Relationships
Rihanna at a 2017 movie premiere, who has spoken out about abusive relationships.

8 Celebrities Who Have Spoken Out About Abusive Relationships

Domestic abuse affects people from all walks of life, including celebs. The following have spoken out to raise awareness.

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When I was 18 and fresh out of high school, a new, swoon-worthy older boyfriend began lavishing me with gifts and endless compliments. But quickly, his attentiveness turned into controlling behavior, like monitoring my phone calls and isolating me from friends and family. At the time, I didn’t understand the depth of the situation and felt alone in my experience, which made it harder for me to seek help. I wish I knew then what I know now: that domestic abuse can happen to anyone; there are no socioeconomic or cultural barriers standing in its way. It doesn’t discriminate against congresspeople, housekeepers, students, or even world-famous celebrities, which is why these eight celebrities who have spoken out about abusive relationships are inspiring in their own right. Trigger warning: This article and pages linked within it contain information about domestic violence, which may be triggering to survivors.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in four women and one in seven men experience violence, either physical or emotional, in their relationships in their lifetimes. In addition, the organization reports violence in domestic relationships is the leading cause of homicide for women. Whether it’s Rihanna or Reese Witherspoon or Charlize Theron or me, speaking out against abuse brings light to the issue, normalizing the conversation surrounding toxic relationships.

There is a common misperception that an abusive relationship is only a black eye or a swollen lip, but the dynamics of abuse are vast, encompassing entrapment, name-calling, financial restriction, and degradation. Coercive control, or isolating and controlling behavior are often stepping stones to physical violence and are abusive in and of themselves. By broadening the definition of abuse, and by talking about it openly, perpetrators can be caught early, and survivors can reclaim their strength. Here are eight celebrities who have shared their experiences with domestic abuse.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.

Rihanna: “Sometimes, you just have to walk away.”

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On Feb. 8, 2009, photos of Rihanna with a bruised eye and a cut lip surfaced online after her then-boyfriend Chris Brown assaulted her. Brown was later sentenced to five years of probation, 180 days of community service, and mandatory attendance in a one-year anti-domestic violence program for the attack. In November 2015, Rihanna opened up to Vanity Fair about the domestic abuse she endured, and how common it is in relationships. "A lot of women, a lot of young girls, are still going through it. A lot of young boys, too. It's not a subject to sweep under the rug, so I can't just dismiss it like it wasn't anything, or I don't take it seriously," Rihanna said. "But, for me, and anyone who's been a victim of domestic abuse, nobody wants to even remember it. Nobody even wants to admit it.”

A few years later, Rihanna and Brown reunited and dated from late 2012 to early 2013, shocking fans. Rihanna told Vanity Fair that, like so many people stuck in toxic relationships, her decision came down to the urge to change and protect Brown. “I was that girl who felt that as much pain as this relationship is, maybe some people are built stronger than others,” she said. “Maybe I’m one of those people built to handle sh*t like this. Maybe I’m the person who’s almost the guardian angel to this person, to be there when they’re not strong enough, when they’re not understanding the world, when they just need someone to encourage them in a positive way and say the right thing... I was very protective of him. I felt that people didn’t understand him. Even after.”

It took time, but Rihanna finally came to the realization she was wrong. ”You realize after a while that, in that situation, you’re the enemy. 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,” she said. “And if you put up with it, maybe you are agreeing that you [deserve] this, and that’s when I finally had to say, ‘Uh-oh, I was stupid thinking I was built for this.’ Sometimes, you just have to walk away.”

Reese Witherspoon: “It changed who I was.”

In February 2018, while promoting Big Little Lies, Witherspoon opened up to Oprah about a verbally and psychologically toxic relationship she had when she was very young, and how leaving changed her.

“A line got drawn in the sand and my brain just switched, and I knew ... I couldn’t go any further … It changed who I was on a cellular level — the fact that I stood up for myself,” she said. “Nothing about leaving a situation like that is easy because it's wrought with self-doubt, particularly if someone damages your self-esteem … I’m a different person now, and it’s part of the reason I can stand up and say yes, I’m ambitious, because someone tried to take that from me.”

Witherspoon’s past informed her experience while working on Big Little Lies. “It was incredible when we did Big Little Lies, how we would sit around, all the women, and talk about how each one of us had very specific experiences,” she said. “There was a range of experiences, but there wasn’t a woman there that hadn’t been affected by abuse. Not one of those women. I’m hard-pressed to find any group of women where you can’t say it happened to my sister, it happened to my mom. And there’s a range of abuse. There’s verbal, there’s psychological, there’s so many things other than physical that can be completely detrimental to your self-worth, your self-esteem, and your progress in life.”

