“Abusers” Reality Show Brings Real-Life Domestic Violence Abusers Into Your Living Room

People on reality shows of yore have eaten bugs, had catfights over men, and stabbed each other in the back for a chance to work for The Donald.

And now, they beat their girlfriends.

“Abusers” is will be an intervention-style reality show that depicts real-life cases of domestic violence and offers counseling and support for both the abuser and the victim. The show — which appears to be in the proposal stage, as there is no mention of a network having picked it up — will be produced by Albert Harris, Jr., a former aide to ex-New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. The creative team will include Ashley and Josh from “The Real World: D.C.,” who both experienced domestic violence in their homes. Abusers and victims who participate on “Abusers” will be given free online degree programs through the University of Phoenix.

This could work for TV. It just has to be more “PBS” than “Bravo,” you know what I mean?The producer, Harris, says he became interested in educating others about domestic violence because of his girlfriend Adrienne Mari’s experiences with an abuser. According to its press release, “Abusers” does not intend to sensationalize domestic abuse but instead “tackle the difficult and often taboo topic head on, featuring real-life cases of victims of all ages and backgrounds who have either experienced abuse, or are in relationships teetering on the brink of danger.”

While I can appreciate addressing taboos (which we also do on The Frisky), I will remain skeptical about “Abusers” until I see the finished product. It could go so very, very wrong. As with any reality show about serious, even deadly issues — “Intervention,” “True Life,” “Hoarders,” “Taboo,” etc. — the way each show handles the subject matter is highly nuanced. Despite best intentions, sensitive issues — and victims in distress — can be exploited anyway. Television really does not need another “Cops.”

So, to truly be a positive TV show, “Abusers” needs to be serious about educating viewers that domestic abuse is fundamentally an abuse of power. Domestic violence isn’t as simple as “she hit me” or “he strangled me”; there’s a lot of emotional manipulation inherent in intimate partner violence. It’s really a pattern of behavior, as you can see from this chart depicting the cycle of violence: calm, making up, tension-building, and other incidents repeat over and over again. Stopping intimate partner violence is not just about “no more hitting.” It’s about no more abuses of power.

I also am curious how “Abusers” will handle the gender and age aspects of domestic violence. It is certainly true that domestic violence can involve all sorts of pairings in a family: mom on dad, dad on mom, grandpa on grandson, brother on sister, etc. However, intimate partner violence involving male abusers (husbands, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, etc.) is by far the most common. While any abuse of power in a relationship is deplorable, “Abusers” owes its viewers an honest depiction of intimate partner violence in this country. Eighty-five percent of reported domestic violence victims are women, according to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and females are most at risk during the ages of 20 to 24. I hope “Abusers” doesn’t blur or obscure the facts about who reports abuse the most — young women — or else we as a society won’t obliterate the root causes (one of which I would say is sexism).

Judy McGuire at Seattle Weekly’s blog brings up another good point: Aren’t abusers supposed to, like, be behind bars? “If a stranger walked up to me on the street and beat the crap out of me, he would go to jail (hopefully),” McGuire wrote. “But if my boyfriend did the same, he’d be offered counseling?”

As I said, I’m skeptical until I see the finished product. What are your thoughts on a show like “Abusers”?

[Seattle Weekly]