Harriet Hall, The Independent
Selena Gomez has accused her ex-boyfriend, Justin Bieber, of being emotionally abusive during their relationship. Speaking in an interview, the 27-year-old singer was initially hesitant to call it as much, saying, “it’s dangerous to say in a victim mentality and I’m not being disrespectful” – before adding, “I do feel I was a victim to certain abuse.”
Bieber did not responded to Gomez’s recent claims, but he has referred to his past behaviour, in a statement posted to his Instagram at the end of last year. He described how he “started doing pretty heavy drugs at 19 and abused all of [his] relationships.” The singer described himself as having been “resentful, disrespectful to women, and angry,” before claiming that he has since “bounce[d] back from all these terrible decisions”.
It’s incredibly brave for Gomez to have said anything at all about her experiences in this past relationship. She will, of course, have seen the cynical headlines flashing across a journalist’s eyes as she spoke. But she continued regardless. Did you feel that what Bieber did to you was emotional abuse, Gomez was asked. “Yes,” she replied. “And that it’s something that I had to find a way to understand.”
The devastating impact of emotional abuse – and its dark siblings, coercive control and financial abuse – have been openly discussed for only a matter of years. This type of abuse was highlighted to the public by the case of Sally Challen, who killed her husband of 31 years when she finally snapped after years of abuse in 2009. Challen’s case led to a groundbreaking decision by the Court of Appeal, which recognised that victims of coercive control may be able to adopt a defence of diminished responsibility.
Importantly, Gomez’s comments expose that she herself did recognise the abuse at the time she alleges it was happening. Even her suggestion that she might be at risk of “disrespecting” abuse victims, suggests she considered her own experiences of lesser importance or severity to those of other women in different circumstances. This is a very visible guide to the guilt and uncertainty that surrounds abuse, and which prevents women from coming forward. How can we expect women to speak out if they don’t understand what constitutes abuse even when it could be happening to them?
In September this year, updates to the school curriculum on relationships and sex education will come into effect. The new curriculum will also equip pupils with the awareness they need to recognise report all forms of abuse. It’s long overdue.
But despite improvements to education and youth TV, thousands will never receive a good quality sex and relationships education. Many women remain incarcerated following cases similar to that of Challen and countless women are trapped in emotionally abusive relationships, often without realising they are being abused. And for those that have escaped or are trying to press charges, the system remains biased against them; abusers rely upon and exploit the ways women are misunderstood, when they remain in a relationship, when they second guess themselves, and when - and why - they leave. Just today, the Women’s Aid 2019 audit revealed that nearly two thirds of domestic violence refuge referrals were declined last year because demand “continues to exceed available provision”, leaving it up to cash-strapped charities to fill the gaps.
Celebrity news is often dismissed as fluff; often, it is fluff. But Gomez’s comments, and Bieber’s own admission that his past behaviour was troubling even to himself, are important. Recognising the signs of abuse, and that abuse does not discriminate against wealth or celebrity status, adds to the awareness that keeps younger women safe.
These stories are not mere celebrity tittle-tattle. They are talking points that take us one step closer to stamping out abuse.
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