Trigger warning: topics relating to domestic abuse
When it comes to committing crimes, most people would think it is the law who hold people accountable for their actions. But for many celebrities, the consequences of their actions could be swayed public perception.
When someone says celebrity, the first words that come to mind may be wealth, happiness and fame. But few would expect that any kind of abuse would be a part of that “perfect” lifestyle.
How people act in public, when they are being watched by those around them, can be very different to how a person acts in private. After all, you don’t know what happens behind closed doors.
But what would happen if you did?
The majority of offences that take place in a private sphere are domestic abuse crimes, and the non-public aspect makes it difficult for abusers to be prosecuted. In March 2020, the Crime Survey for England and Wales found that around 2.3 million adults aged 16-74 experienced domestic abuse in 2019, but only 758,941 domestic abuse crimes were recorded by the police. This highlights that a large number of domestic abuse crimes are never even reported, let alone led to prosecution.
Skye Derrington, a support worker for domestic abuse at Clarion House, thinks that: “From a feminist perspective, the way in which domestic abuse has and continues to be confined to the private sphere prohibits sufficient prosecution.” She goes on to say that being a celebrity simply increases this difficulty as their punishment is driven by “public support and interest.”
In 2009, Chris Brown (US rapper) was arrested and charged for assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna and received five years probation. Since then, there have been multiple reports against him for violence against women.
Despite this, Chris Brown’s career has not only continued, but has thrived – including global tours, a Netflix documentary in 2017 called ‘Welcome To My Life’, and is set to headline Afro Nation Festival in July 2022. The documentary saw him speaking about the night he assaulted Rihanna. This did not only offer a convicted abuser a public platform and publicity, but it also led to fans victim-blaming Rihanna and branding her as “crazy.”
Skye says that: “This is a perfect example of where having a fan base has prevented him to truly experiencing any punishment and subsequently, he has continued to abuse other women.”
Fans of celebrities can sometimes be following and supporting them for several years and be very loyal to them. When celebrities are constantly in the public eye, it’s not hard to take them at face value. But what we can sometimes forget, is that many celebrities receive media training and know how to craft their public image to appeal to their fans. And so, treating celebrities different to any other human and placing them on pedestals can have negative consequences.
“There’s a term, Parasocial Interaction, which is a psychological interaction where viewers can believe media stars are their friends, despite having limited or no encounters with them. This can influence how accountable a celebrity is held, as it stems from whether the public believe or don’t believe the allegations.”
A large part of this, is because members of the public may never have seen a celebrity behave in a way that is different to their “public self”, so why should they believe that they would ever be capable of violent or abusive actions?
Another example, the US actor Johnny Depp began a libel case against The Sun after he was referred to as a “wife beater.” When these initial allegations came out, there was widespread support for Johnny Depp, with both fans and celebrities denying that he is or was abusive. As an additional libel case continues in America, the hashtag ‘JusticeForJohnnyDepp’ has been circulating. However, there have been claims that his ex-wife, Amber Heard, was actually the abusive one in the relationship. Despite fans not knowing Johnny within his home and private life, the abundance of support that he has been shown for the past few years, highlights how public perception cam play such a large part in cases.
Mandy Proctor, Chief Executive of Leeway – domestic abuse service, believes that this unwavering support for celebrities can lead to victims feeling scared to come forward “because they fear that they will not be believed, or their experiences will be dismissed or downplayed.”
So next time an allegation comes out about your favourite celebrity who “definitely wouldn’t do anything like that”, take a moment to think about if you truly know that person you are passing judgement on. You only know as much as they want you to know.
And maybe just ask yourself: could I be enabling domestic abuse?