In late January of 2019, the first trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil & Vile was released and sent shockwaves across the internet as individuals expressed anger.
Aptly named by the famous post-sentencing remarks of Judge Edward Cowart, the film appears to blur the line between documentary and fiction as it follows the lives of serial killer Ted Bundy and his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Klopfer. While loosely based on Klopfer’s memoir, many expressed anger over Zac Efron’s role as Bundy & the film’s eerie ability to normalize an evil that gripped America in the 1970s.
Despite the striking resemblance, Efron’s good looks were claimed to be a distraction from the horrific crimes Bundy carried forward.
The Hidden Red Flags
The controversy surrounding Efron’s portrayal resonates with the reality that those impacted by abuse face every day. Abusers appear as normal, everyday human beings with no immediately defining traits.
Bundy himself was a seemingly well-respected individual before knowledge of his violent murders became public. Many described him as handsome, charming, articulate, and intelligent. He ambitiously sought to become governor of Washington State while he skillfully deflected others from recognizing his failures and seeing him for the true evil he was.
In recent news, a New Jersey judge’s leniency towards a teen accused of rape was overturned by a Superior Court judge after it came to light that his ruling was based partly on the boy coming from a “good family” and attending an “excellent” school.
We expect a monster to be physically apparent, reflecting their inner evil to the point that it seems unfathomable to consider your child’s teacher or a relative could be an abuser. The same deflection and manipulation utilized by Bundy take advantage of this and lead to the misunderstanding that the red flags of abuse are immediately recognizable.
Raising Red Flags
Red Flags are not always apparent on the first few dates. Red flags are hidden and slowly begin to arise as an abuser utilizes tactics that make you feel respected and cared for. While we’ve established there is no one identifying personality, the following characteristics are some, but not all, indicators that an individual may be an abuser.
- They may shower you with gifts and sweep you off your feet. Constant gift giving and praise make you feel like the luckiest person in the world, but are they too good to be true? Take time to assess the relationship. Do these seemingly romantic gestures appear to distract you from concerning behaviors like jealousy or control?
- It’s full steam ahead. Attention can be flattering, but it’s only been a few weeks or months, and they can’t seem to live without you. You may feel overwhelmed by pressure to move in with them or find them proposing too soon. Hold your ground and express your boundaries. A healthy relationship will respect them.
- Your friends & family are a threat. Loved ones pose a risk to abusers, and you may slowly start to notice the beginning stages of isolation. They may make you feel guilty for talking to others, call you excessively, or accuse you of flirting or cheating. These actions build until you’re disconnected from your loved ones and their support.
- Controlling behaviors seem to stem from concern. Feeling concern is natural when a loved one is 20 minutes late for dinner, and you call them to make sure they weren’t in an accident. It becomes unhealthy when it’s utilized to control where you go, how long you can go for, and even who you may see.
- Their mantra seems to be “woe is me.” Nothing ever seems to be their fault. A bad day means someone is out to get them, and they aren’t above blaming you for their feelings and/or actions. They may erupt in a verbal or physical rage of violence only to tell you, “I wish you didn’t make me do that.”
Experiencing Red Flags
Seeking power and control over an individual extends past the physical violence, we have come to recognize as domestic violence and may include psychological, emotional, economical, and physical tactics. This list includes, but is not limited to, forms of abuse.
- They display unpredictable and erratic mood swings and/or explosive temper
- They are overly possessive or jealous
- They monitor your phone, email, or social media accounts without your consent
- They prevent you from maintaining a steady job or earning an income
- They maintain control over your finances
- They blame you for anything bad that happens
- They abuse other family members, children, or pets
- They embarrass or humiliate you in public or in front of others
- They harass you at work
- They dictate where you can go, who you can see, and when you may do things
- They regularly accuse you of cheating or flirting with friends or acquaintances
Trapped By Red Flags
Red flags themselves can become a trap for those experiencing abuse.
In most cases, NCADV reports that most are faced with the reality that their abuser will follow through with threats they have utilized to keep the individual trapped. They may threaten harm against them, their children, a family member, or even pets.
In a recent study on intimate partner violence, it was found that 20% of homicide victims were family members, friends, neighbors, bystanders, or those who intervened in a relationship where domestic violence is present.
Barriers to escaping a violent relationship may include but are not limited to:
- Fear that the abuser’s actions will become more violent or lethal
- Unsupportive friends or family or the experience of isolation
- Knowledge of difficulties of single parenting
- Lack of finances and/or employment
- Lack of knowledge or access to safety and support resources
- Religious or cultural beliefs and practices that may not support divorce or dictate outdated gender roles
- The mixture of good times, love and hope with manipulation, intimidation, and fear
Albion Fellows Bacon Center is an advocacy group committed to providing free and confidential services to those impacted by sexual and domestic violence. Services include two 24 hour crisis lines, emergency shelter, mobile advocacy with legal support and crisis response, support groups, referrals, and more. Also, our Primary Prevention efforts work with middle and high school students to enable them to recognize abuse and understand healthy relationships.
Empower and support those impacted by violence and make your contribution today.