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(Editor’s note: This story contains graphic descriptions of domestic violence.)
Supergirl star Melissa Benoist revealed she is a victim of domestic violence in a new video.
“So I don’t normally do things like this but I’ve written something that I want to share,” the 31-year-old actress said in a 14-minute video posted to Instagram Wednesday. Taking a deep breath 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...”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “intimate partner violence” (also known as domestic violence) involves physical and sexual violence, stalking or psychological manipulation among couples. CDC statistics say that 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men experience some form of abuse during their lifetimes and that in adolescence, it’s referred to as “teen dating violence.”
Benoist described her abuser as a “charming, funny, manipulative, devious” young man who made her feel special. However, when the relationship got romantic, “there was a zero to 60 catapult.”
“There was a lot of jealousy, he was snooping on devices, he was angry when I spoke to another man,” said the actress. "... Work in general was a touchy subject. He didn't want me ever kissing or even having flirtatious scenes with men, which was very hard for me to avoid, so I began turning down auditions, job offers, test deals and friendships, because I didn't want to hurt him."
Concerned for her partner’s feelings, Benoist didn’t initially categorise his behaviour as abuse.
“The first time it happened, he threw a smoothie at my face,” said Benoist. “It smacked my cheek and exploded all over the floor and the sofa,” she said, adding that shame and further violence kept her silent.
"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 the wall so hard the drywall broke, choked..." she said.
Benoist shared that her ex followed a pattern after the violence subsided. “He would carry me and put me into an empty bathtub, turn the faucet on and leave me while he gathered himself,” she said. “... Insert the typical abuser’s speech here: He’d kneel next to the tub crying self-hating tears with me...”
Because her abuser never made her feel as though she “deserved” violence, Benoist felt sympathy for him. And though his apologies seemed sincere, she did not believe he would change. “I just fooled myself into believing I could help him,” she said. “I thought that I could love him enough to make him see a way of life where violence was not the way you handled emotions.”
According to Benoist, months would pass without violence, making their future seem hopeful. But when the abuse re-started, Benoist embodied “the ugliest version of myself I have ever known,” fighting her abuser back, withdrawing from her social and professional lives and lying to friends about her injuries. As The Hollywood Reporter reports, Benoist has previously described herself as "accident-prone."
After Benoist’s ex threw an iPhone at her face tearing her iris and breaking her nose, “Something inside of me broke. This was too far...” The former couple created a script to explain the injuries — that Benoist fell down the stairs and hit her face on a potted plant — to colleagues and even the police who questioned her in the hospital.
Benoist wanted to leave the relationship but after isolating herself from loved ones, she doubted her own support system, some of whom suspected that she was being abused. One day, Benoist confided in a friend. “... She bravely asked me if I was a victim of domestic violence,” she says, adding that the question provided relief and comfort.
Leaving was a process plagued with complicated feelings. “None of this is salacious news — it was my reality,” Benoist said in the video, revealing that walking away was the most empowering choice she’s made.
The actress hopes that her account helps victims know they are not alone. “... I am here, I am with you,” she said, “and you can and deserve to live a violence-free life.”