This story contains descriptions of harassment and abusive behavior. If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship abuse in any form, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for free, confidential support 24/7/365. Text START to 88788, call 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or chat online at TheHotline.org.
A lot has been said about what has publicly transpired between Kanye West and his soon-to-be ex-wife Kim Kardashian West.
West, who formally changed his name to "Ye," has published and since-deleted multiple public pleas for his estranged wife to come back: targeting her current boyfriend, Pete Davidson; sharing a photo of a truck filled with roses delivered to Kardashian West's home; posting private conversations between the two co-parents; claiming one of his children, North, was using TikTok without his permission.
West later reportedly said he took "accountability" for actions that "came off as harassing" his estranged wife, in a post on Instagram he also later deleted.
West is also facing backlash for his recent video for the song "Eazy," which shows a claymation figure resembling Davidson being kidnapped with a bag over his head, tied up, and then buried up to his neck.
Many have pointed to West's well-documented mental health issues, saying West is a man who clearly needs help and support. Others see a man "fighting for his family" and using grand romantic gestures to profess his love. Some still point to the two co-parents' new business endeavors — for West, an upcoming album, for Kardashian West, a new reality show on Hulu — arguing the pair are simply masters of self-promotion and marketing.
Of course, we never know what is actually going on with celebrities whose lives we witness in curated doses. TODAY reached out to both Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West for comment on the record and has not gotten a response.
But TODAY spoke to people who have been harassed by an ex-partner who say what they're seeing on social media and in the news feels eerily familiar, and is bringing back memories of a situation that should be taken far more seriously, whether the people involved are famous or not.
"Pathologizing celebrity behavior can be dangerous. However, this is absolutely a valid point for it to be triggering and re-traumatizing for those who have experienced intimate partner violence," Ashleigh Andersen, LMSW and a relationship abuse prevention program coordinator at Day One, tells TODAY Parents.
"The media is not taking the situation very seriously and reinforcing the idea that this type of behavior is not that big of a deal, or is a mental health issue. The situation is being seen as entertainment, normal celebrity drama, or even a romantic gesture." She added: "In reality, for many, this is a reminder that leaving an emotionally and/or physically abusive situation is not always the end of the power and control an abusive partner can have and just how far someone may go to maintain it."
“Survivors can relate to what is transpiring between Kanye West and Kim Kardashian," Christine Perumal, director of legal services for the Domestic Violence Law Project at Safe Horizon, tells TODAY. "Since Kardashian decided to end the relationship, file for divorce, has the children in her care most of the time and is a new relationship, as a result, West may feel like he is losing some of the control he once had over Kardashian and their family. It’s common that situations will escalate once parties are going through litigation and this could be something that survivors can relate to as well.”
For Nicole, 41, who asked that her last name be omitted to protect her privacy and the privacy of her family, what she sees happening with Kardashian West in the public eye made her recall her own experience with her ex-husband.
"My daughter’s father harassed me privately after I left him. He would not let up for years," Nicole tells TODAY Parents. "He would drive an hour to my home to leave flowers at my door. He would constantly send me gifts and text me about how much he loved me and needed me. But when we were together, he refused to get help to save our marriage. It was a complete power play."
Nicole says it was a deep desire to "refuse to let my young daughter see her mother being controlled by anyone" that finally helped her leave her marriage.
Related: Kim Kardashian on why she’s choosing her own happiness now — even if it ‘caused’ her divorce
"When he started getting physically aggressive with me in front of her, I knew I had to leave," she says. "He played the victim on social media and almost everyone we know was extremely supportive of him and expressed how sorry they were for him. It made me so angry for so long."
While Nicole desperately wanted to defend herself in public, she says she would "tell myself most people wouldn't care anyway, even if they believed me."
"It's not like he was beating me," she adds. "He was 'just' emotionally manipulating me and getting 'a little bit' violent with me. The way people tend to react to those situations makes it obvious that women are not viewed as rational beings who deserve to feel safe."
According to online research conducted by Women's Aid, a charity group working to end domestic violence against women and children based in England, nearly one in three women who responded said they've experienced harassment or threats from a current or former partner. And 85% of respondents said the abuse they received online was part of a pattern of abuse they experienced online.
Only 30% of the same respondents would consider that type of online behavior to be criminal.
People may not think of online harassment as typical abuse, but in some ways it can be more harmful.
“Being bullied on social media has the capacity to be more traumatic than reading emails and texts because social media is so public," says Nathaniel M. Fields, CEO of the Urban Resource Institute, the largest provider in the U.S. of residential services for domestic violence survivors. "Witnessing this behavior by survivors of similar abuse can trigger a form of mental “camera flash” that triggers memories of abuse, leading to symptoms of post-traumatic stress, such as difficulty sleeping, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts stirred up by the observed behavior.”
