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Why is ‘the Oscar slap’ so disturbing….?

Alongside millions of other TV viewers, I witnessed Will Smith, assault Chris Rock live on television.

It was a truly shocking moment. Millions of people around the world saw it happen, as did several thousand people live at the Oscars ceremony. Yet after the infamous blow was landed, the show just continued as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

A handful of minutes later, Smith was back on stage receiving the Oscar for best actor. After drawing gasps of horror and surprise from the audience the first time he strode forward, he received a standing ovation from Hollywood’s great and good when picking up his award. Acknowledging the violence that had preceded this, a tearful Smith then gave a ‘non-apology’ apology for his outburst.

The whole incident really unsettled me. Why? Because the sequence of events that played out that fateful night is so common to survivors of domestic abuse.

Before I continue, I want to make it perfectly clear I am not accusing Will Smith of being a domestic abuser in any shape or form. What he did was assault another man. But working as a practitioner in the field of domestic abuse, I see the familiar pattern of ‘non apology’ happen time and again. It is particularly prevalent in our churches. And, for me and others, it is a growing area of concern.

Power and Control

When Smith assaulted Chris Rock, what I actually saw was a more prominent star hit someone with less status. He had the power and he wielded it. Plain and simple.

This has so many parallels with the world I work in.

Domestic abusers don’t target everyone: typically they use their power and tactics of control against their spouses to manage situations for their benefit. In most instances, the victims are women.

Gaslighting / Excusing the Abuser

Smith is such a mega star that no one – not the hundreds of security guards, not the hosts, not even the guests – called him to account. To me, it felt like the audience decided they hadn’t really seen Smith’s hand connecting with Rock’s jaw. And, because of the enormity of the occasion, they could be forgiven for pretending it had never happened.

For the avoidance of doubt, brushing domestic abuse under the carpet is commonplace.

One place that should be able to deal with such a sensitive and disturbing matter is the church. But many are ill-equipped to manage it. All too often their solution is to simply turn a blind eye and allow events to run their course.

Blaming and Forgetting the Victim

At the Oscars, some people aligned themselves with Smith, saying Rock’s joke “went too far” and that the comedian was asking to be struck.

This is how things play out for abuse victims, who are often asked if they did anything to aggravate their husbands before they were beaten! The assumption of many is there must be aggravating behaviors that warrant abuse. This includes the often held assumption wearing a short skirt somehow justifies rape.

While many celebrities comforted and consoled Smith after his outburst, it was surprising to see how few people were supporting the injured party.

Again, this happens in our churches, where a victim is often forced to leave a congregation, while their abuser stays and receives all the consolation that can be offered.

It is a shocking and powerful example of how easy it is for to do the wrong thing at a testing time.

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