This story is part of “Love Don’t Live Here” Word In Black’s series about how domestic violence impacts our community and what we can do about it. Trigger Warning: These stories contain mention of domestic violence and abuse.
Megan Thee Stallion. Rihanna. Mariah Carey. Over the past few decades, the world has watched as each of these famous Black women struggled to get free from or get justice for the abuse they experienced at the hands of loved ones.
Indeed, domestic violence knows no boundaries of fame or fortune. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 40% of Black women have experienced some form of domestic abuse — physical, mental, economic, or sexual abuse — in their lifetimes.
Each of these celebs is also an example of the potential for life after experiencing intimate partner violence.
Carey is a global superstar and the undisputed Queen of Christmas, but over the years, she has detailed in interviews — and her 2020 autobiography “The Meaning of Mariah” — how her ex-husband and former Sony Music head Tommy Mottola mentally and emotionally abused during their five-year marriage.
“Many reasonable people questioned why I married Tommy. But none of them questioned the decision more than I did,” Carey wrote in her book. But she saw “saw no way out” of the wedding, even though she “never dreamed of getting married” at age 23.
Domestic violence survivor Constance Walsh, 40, knows what that’s like.
“I remember our relationship moved at a very fast pace, and we would often find ourselves spending the majority of our time together,” Walsh, a social worker and educator, tells Word In Black.
Is it Really Abuse?
Walsh, who is queer, says at first she didn’t realize what was happening in her relationship was domestic violence. It didn’t look “exactly the same way it had in my childhood. I was in a same-sex relationship, and there was no obvious power differential based on height or weight,” she says.
Her partner “didn’t always leave a physical mark.” But Walsh “was often terrified emotionally.”
She says her “ex would do things such as speed on the freeway while weaving in and out of lanes if she was mad at me. If I wanted to leave the house to take a break from the conflict, she’d stand in my way, not allowing me to leave. Coercive control and gaslighting were such frequent occurrences that I often questioned my sanity.”
In her 2020 memoir, Carey detailed restrictive behavior from Mottola she said amounted to imprisonment.
“I couldn’t talk to anyone that wasn’t under Tommy’s control. I couldn’t go out or do anything with anybody. I couldn’t move freely in my own house.” Mariah wrote. She also wrote that she kept a “go bag” under her bed in case she needed to escape.
Choosing to Leave
Walsh says the reason she finally left her abusive relationship “wasn’t because I was exhausted from years of abuse; it was because our children were getting old enough that they were becoming witnesses to what was happening in our home behind closed doors.”
She says she “realized I had to get out to avoid passing down this generational curse.”
On average, it takes women seven attempts before they leave for good.
These days, photos of Rihanna smiling alongside ASAP Rocky and her babies make folks smile — and we cheer on her Fenty beauty and fashion endeavors as well as her humanitarian activities through the Clara Lionel Foundation.
But fans of Chris Brown, who was convicted of felony assault (but received no jail time) for brutally beating and biting the Bajan superstar before the Grammy Awards in Feb. 2009, are still blaming Riri for ruining Brown’s life — and they continue to say the abuse was her fault.
When Rihanna briefly got back together with Brown three years after his arrest, she faced widespread criticism.
“I was that girl,” she told Vanity Fair in 2015, “that girl who felt that as much pain as this relationship is, maybe some people are built stronger than others.”
But she realized that by staying with Brown, she was continuing a cycle of abuse.
“After a while in that situation you’re the enemy,” she said. “You want the best for them, but if you remind them of their failures, or if you remind them of bad moments in their life, or even if you say I’m willing to put up with something, they think less of you—because they know you don’t deserve what they’re going to give… Sometimes you just have to walk away.”
Walsh says what also makes walking away and getting justice tough for Black victims is that they are often blamed and not believed by courts. Therapy notes and evidence detailing years of abuse were seemingly not enough to convince the male judge to grant a restraining order for Walsh.
According to the NCADV, “law enforcement officials often arrest Black survivors, and police, jurors, and judges are less likely to believe Black survivors than white survivors. Racist systems put Black people at greater risk of experiencing intimate partner violence.”
Walsh also experienced how tough it is for people with children to leave because of how the court system operates. The courts “allow children to have consistent contact with an unsafe parent because parents ‘own’ their children,” she says.
Community Pressure to Protect an Abuser
Black women are more than three times as likely to experience death as a result of domestic violence than white women. Racism and misogyny from law enforcement keeps many Black women trapped in dangerous situations. And community pressure to keep an abuser from incarceration doesn’t help either.
After a Los Angeles jury reached a guilty verdict against Tory Lanez — real name Daystar Peterson — on Dec. 23, convicting him on three felony charges for shooting Megan Thee Stallion, his supporters took to social media and gossip blogs to express hatred and blame toward Megan — real name Megan Pete — for ruining Lanez’s life.
His fans, as well as other members of the hip hop community, had been trashing Megan ever since she came forward and said Tory shot her in the foot.
“Because I was shot, I’ve been turned into some kind of villain, and he’s the victim,” Megan testified in court. “This whole situation in the industry is like a big boy’s club … I’m telling on one of y’all friends, now you’re all about to hate me.”
Antonia Randolph, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies misogyny in hip hop culture, told The 19th that Black women are overwhelmingly asked to “uphold the cultural requirement to protect Black men against the criminal legal system.”
“Black women are left holding the bag and have to protect Black men from the criminal legal system,” Randolph said.
Despite this pressure, Walsh says she wants every victim to know, “Do not let shame keep you quiet.”
She says no matter what, “tell someone you can trust what you are going through. Let them know you need help, make an escape plan, and have resources lined up for you — and know that what happened to you is not your fault, and you can heal from this experience.”
And for folks who need it, Walsh says, “Many LGBT Centers have legal and domestic violence resources to help you navigate the system.”
Keep Focusing on Your Goals
Lanez’s fans are still online blaming Megan. But Megan continues to keep it moving. She recently performed with Beyonce during Queen B’s Houston stop on the Renaissance tour, and has a hit single with Cardi B.
Walsh says even though “post-separation abuse can be exhausting, try not to let it stop you from your goals.”
“I have reclaimed my voice and intuition and healed parts of my inner child,” she says. But “there is not enough help for people experiencing domestic violence, and the court system is not trained to see the many different forms and aspects of domestic violence.”
She says in the face of such overwhelming obstacles, it can be hard for Black women to imagine life after intimate partner violence. Not only are organizations like Sisters Mentally Mobilized, Ujima, Black Women’s Blueprint, and California Black Women’s Health Project there to help, but the examples of Black women who have left and gone on to live full lives can be a comforting inspiration.
If you or someone you know is being affected by intimate partner violence, please consider making an anonymous, confidential call to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Chat at http://thehotline.org | Text “START” to 88788. There are people waiting to help you heal 24/7/365.