The actress and dancer pens a powerful open letter to TMZ’s Raquel Harper about the hidden dangers of intimate-partner violence. The letter is in response to the “Raq Rants” host’s interview with former Scandal star—and McCall’s ex-husband—Columbus Short.
And you’re such a nice guy, too … from what I see, and when they say as far as like the whole domestic violence situation, it’s hard for me to see … I rock with him. I don’t care what the critics say. —Raquel Harper, TMZ’s “Raq Rants,” Sept. 21, 2016
I watched your “Raq Rants” interview with my abuser.
Long after the screen went black, your laughter and his voice echoed in my head. I tossed and turned for several nights with so much anger and hurt weighing on my chest that it was hard for me to breathe.
Then I finally asked myself the key question: What about this interview triggered me? What made it such an emotional and psychological land mine? Why was it so different from the one when The Defendant sat down with Billy Bush or with Tom Joyner? What made it so different from when D.L. Hughley called me a “thirsty b–ch?” Those incidents unearthed a lot of painful feelings best left buried, but nothing a good Tae Bo class didn’t cure.
What was it about this particular interview that caused such inner turmoil for me?
And you know what I realized? I realized that it was you, Raquel—you were the toxic variable for me. I have grown accustomed to The Assailant not taking any responsibility for his violent actions toward me and other women; I have learned to brace myself against his gaslighting. I have become numb in response to relentless misogynist attacks on women in general, specifically intimate-partner violence survivors.
But you, sister, you look just like me. You mirror the countless women who provided loving shelter for me and my toddler when we were left homeless—when that last instance of abuse finally shattered our twisted normal. You look like the queens who watched my child when I became an Uber driver, taught dance classes, and took any temp job I could find—and at one point worked six jobs at once—just to find a way to provide for my child post-Scandal. You physically embody the sisters who helped feed, clothe, love, heal, empower and guide me while I stitched my torn self-esteem back together bit by bit over the past grueling years.
That is why I am writing to you, so that I can let you know from the bottom of my heart how disappointed and hurt I am that you flirted and fluttered your way around for almost 15 minutes with a man convicted of beating me.
And I do realize that this is bigger than you—this is bigger than me. Intimate-partner violence is an uncomfortable topic, but just like race, the deep and pervasive ugliness must be excavated from the darkness and laid bare in the light. It took me a very long time and painful self-reckoning to even admit that I was a victim of domestic violence. I didn’t want to admit that to myself, let alone to the world. I didn’t want to be a victim, but it is time to call a thing a thing. I have survived being victimized, but there are many, many women who do not.
Moving forward, Raquel, it is my hope that you will handle this topic with more moxie and care. To that end—and in case your dangerous assumption that “you can’t see” how such a “nice guy” could abuse his wife was simply ignorant and not malicious—I want to enlighten you on a few things.
Most abusers come across as “nice guys.” Just like some pedophiles come across as being amazing with children. It is part of the grooming process for these people. They are charming and charismatic. They can make the whole room light up when they walk in. They are engaging and seem to be the antithesis of a “wife beater.”
We have to begin to be very clear about the defining characteristics of an abuser. They don’t look like the bad guy/girl portrayed in the media. Again, the child molester isn’t always the person that is lurking on the park bench alone with no children. They are the sports coaches, teachers and religious leaders in our communities. They are the people we trust, and they are masters at hiding who they really are.
“Nice guy” or not, The Parolee you sat down with physically, sexually, mentally, emotionally and financially abused me for years while we were married.
Here are just a few statistics from the Domestic Violence Intervention Program:
- A woman is beaten every 9 seconds.
- The American Medical Association and FBI estimate 3 million to 4 million women are battered each year in the U.S.
- Domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury to women.
- The FBI estimates violence will occur during the course of two-thirds of all marriages.
- Approximately one-third of the men counseled for battering at Emerge (a nationally recognized batterers treatment program) are professional men who are well-respected in their jobs and communities.
- Leaving a battering partner may be the most dangerous time in a relationship. Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship.
- Battering is the establishment of control and fear in a relationship through violence and other forms of abuse. The violence may not happen often, but it remains a hidden and constant terrorizing factor.
This is not a game. You can read more about intimate-partner violence here.
