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Domestic Violence and Music: A Controversial Relationship

Updated on July 1, 2017
Atmosphere's "Last to Say" music video shows the cyclical nature of domestic violence and appeals to victims to get out of the relationship.
Atmosphere's "Last to Say" music video shows the cyclical nature of domestic violence and appeals to victims to get out of the relationship. | Source

The Unhealthy Marriage Between Music and Violence Against Women

The music industry is beginning to dialogue about the unhealthy marriage between music and violence against women. Activists in Chicago protested when Pitchfork Music Festival announced that Odd Future would perform this year. Odd Future, a controversial indie rap group produces vulgar songs that explicitly portray violence against women, including rape and murder of women. Jim DeRogatis, WBEZ talk show co-host, shares his thoughts about whether Odd Future crosses a moral line or is merely capitalizing on the shock value the music evokes and the right to free expression.

Some artists and fans believe music conveys a message to women that would not be heard were it not for music. Fans claim to have recognized the violence in their own relationships when they heard song lyrics and saw music videos portraying violence against women. These fans view music as a form of public service that is more effective in communicating an anti-violence message than the more traditional methods of providing education and services.

Activist groups, while opposed to crimes against women, are nevertheless respectful of the art of music and the right of artists and musicians to display their art. They conducted a quiet protest with pamphlets and picket signs showing facts and statistics about crimes against women while the musicians performed in concert at the music festival.

MTV recently promoted Atmosphere’s music video, “The Last to Say” that tells the story of multigenerational domestic violence and how that violence is passed on from one generation to the next. The video sends a strong message to the victim of domestic violence to leave the relationship in order to break the chain of violence.

The controversy has drawn attention to the violence against women that is portrayed in Eminem’s, “Space Bound” video and Rihanna’s, “Russian Roulette.” These artists are undeniably talented and their music videos are exceptionally well done. They elicit strong emotional responses, evoke profound thoughts, and deliver compelling messages.

In the same way that seven witnesses to an event can have seven different perceptions of the event, every viewer of these videos will have a different emotional reaction based on his or her past and present experiences. Every viewer will experience his or her own profound thoughts about the videos and every viewer will hear a different compelling message.

A More Traditional Approach to Violence Prevention

As an advocate of violence prevention, I think it is important to point out that the above videos do undeniably depict acts of violence. While it is possible that 1 in a million viewers might get a violence prevention message from the videos, it is highly unlikely. It is more likely that a viewer will be de-sensitized to violence and possibly traumatized or re-traumatized.

Below is some more traditional violence prevention information. There are 3 quizzes that can be used to assess emotional, physical and sexual abuse in a relationship. Next to each quiz is an explanation about the results of the quiz. There is information about the National Domestic Violence Hotline and website, and a description of what abuse is. There is information for and about men involved in violent relationships, and a way to contribute financially to the hotline to keep it fully staffed to handle all the calls they get.

Emotional Abuse

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Physical Abuse Quiz

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Sexual Abuse Quiz

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Text TELLNOW to 85944 to make a $10 donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline
Text TELLNOW to 85944 to make a $10 donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline | Source

Your Scores on the Abuse Quizzes

Emotional Abuse: You may be in an emotionally abusive relationship if you answered "yes" to questions on the Emotional Abuse Quiz. A score of "0" indicates all "no" answers and an absence of emotional abuse. The highest score is "10" and indicates a high likelihood that your relationship is emotionally abusive. Call the hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to discuss your results or any concerns you might have.

Physical Abuse: You may be in a physically abusive relationship if you answered "yes" to any questions on the Physical Abuse Quiz. Again, the highest score is "10." A single "yes" answer indicates the presence of physical abuse in the relationship. Several "yes" answers indicate increased risk for harm. The higher the score the higher the risk of harm. Call the hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to discuss your particular situation or concerns. Information is available online, but remember if safety is a concern, online activity can be detected. It is better to call or go to a safe computer that cannot be monitored.

Sexual Abuse: If you answered "yes" to any of the questions on the Sexual Abuse Quiz you may be in a sexually abusive relationship. A score of "0" indicates no risk and a score of "10" indicates extreme risk. Trained hotline workers are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Remember: Not all men are abusive and often women are abusive. The 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) hotline is for men too, whether the man is abusive or abused. Many men who are in treatment for domestic violence use the hotline for support and help in stopping the violence. Some men passively tolerate abuse by women without defending themselves. Many men have been victims and witnesses of abuse as children or adults as well. When violence is directed by a man toward a woman it is more likely to be lethal than when directed by a woman toward a man.

Abuse is:

  • Calling bad names or putting someone down
  • Shouting and cursing
  • Hitting, slapping and/or pushing
  • Making threats of any kind
  • Jealously and suspicion
  • Keeping someone away from family and friends
  • Throwing things around the house

Hip Hop Psych


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    • Katy Preen profile image

      Katy Preen 9 months ago from Manchester, UK

      Popular music often paints unhealthy human relationships in an attractive way, although it can be useful to identify those songs that are questionable and have an open discussion about them. This is a route to wider understanding and prevention of domestic abuse - quite often people don't see it for what it is. For me, I find that "Under My Thumb" by The Rolling Stones makes my stomach turn. It reminds me of the controlling tactics I was subjected to in a previous relationship. While it is upsetting for me to listen to, if we can deconstruct it nowadays and talk about the song as an exemplar of what *not* to aspire to, it can have a good side.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 6 years ago

