Oprah, Denise Richards and Domestic Violence

I stumbled upon the Oprah show yesterday and found myself listening to Denise Richards commenting on the impact/aftermath of her ex-husband Charlie Sheen’s Christmas Day DV arrest in Aspen, CO. What struck me so much was the way in which Ms. Richards spoke, so carefully, so safely.

Take a look at the end of the interview here:

Scroll in to 2:00 to see the part I am referring to. It is apparent to me, a trained clinician with depth of experience in DV, to see Ms. Richards body language shifting. I know that Oprah would never call herself a clinician, she is an entertainer, but that is exactly why I found this so poignant. Ms. Richards is obviously terribly uncomfortable. Oprah is looking to have a thorough interview, she is not trained to see that, perhaps, the alleged escalation of Mr. Sheen’s behavior has triggered something in Ms. Richards, she looks at her father in the front row for support, yet Oprah continues to ask for a better answer to her question.

What I do not believe most people understand is that DV therapy is a very slow, very gentle, very different kind of therapy than most other therapy. The therapist does not want to re-victimize the client by unwittingly continuing the stance of power and control that the perpetrator has established. A survivor may not have been the victim of physical abuse, but if a perpetrator does not seek professional assistance in changing their behavior, the pattern is always one of escalation, and allegedly, this is exactly what has happened with Mr. Sheen. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that Ms. Richards is going to shut herself down a little, have to reinforce her skills and seek safety in her answers on National TV, because she does have to be in his presence again. Oprah and we the viewers, we do not.

So my heart went out to Ms. Richards when Oprah, I believe, unwittingly assumed the role of power and control by calling her on not answering the last question, even in light of Ms. Richards looking at her father, seeking safety and support from him, yet again being pressed to do something against her will.

Domestic violence is so much more than a broken arm or an attack with a knife. Typically, many months or years of emotional, financial, verbal, psychological and even sexual abuse have taken place before the cycle is raised to a physical level. But it is a pattern of increasing escalation, no matter who the perpetrator and victim may be, famous or not, rich or poor. I see a four year battle in court to be nothing more than a continuation of the DV Mr. Sheen may have allegedly been perpetrating on Ms. Richards. What better way to ensure that she be where he wants her to be and on his terms?

I found Ms. Richards to be very brave. I completely understand her reluctance to answer questions she is not comfortable answering. I hope she continues to trust and listen to herself and not bow to others.

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