The first day of February dawned with some high-profile domestic abuse allegations. Not more information on the Armie Hammer saga, nor updates on FKA Twigs’ court case against Shia LaBeouf, but reports that musician Marilyn Manson had been accused of abuse by his ex-partner, actress Evan Rachel Wood.
In her Instagram post, Wood said she had been “groomed, brainwashed and abused” by Manson, and that she wished not only to call him out, but “the many industries that enabled him” too. Immediately after posting, and in the days since, Wood has shared other women’s allegations about Manson’s abuse on her social media platform. Manson has denied these claims on his own Instagram feed, calling them “horrible distortions of reality”.
Manson’s callout, and the two other cases mentioned above – Hammer and LaBeouf – came in quick succession: Twigs came forward on the 11th of December last year, about her upcoming court case against actor LaBeouf for domestic and emotional abuse. LaBeouf has issued an apology, but maintains that “many of these allegations are not true”.
In January, disturbing DMs about rape and cannibalism purportedly sent by Armie Hammer to an unnamed ex began circulating on social media, with an anonymous Instagram account accusing him of abuse and sharing claims from other anonymous women. More women have also come forward, with app creator Courtney Vucekovich saying the actor groomed her and left her with PTSD, and model Paige Lorenz alleging that he carved his initials in her skin with a knife. Hammer has described these allegations as “vicious and spurious online attacks”.
Wood published the post about Manson less than a month later. The speed of these stories breaking, along with their content, feels reminiscent of Me Too three years ago, which sought to expose the abuse perpetrated by high-profile celebrities. The movement exploded across social media in late 2017, following a series of sexual abuse allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Shortly after the initial reports of Weinstein’s abuse, singer Alyssa Milano took to Twitter to share an image that asked for “all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted” to comment “me too” in order to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. Milano added that if every survivor replied “me too” to her tweet, the numbers would speak for themselves.
And they did. Me Too morphed into both a hashtag and a fully-fledged movement, with many celebrities coming forward to share the fact they had suffered from sexual abuse of some kind in their industry. Those named as abusers in these statements lost roles, tours and their status as celebrated and respected members of the media.
Although Me Too was popularised by Milano’s tweet, the phrase was created by activist Tarana Burke in 2006 as part of her ongoing work for survivor advocacy. When #MeToo was trending across social media platforms in October of 2017, Burke commented that she felt her “world was falling apart” as her work was being shared with no credit.
In the years since Me Too, Burke has battled to keep conversations about sexual and domestic abuse at the forefront of the media. Many have labelled this the “post #MeToo era”, but the violence highlighted by the cause hasn’t stopped – something all too clear from the allegations concerning LaBeouf, Manson and Hammer.
Dr Lisa Johnson MBE, Women's Aid Direct Services manager, says public cases of domestic abuse do more than just highlight the corrupt nature of Hollywood; they also directly impact everyday people and survivors.
“Following a media story, we usually see increased traffic to our website and women reaching out to our services. Because abuse tends to take place behind closed doors, bringing it out in the open helps change public perceptions,” she explains over email. “It empowers survivors to recognise the harmful behaviour of the abuser. Public discussions can also help to dispel the myths around domestic abuse.”
Twenty-eight-year-old survivor Polly confirms this, saying that she felt emboldened to share her own story of abuse after reading Wood’s statement about Manson.
“With me, it all happened when I was in university, and it’s only recently – when talking to a domestic abuse specialist – that the penny dropped that I was abused,” says Polly. “I made an Instagram post where I spoke a bit about how I stand with Wood, but also how it’s challenging with these conversations because people always question the victims.”
In her post, Polly stated she felt “my situation didn’t look like it is depicted on an ITV drama, I didn’t look like a stock image, I don’t really fit into society's ideas of what a victim ‘is’. My actions, reactions, feelings and behaviours as someone in this position have been questioned every step of the way.”
The issue with those coming forward being disbelieved – or even, in the case of Armie Hammer, mocked through meme culture – is a genuine concern for those working at domestic abuse charities. Naomi*, a survivor of domestic abuse who now works full-time with other victims, worries that this affects those in abusive relationships.
“I’m scared of the harm that cruel comments from people saying they don’t believe celebrity accounts of abuse can cause domestic abuse victims,” she explains. “So many people I work with have gone years without disclosing abuse to anyone, for fear of not being believed, so seeing a public figure be ridiculed unfairly could potentially have a negative effect and only confirm their fears.”
That said, Naomi also feels that making conversations about abuse as public as possible is more important now than ever. Celebrities talking about their experiences, Naomi explains, normalises abusers being held accountable. She adds that hearing public figures speak about their experiences “also helps others to identify troubling patterns in their own relationships that they perhaps wouldn’t have considered as abuse.”
Women’s Aid manager Johnson agrees: “Survivors have told us that hearing celebrity survivors disclosing domestic abuse has helped them recognise their own situations. A celebrity accusation can show that coercive and violent behaviour is a criminal offence and help us recognise it at the first opportunity.”
The importance of keeping domestic abuse conversations in the mainstream is more important now than ever. Shocking statistics at the end of last year revealed that one in five crimes in England and Wales reported during the first lockdown involved domestic abuse. Figures showed there was a 9 percent rise in domestic abuse cases compared to the previous year, and that the victim was female in 74 percent of domestic abuse-related crimes, with women aged 16 to 19 most likely to be victims of domestic abuse.
While COVID restrictions may be exacerbating the number of abuse cases, Lisa King, director of communications at Refuge, emphasises that domestic abuse is far from a new trend. “One in four women in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales,” she writes in an email. “These are not just statistics, they represent real women experiencing male violence.”
Because of this, it feels especially important that the Me Too movement doesn’t fall back into being seen as a trend; Me Too must not move out of mainstream focus. There’s no excuse for any time period to be referred to as “post Me Too” when statistics prove that abuse isn’t only not stopping, but actually becoming more frequent. Allowing the conversation to become a thing of the past will only benefit abusers hiding in plain sight.
On the third anniversary of #MeToo in October of 2020, the Me Too movement launched “Act Too”, a campaign that asks supporters to move from abuse “awareness to action”. Their resources are available for free online and offer advice on everything from donating to volunteering, as well as educational resources on abuse.
What a resurgence of Me Too needs to bring about, more than anything, is a move from being a hashtag to a tangible action that helps prevent domestic abuse and supports survivors. Hopefully, Me Too Two will achieve exactly that.
*Name has been changed for privacy