Domestic Abuse: Does Mel B Have a Responsibility to Speak Out?
No, Mel B Deserves a Private Life – Laura
FOR weeks, unconfirmed rumours have been circulating around Melanie Brown – better known as Mel B or Scary Spice – claiming her the victim of domestic abuse by her husband of 7 years, Stephen Belafonte. Mel B appeared on the final of The X Factor, with visible bruises and cuts across her arms and neck. The absence of her wedding ring also set tongues wagging. Whether the rumours are true or not is besides the question. Belafonte’s consistently violent past and less than angelic history with his partners is setting fire to the scandal. Mel B has not spoken out regarding the allegations against her husband, casting a suspicious glare on the subject. What needs to be addressed is whether it is ethically correct for the public and the media to speculate.
Marriage, divorce, illness and embarrassment are just a few of the disadvantages that come with being in the limelight. But what happens when the latest gossip is not simply an embarrassing drunk photo after a night out or a small disagreement with a partner ballooned into separation headlines? Mel B might well be the victim of domestic abuse from her husband but why should she be forced to speak of such a personal issue that she is still tackling at present, simply to satiate the appetite of the hungry media? This is not a public cry for attention and neither is it a mistake that the public figure brought on herself. So the question can be posed, do we have a right to interfere with this very private matter?
It has been disputed all week that Mel B’s high profile demands that she use her fame to help others in similar cases. What people fail to recognize is that it is not our decision to make. This woman seems to be still suffering, the abuse allegedly very much her present. Perhaps she is the one who needs help at the moment. How is a woman – still in the throes of being beaten, humiliated in the public eye and emotionally unstable – supposed to offer support to others? Rather than ambush Mel B for her silence, I think the media should respect her privacy and give her the time she needs to recover. This does not necessarily mean that she will never speak out about domestic abuse, perhaps she is not ready yet for questions and the brave face expected of her in interviews and Twitter attacks.
At the other side of the spectrum, this entire story is based on assumptions, scandalous gossip and stereotypes. Representatives from The X Factor claim that Mel B’s marks were as a result of her treatment in hospital. Granted the bruises are placed around her elbow where drips and injections are commonly inserted. However there is still the argument that Mel B has not announced the cause of her recent sickness. The hush-hush nature of the entire story, coupled with the mysterious outburst by Mel B’s sister on Twitter only drives the rumour on. Why are her own family not permitted to see her? Why the secrecy of the circumstances of her illness? Do we, the public eye, deserve an answer? We will have to wait to hear Mel B’s statement on recent events. At any rate, domestic abuse should not be spoken of lightly.
Yes, Mel B Has a Responsibilty – Ailbhe
In recent weeks, Mel B has been displaying a show of unity with her husband despite rumours of having suffered serious assault at his hands. In a world of fallaciousness and disingenuity, it’s very difficult to know what to believe along the rumour mill wrought by the media. All we can be certain of is an issue which prevented Mel from attending the most important show in her commitments as a judge on this year’s series of The X Factor. Mel has since allowed the rumour mill to churn and subsequently have her own daughter deny the allegations.
Even if Stephen Belafonte is completely innocent, I feel the issue is too important for a woman of Mel’s stature to remain tight-lipped. Certainly, she finds herself in a difficult situation when her personal relationship with her husband is intertwined with her professional, given the fact that he acts as her manager, yet his history of violence against women doesn’t do him many favours. Perhaps my worries for Mel grow greater when I consider the security and trust I would seek in her situation of marriage. Mel B has consistently branded herself as a formidable, confident, alpha-female figure- least likely to back down in the face of violence. We cannot be sure she suffered any assault but rumours don’t always form from nothing. I also feel if you live your entire life on such a public level and present yourself on a programme of the scale of The X Factor with a blatantly obvious swollen eye socket and scarred body, you relinquish your privilege of privacy, even if unwillingly.
I call to mind Nigella Lawson’s situation, suffering domestic abuse in broad daylight at the hands of Charles Saatchi which was completely brushed under the carpet, instead allowing him to accuse her of betraying him and cheating on her dying husband. I find myself questioning, why any woman would allow these accusations to go unanswered? For fear Nigella’s reputation as a capable, responsible, trailblazer will diminish if she speaks as openly about her experience as it was played out for all the world to see? While trained to exude confidence in their public role, these celebrities are not excluded from the impact of domestic violence. Regardless of your celebrated status, behind closed doors the feelings of worthlessness and pain eventually eats into their psyche and ultimately shatters their confidence beyond repair.
Men equally fall victim to domestic violence, albeit in far fewer numbers. I ask, if men were suffering domestic abuse to the same extent as women, would the society we live in ensure greater preventative measures be taken to deal with a perceived threat to masculinity? It certainly leaves one doubting how far society has plausibly strived towards gender equality. While an undeniably personal and delicate issue, these women have an onus upon them to openly discuss their experience given their influential platform in society, not least to their fans suffering domestic abuse. They have an equal responsibility in their position as mothers to daughters. No one would expect a frank disclosure immediately but the experience of such women should not be omitted as a ‘private, personal matter’, particularly when the abuse is clear to be seen as the eyes of the world are fixed upon you.
From an Irish experience, I consistently find an unwillingness to broach such subjects, for fear of having to respond to or getting caught up in a difficult situation. Ask yourself if you were suffering, would you rather help or someone turning their back on you for fear of their own shadow, only to allow the abuse to continue? If we personally accept the violence, those who abuse only see greater weakness, granting them licence to continue. For a variety of longstanding cultural practices and laws engrained into the Irish mindset, women find themselves in an inferior. If we begin with unleashing the shackles of domestic violence, who knows what gains we will make.
Photos c/o mirror.co.uk, cosmopolitan.co.uk