Mario Lopez recently took to Instagram to joke about a headline from 2018. True, the headline was so bizarre that it seemed funny, but the actor’s post shines a light on a far more dangerous reality – and it couldn’t be any less comical.
Country Quips And Hashtag Punchlines
In June of 2021, Lopez posted a screengrab of an old 2018 Unilad article. The headline reads, “Woman Vows To Stand By Husband Who Stabbed Her 46 Times.”
“Tell me you’re in a toxic relationship without telling me you’re in a toxic relationship—# WhoSaysLoyaltyDoesn’tExist,” Lopez’s caption jokes. “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette plays in the background.
“Wait- are the lyrics ‘stabbed by your man?’ [or] ‘stand by your man?’ I can’t tell…” wrote Lopez’s wife, Courtney. “Maybe he stabbed her brain too,” another IG user said.
The post currently has over 460,000 likes. But this post sets a dangerous precedent of making light of something terrible.
The Reality Behind The Laugh
Unilad reported in November 2018 that 25-year-old Michael Barnard brutally attacked his wife, Shannon, with a knife.
Shannon suffered 46 stab wounds. As a result, both of Shannon’s lungs collapsed. During the attack, she recalls her husband standing over her, saying, “You’ve got to die.”
In a viral twist, Shannon forgave her husband at a court hearing. Furthermore, she wants to raise a family with him upon his release.
Understandably, the internet was shocked at the victim’s loyalty to a man who tried to kill her. But Shannon is neither the first nor last to stay in a toxic relationship.
An All-Too-Common Global Problem
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) estimates that nearly 20 people per minute suffer physical abuse. Additionally, the NCADV found that one in four women experience severe intimate partner violence. UN data shows that 137 women across the world are killed every day by a partner.
Most of these women fall between the ages of 18 and 24. Case in point: Shannon Bernard was 21 when her husband attacked her.
In more ways than one, Shannon’s is a textbook case. Indeed, her heinous injuries and loyalty to Michael are memorable. Yet, at the same time, neither the attack nor her reaction is unique.
Many Stay, Others Never Get To Decide
Perhaps the most extraordinary part of Shannon’s story is that she survived. She spent 17 days in the hospital. Doctors said she was lucky to survive. Sadly, most other victims are not as fortunate.
A 2009 U.S. Department of Justice study found that females die by intimate partner homicide at twice the rate of males. In fact, Emory University estimates that more than three women are killed by their male partners every day.
Yet, for those who do get the chance to survive, a reaction like Shannon’s is common. It even makes sense.
Abuse Affects Every Aspect Of Your Life
Victims stay in toxic relationships for many reasons. Sometimes, it’s a direct extension of abuse. Other times, a victim’s reasoning is separate from their partner altogether. Most often, it’s a mixture of both.
According to this study, the most important factor of women’s decisions to tolerate abuse is relationship satisfaction. Women with low self-esteem are more likely to be “satisfied” with a low-quality relationship. They’re also more likely to put up with abuse if they were abused as children.
Moreover, mixed feelings toward abusers are common. Research shows that we can and often do analyze our partners via bivalent-priming. That is, processing good and bad information simultaneously.
“In the case of a bad relationship, your thoughts may be negative, telling you that your partner is not good for you. But your feelings may still be positive. We may continue to love our partners, even though we consciously recognize that we are involved in bad relationships,” Dr. Madeleine A. Fugère explained to Psychology Today.
There are many other reasons why someone might stay with an abusive partner. These include fear, shame, intimidation, children or lack of resources, for example. Abuse is only ever cut-and-dry to those outside of the relationship.
Comprehending The Incomprehensible
Ultimately, my biggest qualm with Lopez’s post is a disregard for abuse’s complicated nature. Shannon isn’t the butt of a joke. She’s sick.
Stockholm Syndrome—or trauma bonding—is a survival technique. Trauma bonding is present “in any relationship where the connection defies logic and is hard to break.”
“Law enforcement personnel have long recognized this syndrome with battered women who fail to press charges [or] bail their battering partner out of jail,” Matthew H. Logan wrote in Violence and Gender in 2018.
Shannon told the Maidstone Crown Court that she had been visiting her husband in prison “on every occasion possible” and plans to see him twice a week. Not making sense? It likely doesn’t make perfect sense to her, either.
“No matter how much insight and understanding we develop, the rational brain is basically impotent to talk the emotional brain out of its own reality,” Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., wrote in The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
In other words, abuse is illogical.
Learning Why (And How) To Leave
All 50 states, Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands also have statewide branches of the NCADV that offer similar services.
But it can’t just be up to the victim.
Taking Care Not To Trivialize
Our society has a long history of victim-blaming. It’s commonly associated with rape culture. But victim-blaming promotes the dismissal and disrespect of all forms of abuse.
Unfortunately, this leads to the widespread belief that domestic violence jokes are okay. Research like this that says “dark humor” is a sign of higher intelligence only further bolsters those tone-deaf enough to joke about abuse.
Tone-deaf as, say, Lopez’s tongue-in-cheek post. Sure, we as a society likely aren’t looking to Mario Lopez to lead the fight against domestic abuse. But with a great influence, shouldn’t there also be great responsibility?
Lopez offered no solutions. He included neither resources nor support. At best, it was lukewarm comedy. But domestic violence is not a joke. It isn’t rare. And it deserves respect. If not for the strangers suffering daily, then at least for the women in your life who are abused, whether or not you realize it.