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Domestic Violence: 53 Year Old Will Smith Battling the Pains of Childhood

We all witnessed it – live or through some media report. Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars. It began with an insensitive joke. Chris Rock is an American standup comedian, actor, writer, producer, and film director. Rock appeared on stage and like any other comedian, he made a joke. He said, “ Jada, I love you but I can’t wait for GI Jane 2.” G.I. Jane is a 1997 fictional war film about the first woman to undergo special operations training similar to the U.S. Navy SEALs. Innocent joke, right? Maybe not. Actress Jada Pinkett Smith has been vocal about her struggles with alopecia – a medical condition that causes hair loss. As a result, Jada recently shaved her head bald – a mirroring hairstyle to the lead role in G.I. Jane. After Chris Rock made the joke, Will Smith walked on stage and publicly, aggressively, heavy-handedly slapped Rock across the face. What many may consider to be an overreaction on the part of Smith, may be linked to deeper and unresolved issues of his past. In his memoir titled Will, Smith details his struggle with witnessing his father physically abuse his mother and the crippling fear that prevented 9-year-old Smith from intervening.

According to National Statistics, in the United States, an average of nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. In 365 days, that equates to more than 10 million women and men. The statistics are alarming. If children are involved, it makes the matter all the more onerous. If the victim-parent decides to leave the abuser-parent, a child custody action is likely to follow. Child custody cases are …challenging. Such cases are determined according to the best interest of the child. A judge is given wide discretion in determining custody. Neither Mother or Father is given prima facie right to custody. O.C.G.A 19-9-3(3) provides an inconclusive list of factors that the judge may consider when making a custody determination. O.C.G.A 19-9-3(4)(a-d) uniquely provides factors that a judge MUST consider when there has been a finding of family violence. Subsection (a) specifically provides that “a judge shall consider as primary the safety and well-being of the child and of the parent who is the victim of family violence.” This section even provides some legal protection for the parent who fled in pursuit of refuge. Studies show that children who witness domestic violence are actually victims of domestic violence because of the short and long term implications on the child. These implications include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and aggressor behavior.

So, is it plausible to say that during one of the most monumental nights in Will Smith’s career, Will Smith saw his Mother in Jada Smith and his Father in Chris Rock. Is it fair to say that he was deeply triggered not just by the words of Chris Rock but by the fervent pain that he saw in his wife’s eyes? Could it be that in that particular moment, 53-year-old Smith was the 9 year-old boy who witnessed his Father land a serious blow to his Mother’s head and decided to rewrite the story of his past?

Essie Ndem