Talking about intimate-partner violence is uncomfortable. Raquel, I understand that it was uncomfortable for you to bring up “the domestic violence situation” in your interview—your body language and tone gave it away—so you padded the tarmac for The Abuser to ensure his smooth landing. Words to grow on: Whether you are speaking to a domestic violence victim, survivor or abuser, there may be feelings of discomfort involved. Have the truthful conversations anyway.
We are taught that relationships—especially problems in relationships—are private. It isn’t something that bystanders want to get involved in, even if they are aware that something is amiss, because it isn’t “any of our business.” But this is when silence can truly kill.
When my abuser would act out in front of others, I can only remember a handful of times that people actually stepped in and said something. Because of their discomfort, most of them would literally just turn their heads or even leave when he became publicly abusive. If conditions are not deadly or personally harmful, it is critical to have that awkward conversation with someone you know is being abused or has been abusive toward someone else.
You may save someone’s life.
Don’t fall victim to a patriarchal and misogynist society/media that silences, abuses and objectifies women. We live in a racist and sexist society. Women have had to fight not to be seen as second-class citizens—and black women have had to fight to be seen at all. Intimate-partner violence should matter even when you’re not the victim, Raquel—even when it’s not someone whom you love or even know. Right is right, and wrong is wrong.
I am growing tired of seeing people—mainly women—being dragged for filth after surviving one of the worst experiences one can have in this lifetime. When I finally filed for a restraining order after years of abuse—because The Violator attempted to murder me in my own home while my daughter slept—the fallout was indicative of how our society views women. I was called “liar, whore, b–ch, stupid” and every other name but the one my mom gave me.
D.L. Hughley did not just call me a “thirsty b–ch;” he did an entire segment on his radio show about me. He mocked my pain and my very real experiences as I was hiding out at a friend’s house—homeless, hurt, heartbroken, scared as hell, with a 2-year-old baby girl who had witnessed most of the abuse I barely survived. The arduous steps it took for me to even file the report in the first place were almost halted by my scared inner-child—the part of me that said I deserved it because I wasn’t good enough. The part of me that said I should stay because who else would want me?
The parts of me that my abuser spoke to daily in order to continually inflict pain and hurt in my life.
I am triggered every time a famous person is accused of domestic violence because of the way the media reports on it and the way some people respond to it. When Amber Heard came forward with a visible black eye—allegedly caused by her then husband, Johnny Depp, though she later withdrew her claims—she was attacked so ferociously that I had to go back to therapy. Everyone said Depp was a “nice guy,” too.
And so I am writing this open letter to you, Raquel, because I wanted you to do and be better than that interview. I know TMZ is an entertainment site, but domestic violence is not entertainment—at least, it shouldn’t be. Either do not touch on it or have the courage and decency to do so with respect. You owed it to me. You owed it to Karrine Steffans, Simone Kelly and Agostina Laneri—the three women who filed restraining orders after me.
That’s four women who bravely came forward—in just the past two years alone—to testify to the abuse that they endured at the hands of The Womanizer you interviewed. And these are just the women we know of because intimate-partner violence is so underreported.
Four women, three after me, in the past two years: Will you be one person who tries to make a difference, Raquel? Time is up. The silence of too many victims is gained through emotional and psychological extortion—and they can no longer afford to pay the cost.
I am proud to say that I have grown tremendously since I left my abuser. It took near-death for me to finally have enough strength, and I thank God daily for getting my daughter and me out of that situation alive. I still struggle with the aftermath of what I went through. I’m still working on the shame, guilt and overall embarrassment of the ordeal, but I am finally proud of who I am today. Since my abuse was made public, women have reached out to me privately on a monthly basis with their own stories of abuse and survival. I mostly just listen, but all of our stories sound eerily familiar.
Some of these women leave and some of them stay, but either way, I am there for them. I know from personal experience that it isn’t just a matter of “just leave him.” I don’t know everything that lies ahead for these women, but what I do know is that the months and years ahead will be at turns painful, exciting, scary, joyous and confusing. What I do know is that when there is turbulence I will always do my best to be their soft landing on the tarmac.
If they live.
If they live, they will most likely be triggered directly and indirectly as they navigate their lives and negotiate their own humanity in a society that blames and shames them every step of the way. My hope in writing this is that you, Raquel, are not the cause of some of that pain.
We have to do better—all of us.
Love and light,