When I watched the Sept. 28 episode in which troubled teen mom Amber Portwood slapped, punched and kicked baby daddy, Gary Shirley in front of their daughter Leah, I was horrified!
How could MTV have shown such a disturbing scene? Amber is physically and emotionally abusive to her much larger ex-fiance Gary. She slaps him hard, throws a solid punch to his head and then kicks him in the back as he flees down the stairs.
But the emotional abuse is almost worse. She calls him a fat piece of sh*t,” trash,” and if that weren’t enough, she tells him, “Shut your f*cking mouth,” and a lot more.
It’s disgusting and disturbing. And this all takes place in front of innocent little daughter 23-month-old Leah, who is walking around at her feet.
At first I felt MTV was irresponsible to air this scene of domestic abuse. And especially since the pair is now the subject of a domestic violence investigation in their home state of Indiana. Child Protective Services is also investigating whether baby Leah is safe with the couple.
Now, however, after talking to domestic abuse experts, reality show producers, image consultants and reading Amber‘s apology, I’ve changed my mind.
I believe MTV was right to air the disturbing footage!
“It’s good that the general public is seeing this actually happening. It’s very real, very honest, very unflinching.” says Eric Anderson, director of Youth Programs for Break The Cycle, an organization which addresses teen dating violence. “Even though MTV shows dating abuse and shows something not commonly talked about — a young man being abused by his girlfriend — it encourages more people to speak out and is a teachable moment.”
MTV in fact, Eric tells me, is working with Break The Cycle in a digital anti-abuse campaign.
“I’m very happy that MTV is filming stuff that has been stuffed in the closet for so long — they are doing society a good deed,” believes Hollywood media image consultant Michael Sands. “Now, this teen mom can get the help she needs and good evidence of the abuse is available for the police.”
We’ve learned here at HollywoodLife.com that troubled couple Gary and Amber are receiving couples counseling now and that Amber has issued an apology to Gary in which she reveals that she is getting individual counseling as well as receiving the co-counseling with Gary.
“I’m very, very apologetic and sorry about [the fight between herself and Gary], obviously to Gary mostly. I don’t ever want to do that to Gary again and I haven’t since, thank God,” she says.
Amber says she has come to the realization that it is just as wrong for a woman to hit a man, as it is for a man to hit a woman. “I don’t think it’s OK for me as a girl to hit him … right now me and Gary are working on everything just to make sure that it will never happen again.”
She also acknowledges that seeing her parents fight can “damage a child in some way.”
Realistically, there’s probably no way that Amber would have come to these realizations if she wasn’t under the scrutiny of the public eye and wasn’t receiving counseling. And really, would she ever have had access to proper anger management counseling if she wasn’t being enabled by MTV?
Unfortunately, there are probably thousands of teen parents who are in equally abusive relationships but who will never get the help they need because they don’t have access to help and to adults who might intervene.
Now as for any obligation NOT to film abusive scenes like those which occured between Amber and Gary (FYI, she also slapped Gary in an episode in Teen Mom‘s first season), the producers had no obligation to report any crime, according to LA criminal attorney, Steve Cron.
“Mandated people like doctors, therapists and teachers, are the only people who have the responsibility to report a crime if they see it,” says Cron. “They are required to report any violence to other people, including sexual abuse and misconduct. Otherwise, people do not have any obligation to report a crime.”
MTV’s official statement on the Amber/Gary violence is this: MTV’s role in Teen Mom is to document how incredibly challenging and difficult being a teen parent is. The show gives viewers an authentic and unvarnished look a the lives of these young people as they face challenges and struggle to raise children. In this particular instance, we confirmed that no one was hurt and decided to trust the audience to draw their own conclusions and, hopefully, learn from the personal story documented on the show.”
That said, when would reality show producers intervene, if not during a physical fight like Amber and Gary’s? “If a girl was getting raped, I’d have a responsibility as a human being to stop it,” one reality show producer told me.
” I think if you’re doing a documentary show like this – you have an obligation to show the destructiveness and the emotional costs of teen pregnancy,” said another reality TV producer.” Furthermore, if MTV didn’t show this abuse and something even more serious happened later, then MTV could be criticized for hiding it.”
But as for Amber and Gary, public scrutiny has become a teachable lesson to both them personally and for other young couples who might be falling into the same destructive behavior.