WHEN EVELYN Lozada opened up and shared the ongoing abuse she received at the hands of her husband Chad ‘Ochocinco’ Johnson, she detailed the harrowing accounts that included the eight stitches she needed after he head-butted her. The response was far from sympathetic.
Social networking sites were besieged by people declaring that Evelyn deserved her treatment because of her ‘ghetto’ behaviour on TV show ‘Basketball Wives’. Even TV show host Wendy Williams waded into the ‘Lozada bashing’. The backlash was so extreme that Evelyn eventually felt the need to apologetically add that her experience of domestic violence was probably ‘karma for being a fool’.
As I have observed the reactions to this 39-year old woman’s story, I have been increasingly disappointed. Evelyn Lozada is a confident Puerto Rican woman. The daughter of a single mother, she grew up in the Bronx and rapidly rose to fame after her engagement to NBA player Antoine Walker. Her high-profile yet ill-fated marriage to Chad Johnson was exposed when she tearfully revealed the abuse she suffered on Iyanla Vanzant’s show ‘Fix My Life’. Yet when the episode aired, rather than praising for her seeking to ‘inspire victims of domestic abuse’, it seems we were more focused on how ‘nice she thinks she is’. I even heard people saying ‘humph! You see? I knew she wasn’t perfect!’
I have to speak up because that was once me. I was the former model who had a fairy-tale lifestyle. When things went wrong, it was the nightmares of people reacting smugly that (wrongly) stopped me from speaking up.
Watching Evelyn Lozada I was instantly reminded of Robin Givens. Robin, the diminutive 5″2 ‘diva’ of the 1990’s, she was always controversial. She was an intelligent, middle-class, former Harvard student and Sarah Lawrence graduate. She was competitive, ambitious and seemingly cold. In turn, her openness about her experience of domestic violence on the Barbara Walters show with heavyweight champion Mike Tyson (who has admitted to beating up seven prostitutes in 2009) sat at her side, was not lauded. It was criticised. She was labelled a gold-digger who had ‘got everything she deserved’. Reviled by the African-American community, her acting career dwindled. That was 27-years ago and it pains me to be asking the question: what has changed?
Evelyn Lozada may well be fiesty but this does not make the three inch scar on her forehead (the photographs of which were recently published by TMZ) at the hands of a gridiron football wide receiver justifiable. Robin Givens may well have been as highly-strung as her critics say. She may well have married Tyson for his money and fame.
That does not make him throwing her through their living room window irreproachable or ‘less wrong’. When Mike Tyson appeared on Oprah several years later and declared “the best punch I ever threw was against ex-wife Robin Givens.” The audience laughed. Oprah later apologised to Robin for not having admonished him.
The reality is that domestic violence is at an all time high. According to the IVAAC, African-American women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV than their white counterparts women. And while Black women only make up 8% of the population, they comprise 22 per cent of all DV. This makes domestic violence a leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 35. In the UK, domestic violence affects a disproportionate amount of BME children, teenagers and women. Yet victims of these communities who speak out are still treated with contempt. It is an issue that affects women the world over but it is pervasive amongst women, which makes it very much ‘our’ problem.
I fear that there is an underlying resentment that consumes us whenever a strong, beautiful, black woman speaks out. This concerns me deeply. I fear it means they are judged and disbelieved. I fear the brutal criticisms within our own community will prevent women from speaking out against the plague of DV.
Let me be frank here and say domestic violence no longer has the stigma of belonging solely to middle-aged housewives. According to women’s aid, Domestic violence is now targeting 1 in 4 women.
The demographic of victims is increasingly wider. 40% of teenage girls are presently being subjected to domestic violence in their teenage years. Guess what? Domestic violence victims and survivors may be young and naive. They may be beautiful. They may be sexy. They may be articulate and confident. They may wear makeup and heels and they may not have an angelic background. They may be loud and fiesty. They may not be virgins. This makes them no more deserving of domestic violence. And it should not make one jot of difference to our global response.
This year Robyn Givens once more stepped into the foray to pen ‘why I stayed’ the open letter and hashtag that gave women a voice. Now, a little quieter, older, more reserved, the backlash was less. But it was still there.
My personal opinion is this: there is no such thing as a woman more deserving of domestic violence than another. There should be no such thing as judging a woman who dares to speak out about her experience. There is no place for victims and survivors to be judged so harshly because they are beautiful, rich or disliked. They should all be embraced and applauded for their bravery as survivors and their efforts as inspirers. Our response must be one of solidarity.
For as long as this reaction to black female DV victims exists; the problem will continue to be increasingly ours. Isn’t it high time we grouped together to celebrate the victims of domestic violence? Isn’t it time we ceased the relentless judgement and criticisms of them after they speak out? For as long as we seek to rally against the women who step into the public to share their experiences, the domestic violence pandemic shall continue to rise. I for one, want to see it stomped out.