Andersen says that intimate partner abuse is "an ongoing pattern of power and control where one person chooses to control or attempts to control the relationship through force, fear, pressure, or intimidation." She says, "Adding the element of the internet and technology can make the abuse further reaching because the person causing harm has access at all times. Online abuse can include, but is not limited to: Demanding passwords, going through a partner’s phone without permission, breaking their devices, excessive texts, calls, or direct messages, stalking online, spoofing, as in hiding or faking a number, demanding nudes or threatening to share or sharing them, and GPS tracking."
No amount of money makes you immune
Kardashian West has a private security team and access to additional support she may need due to her wealth and fame, something most women don't have when they feel threatened. But, no amount of money or celebrity can make someone immune from experiencing harassment or toxic behavior from an ex-partner or spouse.
"It’s disheartening to see how quickly the blame is put on Kim — and a lot of it is people pointing out the fact that she 'chose to have children with him,'" Charissa, 24, tells TODAY. (Her last name is being withheld to protect her privacy.) "Her choice to once be married to him or procreate with him doesn’t justify his behavior, especially since Kim has pleaded for him to stop."
Related: Ye calls out ‘industry plants’ telling Kim Kardashian West he is ‘crazy’
Charissa says that she didn't realize why Kardashian West's situation "sounded so familiar" until she "relayed the past couple events," including West's deleted public pleas for God to "bring his family back," to her mother.
"She mentioned it sounded like something my biological father would do," she explains. "My parents are separated and have been since I was about 2 or 3 years old. I haven’t had contact with my birth father since I was 16. He was controlling and manipulative.... Trying to pivot the blame somewhere else — in my case, he blamed my mom; in this case Kanye blames Pete Davidson."
Charissa says her father would often use religion to "justify his wants and described them as prayers and 'God's plan,'" and would even threaten her mother — promising to "crash a car with both of us in it so my mom wouldn't have me."
Related: Kanye ‘Ye’ West claims daughter North is on TikTok against his will
Charissa says she believes that because people "dehumanize or feel less empathy towards celebrities because of their privilege and wealth," they're not taking what is occurring between West and Kardashian West as seriously as they should.
"(Money and wealth) don't always equate to security," she says. "Kim was subjected to a robbery that left her feeling violated, and even when she was said to be guarded. Even with the resources she has, she can't avoid being put in harmful situations nor can she evade harm being done to her."
Anderson agrees, adding that, "Intimate partner violence does not discriminate. Anyone — any age, religion, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status — can be at risk of intimate partner violence."
She does explain, however, that young people between the ages of 14 and 24 are at the highest risk of experiencing intimate partner violence.
"Even more so with online harassment as the internet is a primary source of communication and incredibly accessible," she adds.
'I know how to identify the signs'
Leah Rocketto, 32, says that when a handsome guy started "showering me with compliments at a party" during college, she thought, "Wow, this guy really likes me."
It wasn't until he started discouraging her from hanging out with her friends, dictating how she dressed, and telling her how lucky she was to be with him that she started to sense something was wrong.
"When we’d get into arguments, he’d break up with me and tell me I’d never find anyone as good as him," Rocketto tells TODAY. "And, because of my lack of self-confidence, I’d believe him."
Rocketto reached a breaking point after experiencing verbal and physical abuse, and left her then-boyfriend, only to realize the abuse wasn't going to stop.
"It started small — he'd text me that he missed me and asked if I could see him, and I wouldn't respond. Then he started showing up outside my classes and dance rehearsals, begging to talk and apologizing for everything," she explains. "At first he’d let me leave in peace, but then he began following me as I walked away. And during those walks, he transformed from someone who was apologizing to someone who was harassing me. He’d call me... pretty much every name in the book."
Related: Emotional abuse is abuse: How to recognize the signs and get help
After her ex-partner showed up at her house, banging on her door and leaving Rocketto to fear for her life, she obtained a restraining order.
"It has taken years of therapy to get to a place where hearing his name, even if it’s not in reference to him, doesn’t send me into a downward spiral," she says. "Unfortunately, the recent headlines about Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West have brought those memories back to the surface."
Rocketto is expecting her first child in a few weeks, a daughter, and says she hopes people will begin to understand what abuse and harassment that occurs after a relationship ends can look like.
"As painful as it was to have gone through what I did, I know how to identify the signs and help my daughter, should she ever find herself in a situation like that," she says. "But for those who don't have someone in their life who has been there, it's crucial to provide education."
Related: The hidden abuse that can hurt your mental health: Gaslighting
"I want people to understand that ending a relationship doesn’t automatically mean you’re ending the abuse," she adds. "It can continue for years, and even legal interventions don’t always put an end to harassment. We need to do more to educate people on post-relationship abuse and provide more resources to protect victims."
This story was first published on February 18, 2022 and has been updated.