman either fleeing immediately from her abusive partner with little trouble or getting revenge and “justice” by engaging in her partner’s own manipulative “game.”

The latter of these is seen in the film, Enough (2002), with Jennifer Lopez, as she fights for survival and plots to escape the wrath of her husband. Although her actions reflect women’s empowerment to audiences, in reality, victims do not always participate in elaborate strategies to leave their abusers.

Aside from movies, television shows also make light of IPV, as seen on Family Guy’s episode, “Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q.”

This episode takes a more comedic stance on the abusive relationship between a character and her boyfriend later turned fiancé.

But it begs the question: Can a scripted story played by actors truly portray the real life scenarios that women fighting for control and power over their own lives struggle with?

Situations such as those described above within media and entertainment can lead to the normalization and desensitization of intimate partner violence.

For example, research shows that exposure to sexually violent material encourages viewers to feel more comfortable with the violence involved in these behaviors. This leads viewers to believe acts of intimate partner violence are less degrading to women, less violent and less offensive than they may have otherwise believed.

What society fails to recognize and understand are the long-term effects these traumatic experiences have. Survivors experience an internalized battle that can last a lifetime. They suffer from a list of health problems, both physical and psychological. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the most common outcomes following a traumatic event such as IPV. It is reported that 51.6 percent of abused women fully develop PTSD and that it can be present even nine years after the last abusive episode. Survivors who suffer from PTSD experience such symptoms as disturbed sleep, numbing responses, avoidance of activities, anger and re-experiencing the pain of said trauma.

By passively viewing the media displayed on screen, society effectively perpetuates “victim blaming,” or the idea of victims as partially or fully responsible for their own victimization.

Such media images support the myth that to be truly worthy of services and sympathy, an individual must fit the characteristics of an “ideal victim”— a woman who is passive, fearful and economically and emotionally dependent.

Ultimately, it is important to be aware that survivors of intimate partner violence do not choose to be victims and more responsibility should be placed on the perpetrator.

This article is written by California State University, Fullerton juniors Janelle Lim (sociology), Bea Pascual (sociology), Gaby Hernandez (sociology), Kayla Smith (sociology, criminal justice) and Manuela Stratmann Ocampo (psychology) who are participating in a service-learning project through the Sociology of Family Violence course.