Serena Williams: “If something feels off to you, you should take that seriously.”

Did you know 99% of domestic violence survivors experience financial abuse? Used to manipulate a partner by controlling their financial resources, this method of control got Serena Williams’ attention when a friend of hers experienced it. The tennis champion became a program ambassador for Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, a program that spreads awareness about this specific form of abuse.

"It's really important to just set boundaries, like, 'I'm willing to help, I'm willing to do this, but these are my boundaries,” Williams told Elite Daily about the subtle ways in which an abusive partner can manipulate their way into controlling their partner’s finances. “If something feels off to you, you should take that seriously. That's a red flag.”

Charlize Theron: “The more we talk about [it], the more we realize we are not alone.”

At 15, Charlize Theron watched her mother, Gerda Maritz, shoot and kill her alcoholic, violent father, Charles Theron, in self-defense when he came home drunk one night with a gun and started firing through a door at Charlize and her mother.

In a June 2011 CNN interview with Piers Morgan, Theron shared she used to tell people her father died in a car accident because she didn't want to tell her authentic story. “It was the great tragedy of my life, I think what follows is ... you have to find where you want yourself to be, and how you want people to see you in this world,” she said. “I had a parent who led me through the grief, shock, and anger going through all of the emotional things that you do when you — when something like this happens to you. But really kind of guided me towards not being a victim and not going through my life feeling victimized.”

Theron said she didn’t feel the same shame she felt about sharing her story that she did when she was younger. "This family violence, this kind of violence that happens within the family, is something that I share with a lot of people,'' she told Morgan. "I'm not ashamed to talk about it because I do think that the more we talk about these things, the more we realize we are not alone in any of it.”

Laverne Cox: “The relationship almost killed me."

Laverne Cox rose to prominence in her role as Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black. She was the first transgender woman to grace the cover of South African Cosmopolitan, and the first transgender woman nominated for an Emmy. The actress opened up to Grazia in June 2017 about an abusive relationship she endured for too long because of her then-distorted view of her self-worth.

"My biggest regret is that I dated an emotionally abusive alcoholic for four years,” Cox said. “I believed that because I was Black and trans, he was the only man who would ever love me. The relationship almost killed me." According to the Violence Against Women 2015 Transgender Survey, 54% of transgender people experience a form of intimate partner violence, including coercive control and physical harm.

Halle Berry: “In the quiet of my mind, I still struggle.”

Halle Berry grew up in an abusive household, watching her father physically abuse her mother, and in 1991, she experienced physical abuse firsthand. In a 1996 interview with People, Berry claimed a boyfriend “well-known in Hollywood” hit her so hard, her left eardrum was punctured and she lost 80% of hearing in it. “I left so fast there were skid marks,” she told People. “It never happened to me [personally] before — or since.”

Berry went on to explain how her experiences led her to get involved with Jenesse Center, a national domestic violence prevention and intervention organization. "I saw my mother battered and beaten many years of my life and I felt helpless. I have an understanding, a knowing,” Berry told People. “I feel like I have something that I can impart to these women. It seems like I've overcome it, but I really haven't. In the quiet of my mind, I still struggle. So, while I'm helping these women, I'm helping myself through it, too. And that's largely while I'm here."

Christina Aguilera: “[This] happens all over the world in too many homes.”

The Grammy winner posted a photo on Instagram in October 2019 after The Shade Tree, a Las Vegas abuse shelter, awarded her its Deacon Bonnie Polley Community Hero Award.

In the caption, Aguilera recounted her experience growing up in a home where abuse was commonplace. “I remember often having to up and escape in the middle of the night with my mom and little sister, having just the clothes on our backs, to drive cross-country for shelter at my grandma’s house,” she said.Without that, I would have had to turn to a place like [The Shade Tree] for shelter. I have so much respect and adoration for those who give their time and support to hear these victims’ stories and help them regain strength, self-empowerment and provide resources for a better independent future. Some aren’t so fortunate to get out, which is why it’s so important to work together to put a stop to these horrific statistics. Moreover, this isn’t just an issue in the U.S., but happens all over the world, in too many homes!!”

Patrick Stewart: “Violence is never ever a choice that a man should make."

Patrick Stewart grew up with an abusive father. In May 2013, Stewart appeared at Comicpalooza in Texas and answered questions from audience members. While there, Stewart ended up debunking a dangerous misconception about abuse.

"As a child, I heard in my home doctors and ambulance men say, 'Mrs. Stewart, you must have done something to provoke him,' 'Mrs. Stewart, it takes two to make an argument,’” the actor said. “Wrong! Wrong! My mother did nothing to provoke that, and even if she had, violence is never ever a choice that a man should make. Ever!"