      I may have to re-read this, Happyboomernurse, and do some editing. The atmosphere video is advocating for victims, and was done in response to the controversy raised at the concert that allowed Odd Future to sing. Good point that it is the most dangerous and potentially lethal time in a violent relationship; when the woman attempts to leave. The video kind of blames the woman too without understanding why she stays. Atmosphere had wanted to do a piece advocating for women for some time in response to other music that is derogatory to women, but hadn't come up with the lyrics. Odd Future's so-called music has every other word as the F word and uses very derogatory language towards women. The discussion is that his rap isn't any "worse" than eminem's or rihanna's; and that they learned from eminem who has toned down quite a bit. So, the atmosphere video is a kind of public service announcement. I agree. eminem portrayed the offender mentality perfectly. Thanks for your support, Gail. This hub set off some google sensers!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

      This is an amazing, thought-provoking hub full of useful information about domestic violence in real life and also how it's portrayed in music videos. I particularly liked the way you seamlessly wove the hotline information into the narrative and the quizes that can help readers recognize if their own relationship is abusive, regardless of whether they're a woman or a man.

      I agree that listening to and viewing the music videos elicits a powerful response that is highly individualistic. I have never seen or listened to any of these songs before but was surprised by my own reaction to Atmosphere's "The Last Say" video as it actually felt more like a domestic abuse public service to me rather than something that was promoting violence toward women because of its strong message that a woman should leave to protect herself. However, victims of domestic violence are more likely to be seriously injured, maimed or killed during the time period in which they leave their abusers so even this message can be harmful in that the woman needs to be emotionally, physically and financially strong enough to leave and ideally should have professional and/or group support to do so.

      Eminem's video "Spacebound" felt very disturbing to watch and yet it so accurately described the "addictive" quality of abuse.

      I'm voting this hub up, useful, awesome and interesting and commend you on your ongoing advocacy for victims of domestic violence and other mental health issues.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 6 years ago UNITY A Rose is Still a Rose

      I can see where both would be empowering. Thanks for sharing Violet Garland. I didn't like that she responded to violence with violence in the UNITY one, but she did make a statement about how degrading those words are! Thanks for pointing to the positive in music and in life as well Violet Garland. A Violet is still a Violet too:)

    • profile image

      Violet Garland 6 years ago

      May I recommend UNITY by Queen Latifah and A Rose is Still A Rose by Aretha Franklin as songs with empowering messages for survivors (I found them helpful anyway)

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 6 years ago

      45s!!! LOL. Hi wisdom press. So Odd Future might be on the light rap station in a few years! That does help put things in perspective. Excuse me while I click my amygdala. Loved you amygdala chronicles by the way. Thanks for stopping by to read and post a comment, wisdom press.

    • profile image

      wisdom press 6 years ago

      Thank you for welcoming me to hub pages. Your article on domestic violence is well done. I can't help but remember the reaction of my parents to my first two 45 records...Hard Day's Night by the Beatles andLove Potion Number Nine by the Searchers...Now they play those songs on the light rock station. Take care.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 6 years ago

      Interesting, PenMePretty. I hadn't thought of the law of attraction. Thanks for sharing your reaction.

    • profile image

      PenMePretty 6 years ago from Franklin

      Negative music draws to negativity. Positive music draws to us positivity. Law of attraction: WHAT WE PUT OUT...WE GET BACK. Good work.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 6 years ago

      Thank you Dr Bill. Yes we all view the same things differently; and consequently our reactions are all different. Just before that quote is "every viewer of these videos will have a different emotional reaction based on his or her past and present experiences." It raises a question of how much consideration we want to give to others whose reactions are different. Thanks so much Dr Bill for your kind comments and good insight that it's not only our perceptions about DV or domestic violence that are different, but about everything we view in life.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 6 years ago

      Thanks for your comments, lambservant. When we look at violence and call it something else, something noble and good, we don't see it as a problem; and we unwittingly allow it to fester. I'm glad you are safe and blessed:)

    • profile image

      Dr Bill 6 years ago

      Awesome HUB article!!! It brings more attention to the abuse that is occurring in America, domestic violence. Domestic violence includes many sub abuses that goes on - emotional, physical and sexual but also economic and confinement abuse.

      I really like you statement in reference into human perception and watching videos - "Every viewer will experience his or her own profound thoughts about the videos and every viewer will hear a different compelling message". Isn't that true about all humans and life in general, we all view everything differently. Thanks for advocating DV.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Wow, a very informative hub. DV is a terrible problem. As a former victim of DV I wish there had been people around me to show me the way. At one point I left and never returned and my life has been blessed. Thank you for your advocacy for DV victims.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 6 years ago

      Hi Diogenes. Tell us what you really think! I think some subtle differences are emerging in rap music between the music of Odd Future and Atmosphere. To use your analogy, I suppose it is the difference between good crack and bad crack. Thanks for commenting, Bob.

    • profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago

      Hi. This music and nearly all Rap is disgusting noise. The hormones released from the brain are of different types: either calming or overly stimulating. Kids see this rubbish and think it's OK to be violent because the Celebrities must be right. As it drugs the sensibilities just like any chemical, it should be banned just like Crack and all the rest. But it won't; the world is on an awful journey downwards which will soon result in man's extermination I am sure...Bob