On November 18, a 23-year-old woman in St. Louis, Missouri, was punched in the face. She told police she was ambushed late at night while she and her boyfriend were picking up a drunk friend from a bar and punched as part of what’s been called the “knockout game.”
The “knockout game,” in case your grandmother has not been emailing you repeatedly about it, is an alleged game teens are playing in which they attack random folks on the street and knock them out. The woman appeared on KMOV local news, describing the alleged attack and discussing how she had a double fracture of the bone under her eye and needed reconstructive surgery.
Now the woman has admitted it was all a lie. Ashley DePew, 23, was actually punched in the face by her boyfriend, Justin Simms, 25.
DePew reportedly first told her parents she was punched by a random stranger, and they urged her to file a police report. Two days later, she did; media coverage about the “knockout game” soon followed. But according to the River Front Times, there is no evidence that the couple was at the alleged bar and the drunk friend wouldn’t corroborate their story. Last week, DePew finally admitted that Simms punched her during an argument and she lied to protect him.
Both were charged on Friday with filing a false police report. It’s unclear whether Simms will be charged for assault.
This story underscores the fact that the “knockout game” is a panic-laden fake trend: its alleged perpetrators are usually young black folks who attack white folks, oftentimes older than they are, for fun and then racist assholes holler about how it’s a “hate crime.” Alas, Emma Roller at Slate.com debunked the panic back in November, clarifying random attacks do exist but they are rare, certainly not an “epidemic” and definitely not only performed by black people. The “knockout game” fits into existing cultural scripts about “black mob violence,” Roller wrote. Those scripts are so widely believed that Amanda Marcotte at Slate wrote that enough people believed Justin Simms and Ashley DePew’s story as fact instead of questioning whether her injuries were, in fact, the result of the far more common crime of domestic violence.
Sadly, DePew’s behavior is actually extremely typical of domestic abuse victims. Victims make excuses for their abuser to hide the violence and to protect themselves — both in terms of their reputation and their safety. An enormous part of the reason victims often stay with their abusers — even when abuse is repeated again and again — is because they are afraid of experiencing further violence if they report it, ask for help or, most especially, try to leave. As an anonymous lawyer wrote in a piece for The Frisky about prosecuting domestic abuse, the violence always escalates. The knowledge of that escalation is what keeps victims trapped in fear.
This is likely why Ashley DePew didn’t report that she was punched by her boyfriend. Instead, these two reported his abuse as a random act of street violence — and the media believed them, furthering an urban legend. It’s also not hard to understand why DePew’s parents believed she was attacked by a random stranger, as opposed to the much harder truth that their daughter was being battered by her boyfriend.
Instead of criticizing this young woman for lying, my hope is that we question why it is victims feel the need to lie and do more as a society to protect them.