Supergirl Melissa Benoist: How She Revealed That She Survived Intimate Partner Violence

Melissa Benoist may seem indestructible as Supergirl, the Kryptonian superhero star of the CW television series named after her. But in real life, she is human. She can get hurt. And a 14-minute video that she posted on Instagram TV revealed that she has unfortunately joined the many, many humans who have suffered intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic partner violence.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes IPV as “physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse.” Note that this definition includes situations where physical contact is not involved, but emotional or psychological harm is done. The following Instagram post from Benoist referred to her IGTV video and cited the statistic that about a quarter of all women have been the victims of IPV:

Thus, Benoist is certainly not alone. Far from it. Moreover, women aren’t the only ones suffering. According to the CDC, “approximately 1 in 10 men in the U.S. experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related impact.” If you think these numbers are high, they could very well be underestimates. Not everyone may be like Benoist and willing to admit suffering IPV. Additionally, not everyone even survives IPV to tell everyone about it.

Fortunately, Benoist did and was willing to share her story. And her Supergirl turn has given her a super platform to bring more attention to this major health problem. Her video began with her saying: “So I don’t normally do things like this but I’ve written something that I want to share, and I wanted it to stay my words and not have to edit it down for publishing. I’m gonna read it out loud, and I’m quite nervous so bear with me.”

Contrast this with the beaming, confident Supergirl star that you usually see on TV and in public appearances. Speaking about being abused can be very, very difficult. You are revealing vulnerability. You are leaving yourself open to judgement, which, surprise, surprise can be very unfair and even quite harsh. If snap judgement were a type of fuel, there would be plenty of it to keep all the machines in our country running. Furthermore, people can be like glitter, sticking to those who seem to be doing well and quickly falling away from those who aren’t. Therefore, you may feel like you are risking a lot to be honest and open to others when you are suffering in any way.

You also may find it hard to believe that you are stuck in such a situation, because aren’t such problems supposed to affect someone else? No one goes into a relationship actively seeking IPV. As Benoist said, “I am a survivor of domestic violence or IPV, intimate partner violence, which is something I never in my life expected I would say, let alone be broadcasting into the ether.”

With a significant percentage of people having suffered IPV, many relationships out there just are not what they may seem in public, or even to friends and family members. It can be striking how many people are maintaining veneers in life. Social media seemingly has heightened the need to show how great your relationship is. Selfies of people running around in meadows with their significant others, hashtagging the pictures with #isntourrelationshipwonderful, can make you seem even more of an oddball if your relationship is just the opposite.

Benoist then offered the following description of her previous partner: “He was a magnanimous person, who didn’t really give you a choice not to be drawn to him. He could be charming, funny, manipulative, devious.”

This shows the challenge of avoiding or leaving such relationships. Abusers frequently do not come in wolf’s or White Martian’s clothing. In fact, quite the opposite. They can initially appear quite generous and “charming,” behaviors that can be switched on and off like a light bulb or perhaps a costume. Such personalities may not only lure you and keep you in such relationships but also make it more difficult for you and other people to believe that such a person can be abusive.

Then, there is sympathy that the abuser may evoke as Benoist described in a clip of her video accompanying this tweet:

Some abusers may pose themselves as victims themselves, claiming that others are so unfair to them. They can, in turn, use this as justification for their abusive behavior or make it hard for you to blame them. In some cases, a cycle of abuse and then apologies may ensue. Even if the abuser does not ever apologize, a period of good and “charming” (there’s that word again) behavior may once again ensue, leaving the victim either confused or momentarily hopeful that things can change.

In fact, you can even start believing that you somehow are inviting or deserve the abuse. That you are not being sympathetic enough to the “plight” of the abuser. Or perhaps leaving the abuser will be abandoning the person. After all, abuse may not start until you have already become emotionally invested in the relationship.

Indeed, the relationship that Benoist described did not start off as abusive. Abusive relationships rarely do. Actually, the opposite may occur as the person is on his or her best behavior at the beginning, trying to woo you firmly into the relationship. As they say with “miracle” treatments and relationships, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Roller coasters that go very high, can also then end up going very low too.

As Benoist related, it was only over time that her partner progressively showed more and more signs of trying to control her, such as going through her phone without her permission and dictating what she should wear and what scenes she could and couldn’t perform as an actress.

Abuse, whether it is emotional, social, or physical, is often about power: someone trying to exert control over you. That’s why a person trying to control different aspects of your life can be a sign that more overt abuse may be on its way.

Indeed, according to Benoist, this controlling behavior that she described eventually escalated to violence. She indicated that “the stark truth is I learned what it felt like to be pinned down and slapped repeatedly, punched so hard the wind was knocked out of me, dragged by my hair across pavement, head butted, pinched until my skin broke, shoved into a wall so hard the drywall broke, choked.” As a review article in the American Family Physician explained, IPV tends to get worse and more frequent over time.

As you can see in the video, Benoist spoke of some of the impact that the IPV has had on her. Nonetheless, a 14-minute video is not long enough to cover the potential effects. In fact, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the potential far-reaching consequences that IPV can have on you. IPV can affect your future relationships and your ability to trust others. There is also the range of possible mental health effects such as damaged self-esteem, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. As a publication in the Journal of Family Violence detailed, those subject to IPV are at significantly higher risk to engage in substance abuse as well.

Then there are the serious physical risks. The violence that Benoist described could do major and in some cases irreparable damage. Beware of anyone who minimizes the risks or effects of physical violence. There is no situation where being “dragged by your hair across pavement” or “being punched so hard the wind was knocked out of you” is “just playing.” Sympathy for the abuser or fear can keep the victim from reporting violence. However, keep in mind that once the “physical barrier” has been breached, the physical acts could get worse and worse over time. Tragically, IPV ends up in over 1,000 deaths each year in the United States, real people who sadly couldn’t extract themselves from dangerous situations in time.

That’s why shedding more light on the darkness that is IPV is so important. Benoist’s revelation hopefully will bring more attention for those who are suffering, frequently in silence. Her video did spark the creation of a new hashtag #istandwithmelissa on Twitter, accompanied by a rush of support for Benoist such as:

Abusers are not only damaged people as Benoist described but they can do a lot of damage to many others, even if the abuse is purely emotional and psychological. Their victim count can continue to increase as they move from relationship to relationship, because abuse is not about the victim, it is about the abuser. It may seem easy to say, “oh, just get out of the relationship,” but for the aforementioned reasons that’s easier said than done. A relationship is not like a convenience store or a pair of soiled underwear. Not everyone can just leave or get rid of a relationship that easily. They may need superheros, whether its friends or others, to rescue them.