In February 2021, as a pandemic-weary public caught wind of the split between Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, folks mostly seemed to view it as celebrity “clickbait.” An interesting distraction along with all the other Hollywood breakups and gossip meant to keep us “liking,” re-tweeting, and scrolling.
Fast-forward one year, their split has escalated from intriguing diversion to a dangerous situation. West, who changed his first name to Ye last year, has been using his influence, including his significant social media following, to threaten and stalk Kim and her new partner, Pete Davidson.
There are a lot of things to talk through here, but the most significant to those in the domestic violence field is that headlines and news articles are continuing to present this situation as a “divorce drama,” instead of naming it for what it is — abusive.
Ye’s focus on Kim’s new relationship is familiar behavior to domestic violence advocates. In Pennsylvania alone, 12 percent of the domestic violence homicides that occurred in 2020 included a third party, often a new partner to a survivor who had ended a previous abusive relationship. In these cases, whether the new partnership was assumed or actual, the damage inflicted by an abuser seeking control cannot be undone.
Headlines and news articles are continuing to present this situation as a ‘divorce drama,’ instead of naming it for what it is — abusive.
The escalation of Ye’s controlling behavior has included sharing private text conversations on social media, urging his fans to yell “Kimye forever” to Pete Davidson in public and “love-bombing” Kardashian with truckloads of flowers, as well endless appeals on social media for her to bring the family together again.
At the end of 2021, in a move similar to those taken by abusers who repeatedly show up an ex-partner’s work, new home, or at familiar locations, Ye purchased of a home directly across the street from Kim. This occurred almost immediately after Kim went public about her relationship with Davidson, and would not be the last time Ye would escalate his harassment after Kim regained some measure of control over her life. Just one day after Kim was finally awarded a divorce and “single” status by the court, Ye responded with a music video depicting a Claymation version of himself burying Davidson in his backyard.
Watching this situation with Ye and Kim unfold should be a cause for concern. It should be seen as the cascade of red flags that it is, but instead, due to the wealth, celebrity, and social media presence involved in the situation, it is seen most frequently as another entertaining gossip column entry. As fans wonder what will happen next, those who work with survivors every day know too well the potential outcomes of this situation.
For many people experiencing abusive behavior from a partner, leaving the relationship is the most dangerous time. Control tactics tend to escalate, and the potential for violence, aggression, and homicide increase, as well. Not only have we seen Ye engage
s in social media outbursts, ridicule of Kim’s new partner, and thinly veiled threats to harm him – all while showering her with praise, gifts, and pleas to return to him – he has also done something else we see often in these situations … refused to grant her a divorce.
This control strategy is common, and most survivors do not have the resources of a Kardashian to help them navigate lengthy and expensive court proceedings. Even with seemingly unlimited access to financial support, Kim had to wait more than a year to be legally divorced as Ye held up the process again and again for unfounded concerns – concerns that Kim eventually felt obliged to make public despite her desire to maintain privacy for the sake of herself and her children.
If someone with her privilege and support has this much difficulty leaving, what message does this send to survivors without any resources at all?
As Ye’s behavior becomes more aggressive and his posts and music more directly accusatory and violent toward Pete, fans continue commenting, but not in the ways one might expect. Laughing emojis and testimonials of their support for him are indications that his fanbase is connecting with him and taking his side as he openly harasses his ex and her new partner…and calls on them to act on his behalf.
Those in the domestic violence field can see another common control tactic at play here as Ye uses his influence to gain support and to create an environment in which Pete is most unwelcome and Kim is positioned as responsible for his unhappiness.
As a fan, it can feel rewarding to be “included” in the lives of the people you idolize. As consumers of social media, with a million headlines every day offering us glimpses into the lives of celebrities, these high-profile situations can start to feel like fantasy. Either way, it can feel like these aren’t real people who are dealing with real abusive behavior, but they are.
“[In] analysing this case, one thing that really struck me is the intersections between public and private shaming aspects of abuse and how social media platforms are contributing to the normalization of harm against Kim Kardashian,” Professor Aisha K. Gill told The Independent in a recent piece. “West’s behaviour needs to be called out, in terms of perpetuating sociocultural norms that support and facilitate different types of violence. . .”
In this case, Ye is using a social media platform and his incredible power of celebrity to influence the perception of those who look up to him. Kim has already asked him to stop and voiced her concerns that someone will take his words too seriously and harm Pete or her. While Ye made a performative effort to discourage his fans from acting violently, he followed it up with a threat of his own to take care of the situation himself, and his new album features lyrics and imagery that are clearly open threats toward Davidson
Whether it is posturing or not, imagine being a survivor of abuse considering coming forward right now? Reading the comments, seeing the support for his ongoing and escalating harassment and cruelty. Is it any wonder so many second guess their situations, choose to remain silent or continue to experience harm at the hands of an abuser who, like Ye, maintains support from friends, family, and community?
Kim is navigating much of the familiar terrain that other survivors have—she is trying to keep the danger from escalating while facing judgment and ridicule from people outside of the situation. If she is having a challenging time navigating this experience, imagine what it is like for survivors who have fewer resources than she does.
Safety is different for every survivor, but risk is guaranteed when abusive actions and activities are not taken seriously. That risk only increases when those actions and activities are happening for the whole world to see.
If she is having a challenging time navigating this experience, imagine what it is like for survivors who have fewer resources than she does.
Kim Kardashian has the privilege of wealth, family support, and influence of her own. It may not seem as if our words, comments, and perspective matter to a celebrity of her status, and honestly … it may not. Kim, Ye, and Pete probably don’t even see the majority of the comments and feedback on this situation.
However, other survivors do.
People who are seeking validation and support may see what Kim is going through and relate to it. They may feel disillusioned and discouraged by the overwhelming support Ye receives from his followers. Our words, comments, and attention can make a huge difference for those without resources and support.
So here is what we can do:
- Take a hard look at the ways abusive behaviors like this play out in our own communities and networks.
- Don’t excuse Ye’s behavior as acceptable or no big deal.
- Acknowledge that the tactics he uses are typical of abusive former partners.
- Support survivors, including Kim, by calling out the ways that abusers use their influence to maintain control over others.
If we all speak up, becoming a collective voice when people and systems are excusing or empowering abusers, we create environments where survivors are supported in whatever ways feel safest for them.