Katie Hood is the CEO of the anti-abuse organization One Love. Here, she responds to Paris Hilton's recent remarks in defense of President Trump's sexist "locker-room talk."
UPDATE: Hilton has since apologized for her comments.
As the head of One Love, an organization working to end relationship abuse, I’m all too aware that relationship abuse is a public health epidemic from which we too often turn away. The problem goes beyond just turning away, though, when someone like Paris Hilton actively uses her voice to normalize unhealthy, disrespectful, and demeaning behaviors that contribute to a culture where abuse is tolerated in any way.
The topic of relationship abuse became personal for me when Yeardley Love, a close friend’s cousin, was killed by her ex-boyfriend weeks before their graduation from the University of Virginia in 2010. At that moment, the critical nature of this relatively undiscussed topic came into sharp focus for me. One in three women and one in four men will be in abusive relationships in their lifetimes. Three women a day are killed at the hands of their intimate partners. Young women ages 16-24 have a three times greater risk than any other demographic of being in an abusive relationship, yet they have a limited understanding of this fact.
Only after Yeardley’s death did her mother, Sharon, realize that her tragedy could have been avoided had anyone in Yeardley’s life understood the signs of an unhealthy and increasingly dangerous relationship, and been taught how to respond to behaviors that are just not right. Not just physically aggressive things, but controlling behaviors or demeaning comments—those things we too often dismiss as “not our business” or “locker room talk” because, quite honestly, we don’t know quite how to respond. One Love exists to make sure others have the information that Yeardley’s loved ones did not—information that can change and save lives.
One major problem that contributes to the prevalence of abuse is the normalization of unhealthy behaviors. We see so much inappropriate, degrading, demeaning, and dysfunctional conduct in the media that we become desensitized and forget that it is not okay. We hesitate to use our voices to protest even when we feel in our guts that something is not right. We stop trusting our instincts, and, through all this, we unintentionally enable abuse to continue.
That’s why Paris Hilton’s recent Marie Claire interview made me cringe. In the interview, Paris asserts that the president’s comments about women (made to Billy Bush and much publicized pre-election) were okay and completely normal—nothing to stress about. She goes a step further to say that the women who’ve accused Trump of sexual harassment might really just want attention.
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Is she for real? Come on! Who really thinks that’s the way we should talk about others or that so many women would be coming forward with similar stories just for attention? Whether you voted for him or not isn’t the issue—the issue is that, in that moment and in other moments where he used ugly and demeaning language about or directly to women, he was abusive. And for a person with a platform to not make that perfectly clear to the many young people watching is irresponsible. It’s a missed opportunity to provide much-needed clarity and guidance to the next generation.
Over the last three years, One Love has worked with hundreds of thousands of young men and women in schools and communities across the country and tens of millions more online. I’m convinced that the vast majority has a solid gut sense about the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors and a sincere desire for their own relationships to be healthy.
Unfortunately, what they inherently know is drowned out by a noisy world that seems to promote unhealthy behavior everywhere you look. Cavalier, throwaway comments like those made by Paris Hilton contribute to a culture where we don’t speak up, we stay silent, and we let unhealthiness and abuse prevail. It’s time for that to change, and I believe this generation is up for the challenge.