Although there is a textbook definition of reproductive coercion, it can be hard to identify and many people don’t realize they’ve experienced it… including me. By Ray Elise Rhodes TW: This essay makes mention of reproductive abuse, domestic and sexual violence. Please
The swift reaction to coddle Johnny Depp and condemn Amber Heard is indicative of the resistance survivors still face when coming forward about abuse. Content note: This story discusses domestic violence and situational partner violence. Last weekend, #JusticeForJohnnyDepp was trending on
As long as our culture refuses to hold the Depps of the world accountable, there will always be women like Heard who will be tasked with watching their abusers prosper.[TW/CW: discussion of domestic violence, rape culture and mentions of sexual assault.] New York Magazine's July 27th, 2015 cover is still as harrowing as it is iconic. Just beneath the bold red lettering of the publication's moniker are 35 women—the victims of Bill Cosby's serial sexual abuse—dressed in black and seated calmly in their chairs. The uniformity of their open poses and solemn, forward-facing expressions portray a shared preparation for public scrutiny, a feeling all too familiar to anyone who has ever spoken aloud of the abuse they have suffered. Seeing these women congregate in one image is an impactful sight on its own, but the standout element for many of us sits at the end of the last row: an empty chair. It remains unoccupied by all of the women who, despite the presence of nearly three dozen fellow survivors, still didn't feel supported enough to tell their stories. That doubt— something that so many silent survivors harbor—is substantiated by a society that not only continues to interrogate, mock, and ultimately gaslight victims of abuse, but also protects their abusers when they are especially powerful or popular. Johnny Depp is an immensely popular actor. When he and actress Amber Heard divorced in 2016, Heard detailed for the court a history of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Depp. Her testimony included pictures of her bruised face and a detailed witness account from a friend who had to physically shield Heard from Depp's assault. When his legal team claimed that Heard's accusations were false and motivated by possible financial gain, she promised to donate her entire settlement—$7 million—to charity.
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When I found myself as the victim within an abusive relationship, one that was marred by queerness, blackness, and a profoundly turbulent love resonating between the two of us, I was stunned into submission.[TW/CW: descriptions of emotional abuse and physical violence.] Last month while sitting in a smoke lounge on the westside of Atlanta, a friend leaned over to speak directly into my left ear, trying to whisper under the music. “Speak in my other ear, I’m partially deaf in that ear,” I said, as I have to often. “Wait, really? I didn’t know that.” She responded. “Why are you deaf in that ear?” Such a simple question leads me to the painfully uncomfortable conversation, by which I spend several minutes thinking to myself how to tell her, or even if I should tell her, that I am deaf because I used to date a super villain. And he beat the shit out of me. The first time it happened, he left my right cheek with a red tint over brown skin; an awkward silence dwelt within our kitchen in that moment. He no longer looked quite like an honest man, especially the man I’d fallen in love with, rather he resembled one of the grotesque villains I’d watch my favorite cartoon characters fight when I was a child, The Joker maybe. “Why did you embarrass me in front of my friends?” he would say, then a push, one strong enough to knock me off my balance and onto my knees. “I didn’t mean to,” I’d reply, not even remembering what I did wrong in the first place. I would say whatever to make the moments when the super villain was in my kitchen stop, or at least slow down. I thought I was seeing past it, always telling myself it was my fault, blaming myself for the speed and the force with which I was hit. The thoughts that raced through my mind this time were fleeting embarrassments and angering confusions that left our kitchen in an awkward silence for a moment: this wasn’t normal, this doesn’t happen to our kind; these types of violences are surely rare for us, and I’m now feeling as if I am a part of an anomaly within a sea of already demonized love. Here I was months deep into a love which was once all power and puff, now saying and doing whatever I could to defuse a situation I thought I was to blame for. When I found myself as the victim within an abusive relationship, one that was marred by queerness, blackness, and a profoundly turbulent love resonating between the two of us, I was stunned into submission. The person whom I was giving so much to, and borrowing so much from, became the very person who made a mess of me; the one who swore he wanted to build a nest up high with me began clipping my wings.