Well, she tried.
On Thursday, Jonathan Majors’ attorney, Priya Chaudhry, released text messages that purport to demonstrate, in the attorney’s words, that the Creed III actor’s assault accuser “admit[ted] that she was the one who used physical force against him.” So far, however, that narrative does not appear to be holding up well with its intended audience.
“Domestic violence cases are like rearview mirrors; these cases may appear as one thing until all the evidence is available,” Gwendolen Wilder, a domestic abuse expert and a survivor of abuse herself, told The Daily Beast.
Majors was arrested Saturday in New York following a domestic dispute. The NYPD initially said that Majors had been charged with strangulation, assault, and harassment. According to the criminal complaint, Majors allegedly struck his accuser “about the face with an open hand” and left her with “a laceration behind her ear.” The complaint also alleges that Majors “put his hand on her neck, causing bruising and substantial pain.” (Advocates have been emphasizing the statistical link between strangulation and subsequent homicides for years.)
The actor was arraigned Sunday on harassment and assault charges before he was released on his own recognizance. His lawyer insists that the actor “completely denies assaulting the woman” and that he called the police on March 25 out of concern for her “mental health.” Chaudhry said Thursday that the text messages, in which the victim admits to using “physical force against him,” were sent less than nine hours after Majors’ arrest.
A spokesperson for the district attorney declined to comment on the text messages, noting to The Daily Beast the investigation is “active and ongoing.”
Although some tabloid press have run with the narrative that Majors’ camp has advanced with these new texts—including Page Six, which ran the headline “Jonathan Majors shares texts from alleged victims that appear to prove innocence”—some social media users and experts have pointed out that the messages illustrate a complicated relationship and the hallmark signs of domestic violence.
“Please let me know you’re okay when you get this,” Majors’ accuser writes in the first of her alleged messages. “They assured me that you won’t be charged. They said they had to arrest you as per protocol when they saw the injuries on me and they knew we had a fight.”
“I told them it was my fault for trying to grab your phone,” she adds later. “I only just got out of the hospital.”
The last of the alleged messages denies that strangulation took place. “… I also said to tell the judge to know that the origin of the call was to do with me collapsing and passing out,” it reads in part, “and your worry as my partner due to our communication prior. Out of care.”
Wilder, who is also the author of It’s Ok to Tell My Story!: Surviving Common Law Domestic Violence, told The Daily Beast that the text messages released on Thursday appeared to be sent by someone who “may have experienced a possible trauma-based response, gaslighting and victim blaming due to the incident in question.”
But, she added, it’s hard to jump to conclusions without all the details.
“The victims’ texts to the alleged abuser appear to be her justification…regarding the roles of the individuals involved in the incident,” she said, adding that it is “very common for victims of domestic violence to blame themselves for some if not all aspects of the violence they endured and not report or recant statements.”
Oakland criminal defense attorney Michel Huff added that while “at face value, the text messages would appear to exonerate Majors, it is also fairly common for abuse victims to blame themselves and to resist charges against their abusers.”
“It is hard to know at this point what actually occurred,” Huff told The Daily Beast, noting that there are still so many unknown answers about the case that may not even make it to trial.
The reaction on social media might best be summed up by a tweet from journalist Raven Brunner: “‘I told them it was my fault for trying to grab your phone’ isn’t the flex Jonathan Majors and his lawyers think it is.”
In another tweet, civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson added: “Jonathan Majors’ [lawyer] thinks that she is playing chess not checkers and it is a total fail. I’m not sure what she’s playing at all but it certainly isn’t helping. The freedom hat, framing the woman an ‘emotional’ mess, and now these texts. Not checkers, not chess, no clue what game.”
Chaudhry’s past clients include Real Housewives of Salt Lake City’s Jen Shah, who was sentenced to prison this year for a telemarketing scheme, and Canadian screenwriter, director, and film producer Paul Haggis—who was found liable on three counts of rape and sexual abuse in a civil trial last year.
According to a Deadline courtroom report, Chaudhry characterized Haggis’ accuser as “a troubled and emotionally immature young woman who had sex with an older, famous man and mistakenly thought it was the beginning of something more, and recast it as a rape in revenge for being rejected.”
In her initial statement following Majors’ arrest, Chaudhry wrote that Saturday’s “incident came about” because his accuser “was having an emotional crisis, for which she was taken to a hospital yesterday.” She has also stated that her client was the one to call 911 on Saturday “due to concern for her mental health.”
Carol Wick, an activist who serves on UN Women’s Ending Violence Against Women Expert Roster, stressed that a “portion of a text message” only poses more questions about the relationship between Majors and his accuser—and that it is hard to jump to any conclusions on what happened during the incident.
“We have to pause and not rush to any judgment on any side,” Wick, who is also the president and CEO of Sharity Inc., told The Daily Beast. “But the allegations are serious. Weighing this in the court of public opinion, however, is never smart. We just don’t know. This is traumatizing.”
Wick added, however, that the hallmarks of most abusive relationships are gaslighting and coercive control.
“In abuse relationships, there is a lot of gaslighting where abusers try to convince their victims that what happened to them is their fault,” she added. “There is also coercive control, which is not violent but it is all about twisting the blame to the victim.”
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