The Young and the Restless captured headlines last week with their storyline revolving the newly-returned J.T. Hellstrom (Thad Luckinbill) and his abusive behavior directed toward his ex-wife/girlfriend/fiancée Victoria Newman (Amelia Heinle).
It culminated in an escalated argument between the two that resulted in J.T.’s hands wrapped around Victoria’s throat.
This abusive action may be uncharacteristic for J.T., a character we, as an audience saw run into a burning building to save Colleen Carlton (Tammin Sursok). This is the man who sat for countless hours at Victoria’s bedside, who was pregnant and comatose. All this comes second to what Victoria is going through as a victim of domestic abuse.
She is not alone in her experiences. Approximately 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. In addition, one in three women and one in four men have been victimized by some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
It is not as if this is the first experience soaps have had with cases of domestic violence. Kristina Corinthos-Davis (Lexi Ainsworth) was a victim to her first love, Kiefer Bauer (Christian Alexander) on General Hospital. Maggie Stone (Elizabeth Hendrickson) was a victim of Jonathan Lavery’s (Jeff Branson) abuse on All My Children. These are just two “recent” examples.
However, this is one of the first in my memory to intersect with the issues surrounding divorce and child custody. Earlier that day, J.T. received legal documents notifying him that his current wife Mackenzie Browning (last played by Clementine Ford, now Kelly Kruger) was suing him for full custody of their two shared children, Becca and Dylan.
When J.T. returned to Genoa City, it was revealed that he and Mac were in the divorce process. So when J.T. received the legal notice that Mac was going for full custody as opposed to joint, it stands to reason that she may find J.T. a danger to their children.
From a legal perspective, divorce and child custody proceedings are subject to the laws of the state that they are in. Since J.T. and Mackenzie’s marital home was in Washington D.C., they are subject to the divorce and child custody laws there, which means their property is subject to equitable distribution.
This means the court will determine what constitutes marital property, what constitutes separate property, and divide it fairly and equitably. Details depends on the length of the marriage, age of both spouses, the standard of living during the marriage, any entitlement to alimony or child support, how both spouses contributed to the marriage, each spouse’s earning potential, health status, or any other relevant factors to the case.
Given that Mac is an heiress and J.T. has worked for a variety of high profile employers, alimony and child support presumably will not be an issue.
In many child custody cases when full custody rather than joint custody is being sought after, there is a presumption the well-being of the children around the sued parent is being called into question. Given J.T.'s actions against both Victoria and Victor (Eric Braeden), there’s justification.
With J.T.’s abusive and aggressive behavior as justification, Mac can easily gain full custody, assuming she can prove any aggression he displayed against her during their marriage. She can also try to gain the testimony of Victoria or Victor.
Even without a divorce and child custody battle looming over J.T., his actions have made Victoria a victim of domestic abuse. In the aftermath of his violent assault, he began justifying his actions by convincing Victoria that she was partially to blame for his hands around her throat.
Sadly, a common response to domestic violence is a response strategy of deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender (DARVO). According to a study published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, it is a common response with women more likely being exposed to the strategy than men.
After the attack, Victoria began blaming her slaps (which were in response to his physical intimidation in the way he was confronting her person) on him for putting his hands around her throat and pinning her to a door.
The study found that higher levels of exposure to DARVO, the tactic J.T. employed, during a confrontation were associated with increased levels of self-blame among the confronters.
Even through the confines of a bathroom door and even after they talked on the main floor, J.T. shifted the blame and changed the narrative during Victoria’s most vulnerable moments after the attack.
Utilizing DARVO allowed J.T. the opportunity to enforce Victoria’s silence, even in front of their own son Reed (Tristan Lake Leabu), who came into the house shortly afterward. It allowed her to mask his actions with makeup and take J.T. back, accepting his rushed proposal. It allowed her to dodge Nikki’s (Melody Thomas Scott) questions and demand that her mother support her engagement, regardless of Nikki's own feelings for J.T. and the manner to which he was treating Victoria.
For Victoria, the road to recovery will have to be without J.T. Regardless of their shared history and his role as Reed’s father, his current behavior shows no sign of remorse and the fear of a repeated offense against her person is no way for her to live.
Just as many victims of domestic violence, she will need to rely on her support system of family and friends during this difficult time. She will need the strength to admit she needs professional assistance.
For those who are suffering from domestic violence, there are judgement-free resources to turn to. They will offer support through the challenges being faced in relation to your experiences. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers 24/7 access to advocates who are trained and ready to offer the guidance you may need. The National Dating Abuse Helpline, and its organization loveisrespect, offers support, information, and assistance to young people who may be dealing with abusive relationships.