What Charlie Sheen Teaches Us About Domestic Violence

The fact that we are still tuning in to watch a celebrity who is also a serial batterer is a sign that we don't give this issue the seriousness it deserves

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Mark Davis / Getty Images

Actor Charlie Sheen attends the FX Summer Comedies Party held at Lure on June 26, 2012 in Hollywood, California.

In the weeks leading up to the premiere of Charlie Sheen’s new television show, Anger Management, critics roundly panned the series and said that it would not resurrect his career. They were wrong. Anger Management, a show about an ex-baseball player who has problems controlling his rage, garnered a record-breaking viewership for FX, the cable channel on which it aired. That success follows a highly successful car commercial for the Fiat 500 Abarth, which also pokes fun at Sheen’s legal troubles by showing him driving the car through a party inside of a mansion, in which we learn he has been sentenced to house arrest. It has received over 4 million views on YouTube.

As someone who once worked as a counselor in a shelter for battered women, I am deeply troubled by how lightly we take Sheen’s long history of domestic violence, which dates back to 1994 when a college student sued him for hitting her in the head after she declined his sexual advances (the case was settled out of court). In 1996 he was arrested and pleaded guilty to battering a girlfriend who needed seven stitches to her lip, and in 2009 he pleaded guilty to first choking and then holding a knife to his third wife’s throat. Yes, some of the initial interest in Anger Management has waned, but even the fact that people initially tuned in to see a celebrity who also happens to be a serial batterer is a sign that we don’t give this issue the seriousness it deserves.

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And it’s not just Charlie Sheen. Last month, undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. began serving a 90-day prison term for punching, kicking and pulling the hair of his girlfriend. Like Sheen, Mayweather was a repeat offender. In 2002 he was convicted of battery against two women at a nightclub, and in 2005 he was arrested for punching and kicking the same woman he attacked last year. His televised fight in May was one of the most watched in the history of boxing.

This tendency to overlook domestic violence in those who have wealth and fame is particularly troubling considering that according to a recently released report from the Police Executive Research Forum, over the past two years, the struggling economy and high rates of long-term unemployment have lead to a 40% increase in cases among the poor and unemployed. In these cases, the victims were both spouses and children, and law-enforcement officials blame the stress of joblessness and dwindling bank accounts for the rise they are seeing. Repeat batterers account for some of the increase, and as a result, district attorneys in states like New York are asking legislatures to create sentencing guidelines treating their crimes more harshly.

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Though there is no data available on differences in sentencing and time served specifically for celebrities who batter, in his 2009 book, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, Jeffrey Reiman argues that the criminal-justice system favors the wealthy: they are charged with crimes far less frequently than the poor and when convicted, they have far more lenient sentences than the poor. And of course we have all noticed that stars like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, when convicted of crimes such as drunk driving or drug possession, rarely serve more than a small fraction of their sentences.

The rich and famous abusers may be treated differently, but domestic violence itself still knows no boundaries of age, race, education or income and is a widespread and growing problem in the U.S. One poll found that 33 million adults, or 15% of all Americans, had been victims, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that almost 10% of high school students reported being hit, slapped or physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend. Given those numbers, can’t we do our part and just turn off the television when serial abusers appear? We can find our entertainment elsewhere.

MORE: ‘Til Death Do Us Part

16 comments
John Renn
John Renn

Charlie.., like a lot of people.., takes his frustrations out on the people close to him.

It's common and unfortunate that Wives and Children.., who are dependent on the

paycheck and support get the brunt of it. It's sad that children see this and emulate

the drama in their lives often unwittingly. With all the money and fame to fail at being

a parent is inexcusable and unexplanable too.

poor_af
poor_af

This is very poor reasoning coming from a college Professor, how is there a tendency to overlook domestic violence if Sheen and Mayweather Jr.were both punished repeatedly by the court system ? Just because these guys are still rich and famous doesn't mean that their actions were overlooked. The goal of the court isn't too strip every person who commits a crime of all talent (is that possible ?), fame or riches but to give justice to their victims and to protect society. According to your thesis, because I watch Sheen on tv that mean that I don't think that domestic violence is a serious issue? That's ridiculous. First most people don't watch Charlie Sheen, they watch a comic show where a  fictional character is played by a very good actor who happens to have had a lot problem with the courts like millions of people is the US. What the public likes about Mayweather Jr. is his boxing not Mayweather Jr. the individual. You need to separate these people from their profession. Someone can have a lot of skills and be a great actor, carpenter boxer or professor and at the same time be a bad individual, or vice versa. Do you ask your gardener, dentist or Doctor if he beats up or if he is mean to his wife or kids when he gets home ? All you probably care about is if your lawn is going to be properly cut or your teeth properly taken care off. People known that a person can be a great professional and be very different in private, that why they turn on their tv to watch the actor or the boxer not the individual Carlos Estevez,( his show isn't a reality show) .... What's your next thesis ? Because society listens to Lauren Hill music is a sign that society overlooks tax evasion ?

liliou
liliou

SMART SMART POST, thank you.

shag11
shag11

 I don't think people follow these guys cause they are batterers, I think they follow them because they are trainwrecks. I don't follow either of those clowns because they exhibit the worst of human nature, and the beating of women only makes it worse.

f_galton
f_galton

Charlie Sheen teaches us chicks dig bad boys. 

