The last few weeks have been filled with controversy over the inauguration, the Women’s March, censorship, walls and bans.

There is certainly a lot to unpack there, but most of these issues are getting a lot of attention already.

Something I’d like to bring a little more attention to is a hashtag that was trending as a result of some candid pictures and viral GIFs from inauguration day: #FreeMelania.

People across social media began using this hashtag because they believed the new First Lady looked like she was being held captive and needed to be freed.

I’ve also seen some respond that as a woman of privilege, Melania Trump doesn’t deserve any sympathy.

Both sides contribute to a dangerous societal norm.

People can be victims of abusive relationships regardless of wealth, race, religion, gender or social status.

Unfortunately, these victims and survivors often feel silenced by our society.

It’s a society that, as Constance Wu pointed out on Twitter, nominated alleged abusers for Academy Awards. It’s a society that elected a president who was accused of sexual assault and described sexually assaulting women on tape to only a small detriment to his campaign.

On Friday, Russia decriminalized domestic violence that doesn’t cause enough physical harm to meet new standards. Russia may not be the pinnacle of civil liberties, but that doesn’t make this development any less dangerous.

I recognize that the hashtag was meant as a joke, but domestic violence and intimate partner abuse are no laughing matter.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men will be abused by a partner in their lifetime.

This adds up to more than 10 million people a year in the United States. According to North Carolina Health News, about two people die from domestic violence per week in North Carolina.

When women come forward claiming abuse, they are often doubted, ridiculed and blamed for the actions of their abusers, even more so when their alleged abuser is famous. When men come forward, there tends to be additional disbelief because of societal gender norms.

Treating potential domestic violence as a joke only contributes to its normalization in society.

Maybe Melania Trump is unhappy with her relationship.

Maybe the images capture moments of personal distress that one could understandably feel on an international stage. More importantly, it doesn’t matter.

#FreeMelania continues to spread the message to domestic abuse victims and survivors that their lived experience is a joke to trend.

It sends the message to abusers that what they’re doing is okay — either because of the implication that the President is doing it too or that the potential abuse victim is the butt of the joke.

It sends the message that if you notice something a little off about a relationship, you should laugh about it instead of seeing if someone actually needs help.

I’m sure that this will be seen by some as just another call for political correctness. But if language reinforces societal norms that silence victims and survivors of abuse, maybe you should consider changing that language.

Amidst the protests, walks and petitions, it’s literally the least you can do.


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