The Office was highly praised for the way it approached domestic abuse. Whereas most shows either portray a woman victim or make light of a man being abused, often even questioning his masculinity or even going so far as to imply that he deserves it for letting a woman abuse him, The Office showed Michael Scott as a truly sympathetic victim of Jan’s emotional abuse. While we’re big fans of TV and movies on this site though, we aren’t just here to praise groundbreaking television, but to look at legal matters in the media. And The Office provides a lot of interesting material for evaluation by domestic violence lawyer Peter M. Liss.
Proof of Domestic Abuse Between Michael and Jan
Like many couples, Michael Scott and Jan Levinson don’t seem to be in a dysfunctional relationship when casually observed by outsiders, but when Michael’s friends dig deeper they find that Jan exerts a disturbing level of control over him. She even sexually assaults him and finally, in front of his friends, destroys one of his most prized possessions, which is not only the final straw in their relationship, but also the act that brings the police to their doorstep.
The first serious problem we learn about Michael and Jan’s relationship is when Michael goes to the mall with his female co-workers who learn that Jan forces Mike to participate in bondage against his wishes and then ignores his safety word. She also records his sex sessions and shares this footage with her therapist against Michael’s wishes. Mike’s friends actually give him support and encouragement to break up with Jan, but he changes his mind when he sees her and her new breast implants. While few victims of domestic abuse actually change their mind about leaving their partner due to a cosmetic surgery, it is true that many victims find it hard to leave their abusers, particularly when their partner comes before them with a sincere apology for their behavior. In fact, this is one of the reasons emergency stay away orders are issued as soon as someone is arrested for domestic violence.
As time wears on, Jan starts showing up randomly at Michael’s place of business and acts aggressively jealous towards Pam, simply because she works close to Michael. Jan consistently tells Michael she is out of his league, she’s embarrassed by him and he will never be able to get someone as good as her again -a common line used by abusers. At Mike’s disposition in her wrongful termination suit against Dunder Mifflin, Jan uses Michael’s diary as evidence -without his permission, showing a complete disregard for his privacy.
But it’s the episode of The Office when Michael and Jan host a dinner party that we see how problematic their relationship really is. For one, it’s strongly implied that Jan had or is currently having an affair with her former assistant, Hunter. Then we learn that Jan sleeps in the bed and forces Michael to sleep on a small bench at the foot of the bed. Eventually the two start to spat, with Mike finally showing that he is willing to stand up to Jan in front of his friends. He hangs up a lighting fixture she wouldn’t let him display before, which leads to a shouting match that ends with Jan taking one of his beloved Dundie awards and throwing it into his prized $200 plasma tv. As the guests leave in the wake of this act of vandalism, the police arrive.
A Realistic Look at The Office’s Dinner Party
While the awkwardness is played for laughs, the interaction between Jan and Michael and their guests is fairly realistic for a couple in an abusive relationship. What isn’t accurate in the episode is the fact that the police ask Mike if he wants to file charges and then are satisfied when he says “no” and leaves to stay the night at a friend’s house.
Instead, when police perform domestic violence well checks, they first interview everyone present at the scene, attempting to keep the victim away from the aggressor as much as possible. That would mean not only interviewing Mike, Jan and everyone at the dinner party, but also the neighbors who reported the incident. Once they established that Jan damaged Michael’s property, they would have arrested her, even if Mike said he didn’t want to press charges -or if he offered to “take the fall” for her. The would also likely take the television and Dundie as evidence.
What Charges Would Jan Levinson Face?
Jan would need to call a local domestic violence lawyer because the District Attorney’s office would almost certainly file charges with so much evidence. Many people would assume that Jan would be innocent of the most serious domestic violence charge, corporal injury to a spouse or inhabitant because she never actually hurt him physically, but the fact that she ignored his safe word means that she continued to have sexual relations with him after he revoked consent. In other words, Jan raped Michael, which would almost certainly qualify as an injury severe enough to qualify for this charge.
Jan would certainly qualify for domestic battery charges, which apply when someone uses violence or force against a partner or threatens violence in conjunction with emotional abuse. She certainly performed enough abusive acts, particularly emotional abuse, to meet the standard for this charge. In fact, in some rare cases, people can even be charged with domestic battery based solely on the level of emotion abuse they inflicted, though usually these involve massive levels of stalking and harassment.
Of course many domestic violence incidents go unreported and it’s possible Michael and those at the party would have only reported what happened the night the police showed up, not all of the disturbing behaviors Jan demonstrated in the past. In this case, Jan would most likely only face domestic violence vandalism charges, which carry mandatory minimums higher than standard vandalism charges, including at least 3 years of probation, 1 year of battery classes, $500 in fines, a restraining order, mandatory community service and restitution to the victim for the damaged property.
While the situation in The Office between Michael and Jan may seem humorous though still disturbing, the reality is that Jan would end up behind bars for what she did to Michael. Domestic abuse charges are serious offenses that always require the assistance of a domestic violence attorney. If you have been accused of any of these serious charges, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation at Mr. Liss’ office right across the street from the courthouse and jail in Vista.