What Jonathan Majors’ case tells us about intimate partner violence

On Saturday, actor Jonathan Majors, known for his role in “Creed III” and “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania” was arrested in New York on charges of assault, harassment, and strangulation.

Authorities said Majors was involved in a domestic dispute with a 30-year-old woman who was taken to the hospital with minor head and neck injuries. For survivors of abuse and victim advocates, the incident has brought up a much bigger issue.

University of Massachusetts professor and author of the book Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship Lisa Fontes noticed that bigger issue that’s finally being talked about: strangulation.

“Until recently, people in law enforcement and in the domestic violence world thought that strangling an intimate partner was relatively rare,” said Fontes. “Once the police started asking specifically about it, which they still don’t do everywhere, they stated discovering not only how common it is, but how awful it is.”

According to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, strangulation can result in major injuries and even deaths.

Fontes described how, often people say, “‘He grabbed me by the neck; he put his hands on my throat.’ They don’t use the word strangle. They might use the word ‘choke,’ but often they don’t even use that,” she said. “Strangulation is really an attempted murder, or a practice at murder.”

And it’s beginning to get more attention. “Many police departments are routinely asking about it, but not all of them,” said Fontes. “I am hoping that [Majors’] story will give it more attention.”

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In addition to Majors’ latest news becoming a vehicle to re-trigger and re-traumatize survivors of abuse, Fontes points out that a lot of people are now looking to see on what’s going to happen next.

“Is he going to get away with this? Is the court system going to do a good job? Are they going to mess it up? How is the alleged victim going to be treated by the press?” said Fontes. “Because a lot of survivors were very upset after the Amber Heard [and] Johnny Depp situation, and a lot of abusers felt very empowered.”

Majors has already faced consequences, with the US Army announced that it’s suspending its TV ad with the Marvel actor for the time being. In a statement made on Sunday, The Army Enterprise Marketing office said the U.S. Army is “deeply concerned by the allegations surrounding [Majors’] arrest.”

How the public responds to domestic violence could certainly play a role in any developments in Majors’ case. Incidents like these don’t exist in a vacuum and bring to mind other high-profile allegations being tried in both the court of public opinion and legally.

The 2022 defamation case brought by actor Johnny Depp against his ex-wife Amber Heard battled over an op-ed Heard wrote for The Washington Post in 2018, which she described surviving domestic violence, without mentioning Depp by name. The seven-person jury unanimously ruled in favor of Depp.

One domestic violence case involving public figures like Depp and Heard shouldn’t significantly change or define a narrative around sexual assault, violence awareness and domestic violence, Fontes said.

“There’s something called DARVO, which is deny, attack, reverse, victim and offender,” she said, adding that she believed this is what the public is seeing with Majors’ case.

Through a statement made by Majors’ attorney, Priya Chaudhry, forcefully saying that Majors “is probably the victim of an altercation with a woman he knows” and blamed the incident on the woman having “an emotional crisis” is an example of DARVO.

Chaudhry previously stated that her client is “entirely innocent.”

“Somebody who has apparently committed a sexual or domestic violence offense, tries to flip the story and make themselves into the victim,” explained Fontes.

“It’s one thing to say he’s not done anything wrong. But it’s another thing to say that he’s probably a victim,” said Fontes. “And the problem is that she’s having an emotional crisis; that’s gaslighting to the nth degree.”

Fontes has advised people who have experienced abuse feeling re-triggered or re-traumatized by this news to make a list of things that have helped them find relief in the past.

“It could be therapy or counseling. It could be speaking with a friend, praying, a hot bath, a walk, dancing, listening to music, meditating, reading, whatever has worked for them in the past,” she said. “I also recommend that people think about contacting their local domestic violence agency,” or join private Facebook groups like domestic violence awareness and support.

Naina Rao

Naina Rao

Naina Rao is Reckon's daily news reporter. She formerly worked at NPR producing for Morning Edition and the Culture Desk, and has experience covering Religion, Arts & Culture, and international news. Naina is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, proficient in Malay, and is working on her Hindi.

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