So You Think You Can Dance judge Mary Murphy says Rihanna's abuse prompted her to speak out about her own abusive marriage. But unlike Rihanna, her abuser isn't also a celebrity — and her statements are getting a different reaction.
In the clip above, from last night's Larry King Live, Murphy describes her husband's controlling behavior, which escalated into battery and rape over the course of their nine-year marriage, and the disappointment she felt when her father failed to step in and defend her. She says when the police first came to her home and her husband refused to let them talk to her — he said, "no, that's my wife" — she realized the abuse was something "he felt like he was entitled to." For years, she adds, "I did just tuck it away and just buried it and went on with my life and I thought that, you know, I could leave it there and I wanted to leave it there." On her father's deathbed, they "came to terms," but she decided to go public, she says, only when "I saw Rihanna's face and seeing that just brought it all up."
Rihanna's case is different from Murphy's in one key respect: we don't know Murphy's abuser. In photos on Larry King, his face is blurred out, and she never identifies him by name. He did agree to speak to the show off the air, saying that he "never harmed her," and that her allegations might be motivated by "fame or sympathy." Since he isn't a US citizen, he adds, "If all of these allegations are true, she could have had me deported." However, on Ellen yesterday, Murphy explained that she was afraid to leave the marriage even during periods when her husband was abroad, and that she felt like "an electric fence" was keeping her in his power. She told Us Weekly that she finally decided to leave only when she found out he had proposed to another woman on a Middle East trip, and that "I faced him one more time to sign the papers, and then I never heard from him again."
Since Murphy's ex-husband isn't a public figure, we are unlikely to hear from him again either, and we certainly won't get the public apology-fest we got from Chris Brown. Murphy's story highlights a major distinction between public abuse cases in which the abuser is anonymous, and those where he's someone we know and, possibly, like. As soon as the story of Brown's assault on Rihanna broke, Brown's fans — including women and girls — were claiming Rihanna must've done something to deserve it. But nobody has any stake in the innocence of a nameless ex-husband, and YouTube commenters (not known for their good behavior or respect for women) are overwhelmingly supportive of Murphy. Commenting on the video of Murphy's Ellen appearance, one says, "More power to Mary and others who break the silence about this despicable treatment of women." Another: "It takes a lot of courage and strength to talk about something that affected your life for that many years. Thank you for uploading this." And a third, rather disturbingly: "was this guy african or arab? she said he'd go back on vacation to 'his country'. those cultures are very barbaric towards women especially their family and their wives must worse." The US Weekly commenters have a similar racist bent, and some criticize Murphy for not leaving sooner, but there's no "she asked for it" rhetoric in evidence.
Attitudes toward celebrity abuse may highlight one of the obstacles non-celebrity women (i.e. the rest of us) face in reporting domestic violence. When an abuser is someone we don't know, we tend to sympathize with the victim; when we do know the abuser — whether he's Chris Brown or a personal friend or loved one — we suddenly get more skeptical. Murphy tells Ellen that her husband was "very charming" and that "you would love him if you met him," and many abusers have a far different persona with friends than with their victims. Even Murphy's parents seem to have been taken in, at least enough that they told her, "you've got to make this marriage work, you are a married woman now." The fact that nobody believes a "nice guy" could be an abuser likely keeps many women silent — including "college-educated," successful women like Murphy.
Of course, not being a celebrity also means Murphy's ex-husband has less of a public platform from which to defend himself — and it's true that none of us were there to witness the abuse. But Murphy doesn't seem to have much to gain from lying (she's not, for the cynics out there, promoting a book). And while alleged abusers shouldn't be presumed guilty until proven innocent, Murphy's ex doesn't seem to be facing criminal charges, nor is his name being dragged through the mud. On balance, it's a good thing that viewers are rushing to support her — they may be more willing to hear women in their own lives who come to them with similar scenarios.
LKL: Mary Murphy [CNN]
'Dance' Judge Murphy Says She Was Abused Wife [CNN]
Abuse And Raping In Her Marriage || Mary Murphy [SYTYCD] On Ellen DeGeneres Show [YouTube]
Exclusive: SYTYCD's Mary Murphy Reveals Shocking Story Of Abuse [US Weekly]