According to an article just released from CNN, Brooke Mueller, wife of actor Charlie Sheen, has reportedly asked a judge to modify a restraining order restricting Sheen’s contact with Mueller. Sheen was arrested on Christmas Day on charges of domestic violence after he allegedly attacked Mueller in a drunken fight and held a knife to her throat. According to Mueller’s 911 call to police, Sheen attacked her because she told him she wanted a divorce. Follow this link to a CBS article reporting on these details.
At first glance, Mueller may not appear to be the typical (or, perhaps, stereotypical) victim of domestic violence. Prior to her marriage to Sheen in May 2008, Mueller was a real estate investor, apparently successful in her own right. She also has enough funds at her disposal to hire celebrity lawyer, Yale Galanter, who made her request to drop the restraining order against Sheen.
And yet, by asking the judge to lift the restraints on Sheen, Mueller illustrates a sad, but all-too-familiar dilemma in domestic violence cases – the victim that returns to the abuser. According to Mueller’s lawyer, the Christmas Day incident was merely “one bad night.” One bad night?!? If Mueller’s account of the evening’s events is correct, Sheen attacked her with a knife because she wanted a divorce! That is not something to be dismissed as “one bad night.” Moreover, the couple was reported in celebrity gossip rags as having domestic problems almost immediately after they wed. You can link to an article here from June 2008 discussing the rumor that the couple cut short their honeymoon in Costa Rica because of incessant fighting.
Unfortunately, because the Mueller-Sheen case has received so much attention in the press, Mueller’s decision to reconcile with Sheen may be setting a dangerous example for women everywhere. To illustrate this very real danger, here are some sobering statistics on domestic violence against women in the U.S.:
- One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.
(The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute of Justice, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, July 2000. The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, 1999)
- Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend to 3 million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year. (U.S. Department of Justice, Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, March 1998. The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, 1999)
- Women of all races are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner.
(Bureau of Justice Statistics, Violence Against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey, August 1995)
- Intimate partner violence affects people regardless of income. However, people with lower annual income (below $25K) are at a 3-times higher risk of intimate partner violence than people with higher annual income (over $50K).* (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.)
- Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. (Allstate Foundation National Poll on Domestic Violence, 2006. Lieberman Research Inc., Tracking Survey conducted for The Advertising Council and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, July – October 1996)
- On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.)
- In a national survey of American families, 50% of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children. (Strauss, Murray A, Gelles, Richard J., and Smith, Christine. 1990. Physical Violence in American Families; Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers)
These statistics were obtained from the Domestic Violence Resource Center. You can link to more statistics at their website here. The United Nations also regards violence against women as a human rights issue. You can link to more information about the UNITE campaign here.