February 20, 2015

In ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ portrayal of sexual abuse is black and white


Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Pictures and Focus Features, via Business Insider.

Speaking with Business Insider, Dr. Amy Bonomi explains how the number-one box office hit clearly glorifies sexual violence

In the widest opening ever for an erotic R-rated movie, “Fifty Shades of Grey” earned nearly $82 million dollars over the recent holiday weekend. Based on a novel that has sold more than 100 million copies, the movie was eagerly awaited by fans and critics alike. But not everyone is critiquing the movie’s cinematic chops.


Dr. Amy Bonomi

Amy Bonomi, PhD, a Group Health affiliate investigator who is now professor and chair in the human development and family studies department at Michigan State University, is openly critical of the movie for romanticizing what she says is clearly an abusive relationship. In a recent interview with Business Insider, she counters the popular view that “Fifty Shades” is simply fantasy—explaining how its portrayal of a submissive sexual relationship meets national definitions of emotional abuse and normalizes sexual violence.

Dr. Bonomi’s expertise on the topic comes from more than a decade of research on intimate partner violence—work she began during her tenure as a senior research associate at Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) from 1999 to 2006. While at GHRI, she used funding from the Group Health Foundation and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to conduct a long-term study of more than 3,000 Group Health members—finding that women who are physically abused by an intimate partner pay 40 percent more in annual health care costs than women who are not abused.  With GHRI colleagues including biostatistician Melissa Anderson, MS, and others, Dr. Bonomi has also studied the prevalence and impact of intimate partner violence on men, older women, and children who grow up in homes where a parent is abused.  With Ms. Anderson and colleagues at Michigan State, she recently published research that analyzed abusive content in the “Fifty Shades” novel and explored the prevalence of risky health behaviors among its readers.

Read: The foremost academic expert on 'Fifty Shades of Grey' tells us why the movie is truly horrible on Business Insider.