We've heard actor Mel Gibson's rants; seen the bruises that rapper Chris Brown left on singer Rihanna's face; and closer to home, learned the details that lead to the death of Amanda Ross, allegedly at the hand of her former fiancé, former state Rep. Steve Nunn.
But those high-profile instances of domestic violence tell but a sliver of the story.
Experts say that very subtle exertions of control early in a courtship can telegraph trouble to come.
"These relationships are fast and furious," said LeTonia Jones, who works with the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association. "You can wake up and say, 'How did I find myself here?'"
Lots of people find themselves there.
In Kentucky, 25,000 to 30,000 women seek help every year through the state's 15 domestic violence shelters. One in four teens will be involved in an abusive relationship. During the last year in Kentucky, 23 women died as a result of domestic violence.
Expanding awareness of domestic violence is what's behind the showing of Telling Amy's Story and Changing Kentucky's Story at 9 p.m. Tuesday on KET. The combination of a documentary about a Pennsylvania woman who was killed by her husband and a panel discussion with local advocates for victims of domestic violence is being offered as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
'Not taken seriously'
Those three recent domestic violence cases that got so much attention — Gibson's "I'll bury you in the rose garden" rages, Brown's "I only hit her because it's all I know" pseudo-apology tour, and Ross's death — had Jones hoping for a chance at a real discussion about abuse.
She was encouraged as people rallied on behalf of Ross, who allegedly was shot outside her home in Lexington by Nunn, the son of former Gov. Louie B. Nunn. Local efforts helped to foster Amanda's Bill, which called for stricter monitoring of those charged with domestic abuse.
But the reaction to Gibson's hate-filled, threatening telephone messages and Brown's battering of his then-girlfriend was more typical: Chat rooms and blogs quickly filled with blame-the-victim rhetoric.
Sadly, Jones said, that is most often the case.
The real, daily, in-the-trenches battle with domestic violence "is not taken seriously," Jones said.
In Kentucky, for example, it was legal until 1990 for a man to rape his wife. Recent attempts to enact dating-violence legislation, to allow women to obtain restraining orders, failed. In Kentucky, only a woman living with her abuser or who has a child with him can get a restraining order.
The lack of a dating- violence law, Jones said, leaves women ages 18 to 24 and those dating after divorce with few options when trouble begins.
'They are very vulnerable," said Diane Fleet, assistant director of the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program. "They don't get the same protection."
Victims and abusers
There is no typical victim, Fleet and Jones said. It's true that 95 percent to 98 percent of Kentuckians seeking services after domestic violence are women, but men can be victims, and there can be abuse between same-sex couples. And victims cut across socioeconomic and demographic lines.
There are some across-the-board characteristics of abusers. They tend to come on strong early on, Jones said. Behaviors that will later be troublesome can seem charming in the first rush of love. Often, the abuser seems to want to know where the victim is all the time, wants to spend time alone with her and only her, orders for her at a restaurant, and surprises her by showing up at her job, Jones said.
Over time, those traits become controlling and isolating and, ultimately, belittling and threatening, Fleet said.
Victims of domestic violence often dismiss physical abuse such as slapping or choking as being "not that bad," Jones said.
But there doesn't have to be physical contact for there to be abuse, she said. There is emotional violence — embarrassing a woman in public or breaking things. There is economic violence — controlling the money, harassing a woman about spending or keeping the family finances always off-kilter.
And there are mind games. An abuser often will tell the victim she is the crazy one who is exaggerating what is going on, Fleet said. And the abuser's logic often follows: If a woman is crazy, who is going to believe her if she tries to tell anybody what's happening to her?
"It's hard to understand the level of intimidation," Jones said.
In fact, she said, physical violence often escalates when a woman tries to leave. A woman is seven times more likely to be injured by an abuser after she leaves him.
"The decision can have devastating repercussions," she said.
Getting away isn't easy
So that brings us to the central myth of domestic violence: If a women had any sense or self-respect, she'd just get out of the situation.
But, "It's not a matter of just picking up the purse and walking out the door," Jones said. "It's more like an escape."
A good way to offer support to a domestic- violence victim is to encourage a call to the domestic-abuse hot line. The counselors can provide information and make a safety plan for the victim, detailing how to leave and how to protect herself. If the woman thinks she needs to leave immediately, counselors will connect her with a shelter. It's not that a majority of men are terrorizing women, Fleet said, but it is true that a small percentage of men can wreak havoc. And until they are somehow held accountable, they tend to do it repeatedly.
If you're in a violent relationship, is there hope that the relationship can ultimately be saved?
Jones said there's not enough research to say either way. But in her 10 years as an advocate, she's never seen it happen.