The controversy surrounding Tik Tok’s ‘mugshot challenge’

Trigger warning: this article contains talk on domestic violence, abuse and potentially triggering images.

How did you not consider that this could be triggering for those suffering from domestic violence, or abuse?

The boredom surrounding lockdown is beginning to take its toll. Those of us who aren’t going insane from cabin fever, are doing our best to come up with fun and exciting ways to pass the time. We’ve seen everything from people manufacturing home gyms to resurrecting the past time that is board games and puzzles – all perfectly acceptable ways to entertain yourself. However, something that is not fun, or acceptable in any way, is the highly controversial ‘mugshot challenge’, currently trending on everyone’s “favourite app” Tik Tok.

For those of you who don’t know what the ‘mugshot challenge’ is, its people making themselves over to look as if they have been beaten up, battered and bruised, as they pose for a selfie, teary-eyed and dishevelled.

The most well-known influencer to have taken part in the challenge is James Charles. The hashtag has attracted millions of people and has made its way to Twitter and Instagram – but nothing is surprising about that.

Influencer James Charles on the right.

Not the most shocking thing to have come from the birth of Tik Tok, so what is the big controversy surrounding this challenge?

One of the biggest gripes with this challenge it how it presents itself to be glamorising violence and incarceration. Those mugshots they’re impersonating, have for many, been a reality, particularly in the US where this challenge originated, as is the police brutality that those bruises would have been caused by.

Police brutality is a huge social issue in American society, especially for black and brown people. If you spoke to them, they would tell you there’s nothing glamorous about being in a line up after having been severely beaten by those who consistently take their perceived version of the law into their own hands.

For me, the stupidity behind this challenge goes much deeper. It not only glorifies violence, and it does glorify violence because you’re getting likes for what you’ve created and called it a mugshot, but it’s triggering for those who are living in abusive households and have absolutely no escape right now.

Before the quarantine had set in, I expressed my concern about this with a friend of mine. At the time, she didn’t understand why lockdown would make this situation any worse. Then, a few days ago, she sent me this article from the BBC saying that domestic violence calls and those needing online support have increased by 25%.

For a moment, imagine you’re home, trapped with an abusive partner, and then you go online and see this. As many abusive partners tend to be controlling, many of those suffering might not even have access to a phone or a device, so they might not see it right? What about those who have lived it and come out of the other end. What about empathy? At the beginning of this lockdown, the shared mantra was to be kind to one another; I think the hashtag was #alonetogether or something to that effect. In my mind, it’s not kind or sensical to be sat at home, making yourself over to look like you’ve been beaten within an inch of your life, while someone; a neighbour, a friend, could be at home and living that exact reality.

These people are in an impossible situation. Although we have been assured that emergency services are doing their best to keep things that aren’t corona related as supported as possible, they’re under a considerable strain, and people fall through the cracks. When lockdown first started, my mother, collapsed for no reason one Friday night. When she came too, she couldn’t breathe, and it looked as if she was drowning on the air around her. I called the emergency services, but I was on hold for almost half an hour. In the end, I opted to take her there myself, breaking social distancing rules by coming into proximity with others, but it had to be done because I couldn’t even get to speak to someone to explain what was happening. Luckily for me, what happened to my mother was an anomaly, and she’s fully recovered. Still, I hate to think what would’ve happened if she had a heart attack, a stroke, or having been severely beaten by an abusive partner.

Sometimes all it takes is a second to think about the implications of what you’re doing and how they will affect someone else. During this time, people don’t have an escape, so we turn to our phones. For those living with abuse, not having that escape is a very real, very challenging, and upsetting reality for them and something as ‘innocent’ as a ridiculous Tik Tok challenge could be very harmful.

Being kind to each other should not just be a pleasant notion with a short shelf life. It should extend past putting supportive posters up in our windows and clapping for the NHS, into being mindful about each other’s situations and just thinking before we share something publicly.  

Social distancing for a lot of us means not being able to see our see friends or family, but for some of us, a more significant percentage than it should be is being trapped with that family member who makes you wish that you weren’t. A lot of abuser’s goal is to control the person they’re abusing. Imagine being furloughed, or off work, stuck at home, with no friends, no family, perhaps no phone, nothing but the person whose goal in life is to make you suffer.

Despite the intent of the Tik Tok, it’s unnecessary and unnerving, that people are turning to this for entertainment. Many people when these controversies crop up, say it’s not their responsibility to alter their behaviour in case it triggers someone. Although somewhat true, hence why we have trigger warnings, when something is so blatant, unnecessary and transparently disrespectful to either targeted groups in society or domestic violence victims, it does become your responsibility.

Domestic violence rates have been steadily on the rise for a long time, and those involved can’t always find the strength or means to get out of the situation themselves. People need to be more mindful and find different ways to pass the time. Productive they don’t have to be, but considerate, especially now that the saying you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors has never been more relevant, they must.

To all the people who are trapped at home with their abusers, my thoughts are with you. If you might be suffering from abuse, please do call the emergency services, pressing ‘55’ when prompted if you can’t talk, or the national refugee helpline, 0808 2000 247.

Remember everyone, stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.

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