Also, you left out he shot Kelly Preston.

raycome
raycome

This opinion is very poorly articulated. The connection to Charlie Sheen (headline and all) is solely for the purpose of attracting readership.  Lets hope better reasoning skills are being taught in a such a well know university.   

Heterotic
Heterotic

 domestic violence itself still knows no boundaries of age, race, education or incomeOr gender. Too ,many people equate domestic violence with battered women, which is incorrect. This article does not, yet the specific examples cited are that of men only.

ribblefizz
ribblefizz

 The author reports on abuse among teens, suffered at the hands of a "boyfriend or girlfriend." I think the author is well aware that it's an equal-opportunity problem, but the SPECIFIC gist of her article is that we glamorize or, at best, overlook domestic violence when it happens to the rich-and-famous. 

Her examples were, therefore, OF those rich-and-famous - the better to illustrate her point. If you can name a rich-and-famous woman who has been accused of physically abusing her partner, then I'll join you in your criticism. However, I've been thinking and even searched on a "celebrity gossip" site, and can't find any examples.

Ironically, this dearth may go some distance in explaining one aspect of the problem: Women are feeling more empowered to step up with their stories of abuse, because now we see that it's not just US - it's not something we're doing wrong, or some inadequacy; we see that beautiful, talented, wealthy, successful women sometimes also get their faces pounded by their boyfriends/husbands, so we feel safer in saying, "That happened to me, too, and no one deserves that."

When the first big-name male celebrity steps up (alongside photos and police forms) to say, "My wife/girlfriend beat me up," maybe then we'll see more men feel equally empowered to say, "It happened to me, too, and no one deserves that."

Jan Brown
Jan Brown

ribblefizz,

My guess is you didn't do a thorough enough search for celebrity men physically abused by their female partners.  Celebrity's and other famous men who were victims of domestic abuse by their female intimates; Abraham Lincoln, Humphrey Bogart,  Phil Hartman, David Guest, Christian Slater, Al Green, Chuck Finley, and  Jason Kidd.

Expecting any man to come forward and say, "my wife/girlfriend beat men up...it happened to me, too, and no one deserves that," is a tall order.  In our society it's okay for woman to share and show emotion...not so much for men.  The myths that; "men who "allow" their female intimates to beat them up must be wimps," and "REAL men don't talk about their problems or ask for help," etc. still prevail.   Men who do come forward are typically laughed at and/or not believed.  Jan

Hyam_Brochen
Hyam_Brochen

People are more than the sum of their mistakes.  Charlie Sheen

included.

And, perhaps more to the point, turning off the tv for celebrities with problems would a) end tv; and b) not do ANYTHING about domestic abuse.

In fact, without a regular place to vent their energies, and without feeling appreciated in any way by the public for the things they do well, in all likelihood their behavior might actually deteriorate.

Also, unless 33 million Americans are being battered by celebrities, your statistical analysis as part of this commentary is specious.  As is the reasoning that people tuned in to "see a serial batterer"... they didn't.  They tuned in to see someone funny.  Life is full of unrelated coincidence.

Robert Larkin
Robert Larkin

Opinion's have no place in NEWS. I'm sorry but if this outrages you, you should look at what people go through in Africa...but lets not worry about that small stuff right. Because Sheen is such a big star he needs the lime light...You have a great way of writing and I think you are wasting you time with this lazy and dumb topic.

Chelsea Partridge
Chelsea Partridge

It's under the opinion section for a reason.

Robert Larkin
Robert Larkin

I mean that there should be no opinion section. This is just an opinion about a movie star...I'm sorry but this country is so obsessed with such stupid things. He did those things in the past and what he did was very wrong but that is why we have a system to take care of people like that. This obsession with Hollywood stars is ridiculous. And my comment was only to inspire actual news like the mass murders that happen daily in Africa or the sickness in east Asia that is killing lots of kids. These things are news worthy and should have their own section. Not who said what and who wore this and who did that...that's just he say she say and has no place in a NEWS channel. If you want opinions on Hollywood ET has it for you. I did compliment the writer because I have read the book she wrote and I think she is not using her talents in the right way and I'd like to see her do more!

Juana Gilder
Juana Gilder

The more apt thesis would be that we as a Society don't particularly care about the behavior of our stars and celebrities,..MayorMoney.blogspot.com

Stewart Platt
Stewart Platt

While I think Charlie's history of Domestic Violence is totally reprehensible, your thesis falls short. By your reasoning, that means we as a Society don't take Drug Abuse, Alcoholism, Robbery, or Sex Addiction seriously either. The more apt thesis would be that we as a Society don't particularly care about the behavior of our stars and celebrities, as long as they entertain us. I think that raises a whole nother conversation about our Society, but to connect the dots from Anger Management's success to a cultural insensitivity about Domestic Violence is quite the stretch. Charlie Sheen became a cultural phenomenon because of "winning", crazy rants, and dating two pornstars at once. Being a serial Domestic Abuser is part of his story, but it wasn't part of the media narrative that drove his extreme popularity.