*Trigger warning* This article contains references to psychical assault and violence.
If you’ve scrolled through Twitter in the last 24 hours, you may have noticed a very particular hashtag trending. #IStandWithMelissa has been steadily climbing since Wednesday afternoon, and with super good reason. Supergirl actress Melissa Benoist shared a heart-wrenching Instagram live video, in which she detailed her personal experience with Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). The 14-minute video, in which Benoist describes specific instances of abuse—including the details of a horrid eye injury—as well as the courage it took for her to leave said relationship, is incredibly difficult but important to watch. Shortly after she posted the video, Benoist took to Instagram to share a message to her followers, urging anyone in a similar situation to seek help, “because there is absolutely strength in numbers.”
Here’s everything you need to know.
Who is Melissa Benoist?
Since 2015, Benoist has starred as Kara Danvers on the CW series Supergirl. While you may not initially recognize the name, chances are you’ve seen the actress in one of her previous big-name projects. After a series of guest roles in shows like Homeland and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, the actress burst onto our screens in 2012 on the fourth season of Glee. Benoist played New Directions new kid Marley Rose, who struggled throughout the series with an eating disorder and her impoverished background.
So, why is she trending?
Benoist took to Instagram on November 27 to share the video with her fans. In the post, titled “Life Isn’t Always What It Seems,” Benoist revealed that she has been the victim of IPV, declaring in the first few moments: “I am a survivor of domestic violence, or IPV, intimate partner violence, which is something I never thought I would say let alone be broadcasting into the ether.”
The actress detailed how she met her partner shortly after getting out of a previous relationship, and after becoming friends, their romantic relationship quickly developed. She says that five months into their relationship is when the abuse began, first as emotional manipulation—with her partner becoming jealous, checking her devices and becoming angry when she would have a romantic or flirtatious scene at work. It eventually became physical abuse when her partner threw a smoothie at her face. “I learned what it felt like to be pinned down and slapped repeatedly, punched so hard I felt the wind go out of me, dragged by my hair across pavement, head-butted, pinched until my skin broke, slammed against the wall so hard the drywall broke, choked,” Benoist said of the increasing violence. She also talked about the cycle of abuse; in which her abuser would harm her, then carry her to the bathtub before coming back to apologize.
Benoist says she stayed in the abusive relationship because “deep down I never believed he would change, I just fooled myself into thinking I could help him… Someone had to let him know his behaviour wasn’t OK, and who better than the one he was taking it out on?”
Benoist ends her video, telling fans: “None of this is salacious news, it was my reality. What I went through caused a tectonic shift in my outlook on life.”
The actress doesn’t name her perpetrator in the video.
What is IPV?
IPV refers to “intimate partner violence,” a term used to describe physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Per the CDC, IPV is considered a “serious [and] preventable public health problem,” and is one that affects millions of people. It can be experienced in both heterosexual and same-sex couples. As Benoist pointed out in her Instagram post, one in four American women are affected by IPV. In Canada, according to a 2018 study by Statistics Canada, women are overrepresented as victims of IPV, accounting for eight out of 10 police-reported incidents. IPV is the most common type of violence experienced by women, and Indigenous women are at an increased risk.
The dangers of IPV are often deadly. Women and girls are killed an average of every 2.5 days in Canada, and mostly by people they know, according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability at the University of Guelph.
How did her eye injury happen?
One of the most horrifying parts of Benoist’s video—and experience—was also the turning point for the Glee actress. Benoist recounts a particular instance of violence in which her perpetrator threw an iPhone at her face, allegedly tearing her iris to the point where it nearly ruptured her eye and breaking her nose, an injury that she says has changed her vision forever.
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Benoist recalls having to concoct a story with her partner as they drove to the hospital—they would say she tripped and fell into a potted plant and lie to nurses, police, her agents and friends about the accident. Benoist also revealed that while in the hospital, her partner joked that she looked like Squirt from Finding Nemo because of her “bulbous” eye.
Benoist even shared the fabricated story publicly, while on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show in March 2016. In her interview with Fallon, Benoist is asked about being “accident-prone.” The actress laughs through her telling of the made-up incident, even making the reference to Finding Nemo‘s Squirt. It’s a chilling parallel in light of her recent revelations.
this is so sad knowing that she got this from abuse and not being a “klutz” and she just laughs it off pic.twitter.com/N4jkFP5fTl
— 𝐩𝐚𝐨𝐥𝐚 supports melissa (@vintagevlogs) November 27, 2019
Thankfully, Benoist says that it was this violent episode that caused her to reach out and tell a friend what was happening. “The more people I let in, the more I was bolstered,” she said in her video. Benoist then broke off relations with the partner.
So, who is Blake Jenner?
While Benoist’s name was trending, simultaneously *another* related name started to do the same. Blake Jenner—who is Benoist’s ex-husband and Glee costar. Jenner is an American actor who starred with Benoist on the fourth and fifth seasons of Glee as Ryder Lynn. Since the end of the hit musical show, Jenner has been pretty low-key and under the radar, only acting in a handful of movies including The Edge of Seventeen. Jenner and Benoist started dating in 2013 while starring in Glee, eventually marrying in 2015. At the time, former gleeks rejoiced at the coupling and thought the pair were super adorbs. In 2016, Benoist filed for divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Benoist is currently married to her Supergirl costar Chris Wood, whom she wed in September.
Why do people think Blake Jenner is abusive?
Although Benoist didn’t name her perpetrator, it wasn’t long before people online started making the connection between the person she described and Jenner. In her video, Benoist, 31, says that her abusive partner was someone younger than her. During her time in the spotlight, Benoist has been linked to three men: photographer Nick Vorderman, 37, former-husband Jenner, 27, and current hubby Wood, 31.
Aside from the age tidbit, the clip from Fallon’s show is quite telling, as the host references her new casting on Supergirl when talking about her accident. Her casting and the talk-show appearance all occurred during her relationship with Jenner.
Why is she sharing her story now?
As one can only imagine, it has taken Benoist time to begin to heal and process her experience. In her video, Benoist talks about feeling shame and embarrassment over her abuse, and she tweeted: “The long and winding road of healing and reconciliation has brought me to this moment where I feel strong enough to talk about my experience openly, honestly and without shame.”
The long and winding road of healing and reconciliation has brought me to this moment where I feel strong enough to talk about my experience openly, honestly and without shame. By sharing my story, hopefully I can… https://t.co/lSPUs9gWIU
— Melissa Benoist (@MelissaBenoist) November 27, 2019
The actress also says that she has decided to share her story because IPV is chronically underreported. This is very true. In Canada, statistics on intimate partner violence aren’t well tracked, and a 2018 Stats Canada report found that, between 2009 and 2017, the rate of police-reported IPV declined by 14%. Whether or not this is because abusers have stopped abusing or because women have stopped reporting remains to be seen.
Are you experiencing abuse? If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Visit ShelterSafe for 24-7 support, including information on shelters near you. For additional resources—and ways to help abuse survivors—visit the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Homes or YWCA Canada.