The Red Flags of Abuse Don’t Always Appear Red in the Beginning

Marilyn Manson Concert, photo by Tina Morlock (Dallas, 2008)

I am a die-hard Nine Inch Nails fan, and I was first introduced to Marilyn Manson back in 1995 when they opened up for Trent Reznor during The Self-Destruct Tour (along with The Jim Rose Circus). The infatuation with his music, lyrics, and philosophy came slow, but over the next few years, I quickly became a superfan. Looking back on that first concert I attended—there have been seven altogether—I would always silently smile at the fact that I saw him when he was a nobody walking around the concert like everyone else was. However, there was always something about Marilyn Manson—the man—that felt off to me.

Yes, I was in love with his music, but there was something about the man that frightened me—or at least intimidated me. It wasn’t the way he looked or the lifestyle he lived; it was something buried underneath that I couldn’t put my finger on, mostly revealed through interviews and things he’d written himself. Because of this, I never quite understood the rock star worship so many other fans engaged in.

But his words and his lyrics—on the surface—resonated with me. He felt the way I felt about things, and he saw society in similar ways that I always had. He was the poster boy for all of us who felt like outsiders, and that was okay as long as I stayed a bit removed from falling too far into that circle of fire.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Anyone who was a fan of Marilyn Manson who had heard Evan Rachel Wood talk convincingly about her abuser knew she was talking about Marilyn Manson. In 2018, she spoke in front of Congress and told a disheartening story about her abuser:

[It] started slow but escalated over time, including threats against my life, severe gaslighting and brainwashing, waking up to the main that claimed to love me, raping what he believed to be my unconscious body. The worst part [was the] sick rituals of binding me up by hands and feet to be mentally tortured until my abuser felt I had proven my love for them. In this moment, while I was tied up and being beaten, and being told unspeakable things, I truly felt like I could die, not just because my abuser said to me, “I could kill you right now,” but because in that moment I felt like I left my body, and I was too afraid to run.¹

At the time that she spoke in front of Congress about her experience with abuse, she was too afraid to name her abuser. She feared for her life because her unnamed abuser had already threatened her multiple times.

Though my abuser never verbally threatened my life, I know that fear pretty well. After I voluntarily left my abusive situation, I had to develop eyes in the back of my head because I, too, became so afraid of the consequences of loving the wrong person. As an abuse survivor, your first thought is . . . I need to move far away from here so I can finally breathe and live my life. I imagined him showing up with a gun . . . or grabbing me by the throat and choking me to death . . . or sending someone else to do the job. It is a different nightmare each second you are awake, and when you fall asleep, the night terrors pick up where your waking hours left off. To say the aftermath of abuse feels brutal is an understatement.

Then, 2021 happened. Suddenly, everywhere you looked, the floodgates had opened, and Evan Rachel Wood led the charge of accusations against Marilyn Manson. People all over came out in droves to support her, and the world crashed down on top of her abuser. On Instagram, Evan Rachel Wood said:

The name of my abuser is Brian Warner, also known to the world as Marilyn Manson.

He started grooming me when I was a teenager and horrifically abused me for years.

I was brainwashed and humiliated into submission. I am done living in fear of retaliation, slander, or blackmail.

I am here to expose this dangerous man and call out the many industries that have enabled him, before he ruins any more lives.

I stand with the many victims who will no longer be silent.²

Click here if you want to check out Billboard’s timeline of allegations against Marilyn Manson for some background.

Marilyn Manson denied the allegations against him in an official statement, saying:

Obviously, my art and my life have long been magnets for controversy, but these recent claims about me are horrible distortions of reality. My intimate relationships have always been entirely consensual with like-minded partners. Regardless of how—and why—others are now choosing to misrepresent the past, that is the truth.³

Following Wood’s recent allegations, others have come forward, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department have launched an investigation against Manson. We likely haven’t heard the last of what’s to come for him.

My abuser had more victims, too, at least one that I knew intimate details about. However, part of my abuser’s charm was that he had convinced me her allegations were false, and that it was all just a conspiracy concocted by his ex-girlfriend and the police. Looking back now, I find it ludicrous that I never believed the allegations. After all, he was on probation after pleading guilty for his part in her physical abuse. I didn’t want to believe it, though, and hope can be such a detrimental contributor to our continued emotional abuse.

When Evan Rachel Wood came forward, I was happy for her that she finally had found her way through the fear to make her truth known about Marilyn Manson. Other people—Manson’s ex-wife, Dita Vita Teese, and ex-girlfriend Rose McGowan, to name a couple—came forward to support her, even though their experience with Manson had been different.

This type of support should not be taken lightly. Sometimes, it goes the opposite way when someone who doesn’t understand abuse reacts to your experience. Some people think survivors were stupid to stay, or they feel that they deserved the abuse because they stayed. Abuse is not this black and white. There are varying levels of it and layers that don’t often get peeled away until we step out of our toxic relationships.

When I first left my abusive relationship, I didn’t know what I had experienced. All I knew was that the relationship was bad for me, and it was slowly ruining my life, piece by piece. I knew that if I didn’t leave, I would be left completely alone, abandoned by my family, and maybe even in a bit of legal trouble myself due to the drug abuse I’d fallen into. It was the support I received from a couple of close friends that set me on the path of realization. And as soon as I figured it out, layers began to fall away, and a challenging path to healing lay in front of me. So, it was nice to see that she had that support, especially from strangers who she may have never met in her life.

And as I started to think about her situation, my thoughts went back to my first impressions of Manson—the ones that told me I’d want to keep him at a distance if I knew him personally. Sometimes, there is an initial gut reaction to someone that tells us something could go wrong in a friendship or relationship. We often ignore these red flags because it seems to be such an anomaly compared to the person we think we know.

Mine with my abuser was so red that it could have been bleeding real human blood, and I still ignored it. In an intimate moment, I remember thinking, He could have murdered someone in the past. Then, I remembered the charming gentleman he first appeared to be in the beginning. But not me—he would never do that to me.

But they can, and they will. Luckily, my story didn’t turn out that way, but it taught me a hard lesson. I learned to listen to that voice in the back of my head telling me something isn’t right about this situation. Even if the message is slight, it is still a message worth listening to. The red flags of abuse don’t always appear red in the beginning, but if we’re not careful, they can soon paint our entire lives red with the debilitating effects of abuse.

1: Jensen, Erin. “Evan Rachel Wood Details Sexual Assaults to Congress.” USA Today. February 28, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2018/02/28/evan-rachel-wood-details-sexual-assaults-congress/381118002/.

2: Wood, Evan Rachel. “Evan Rachel Wood Allegations Against Marilyn Manson.” Instagram, February 1, 2021. Accessed March 22, 2021. https://www.instagram.com/p/CKvmsUmF1ho/.

3: Ting, Jasmine. “Marilyn Manson Is Now Under Investigation.” Paper®. February 20, 2021. https://www.papermag.com/marilyn-manson-abuse-investigation-2650643575.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1.

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