‘How To Get Away With Murder’ Depicts Painful Truth Of Intimate Partner Violence

'How To Get Away With Murder' Depicts Painful Truth Of Intimate Partner Violence

#HTGAWM’s Annelise Keating (played by Viola Davis) is in a hidden abusive relationship. (Photo courtesy of ABC)

Last night’s mid-season finale of “How to Get Away with Murder” involved not only gasp-inducing plot twists, but also a chilling depiction of domestic violence.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

After alluding to a violent relationship between protagonist Annelise Keating (played by Viola Davis) and her husband, Sam, last night showed up-close the brutality of both physical and emotional abuse. After Annelise tells him she is done listening to his lies and tolerating his adultery and threatens to call 911 if he does not leave their house immediately, Sam Keating attacks his wife with both words and fists. He throws her across the room before ultimately starting to choke her while telling her, “You’re nothing but a piece of ass. That’s how foul you are, you disgusting slut.” 


Annelise Keating during the confrontation with her husband, Sam, during #HTGAWM’s mid-season finale. 

It is a riveting, haunting scene, exposing the depth of pain caused by domestic violence in a shockingly unsensationalized way.

And it presented a reality all too familiar for many women: 29% of American women having experienced some form of intimate partner violence (IPV). According to Safe Horizon, the effects of IPV cost America upwards of $37 million annually in law enforcement, legal fees, health care, and lost productivity in the workplace.

On top of physical injuries and the threat of death endured while in a violent relationship, survivors of domestic abuse also suffer from a number of long-term health effects, ranging from asthma to irritable bowel syndrome to migraines. Per the CDC, victims of IPV are also more likely to engage in negative health behaviors such as high-risk sexual conduct, substance abuse, and dangerous diet-related behaviors such as binging, purging, and fasting. Even for those who are able to get out of an abusive situation, increased health care costs to former victims can continue for up to fifteen years after the abusive relationship and its violence have ended.

Related: Study Finds 1 in 5 Americans Live With Mental Illness

Additionally, the Joyful Heart Foundation reports that 15.5 million American children are exposed to domestic violence in the home each year, which can have both short- and long-term effects on the a child’s development and well-being. 

Domestic violence is hardly one-size fits all, but there are some common warning signs to look for if you suspect that you or someone you know might be in an abusive relationship. Abusive partners will often try to control — and prevent — their partner from having any sustained contact with their friends and family and seek to make their partner wholly financially dependent on them. They might be critical of their partners appearance and may seek to control how they dress, and, when children are present, threaten to restrict their partners access to their children. Abusers also put down and insult their partners while also frequently demanding their partners be accessible and accountable to them at all times.

If you or someone you know is in need of help in dealing with intimate partner violence, there are many resources available offering help. In immediate emergency situations, always call 911 first and communicate as much information as possible to the dispatcher about your situation and location. For non-immediate help, both the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Hotline (1-800-656-4673) are available 24-hours a day. Furthermore, the National Network to End Domestic Violence offers online resources assisting with everything from knowing your legal right under the Violence Against Women Act to steps individuals can take to ensure their internet and technology safety. 

The remaining episodes of “How to Get Away with Murder” will explore the repercussions that murdering Sam will have on the law students that subsequently killed him for the suspected abuse and murder of one of his female undergraduate students.

The effects of surviving a 20-year marriage that involved such grotesque abuse will probably never be fully resolved for Viola Davis’ Annelise Keating.

Outside the world of heightened T.V. fiction, however, remain women who are not playing a role like Davis is, and will hopefully be able to access the resources needed to make a life for themselves that’s free of violence in their own homes.

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