Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
There was a cleaning ad that played with this trope. A woman is grocery shopping with her arm in a sling. She gives sympathetic shoppers a whole bunch of different stories about how it happened, leading the audience to mistake her injury for domestic abuse. At the end of the commercial, it's revealed she hurt her shoulder trying to scrub soap scum out of the bathtub. The product being sold solves her problem.
Anime and Manga
Abiru of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has her injuries mistaken for the result of domestic abuse. She actually gets them after tugging on the tails of animals she cares for at the zoo.
Love Hina. The girls of the house will think that Keitaro, being extremely unlucky and clumsy, is trying to molest/abuse them, so type A. However, some of their punishments of him will slip the show into type B.
At one point in School Rumble, Mikoto and Eri are chatting and then Harima shows up. Eri runs, as she wants to avoid Harima which leads to the very athletic Mikoto to chase after Eri, getting her outfit slightly torn in the process (while leaping over fences, tripping, etc). When she meats up with her childhood friend Hanai, she brushes it off as nothing. Harima shows up to Hanai to return Mikoto's bag she left behind when she and Eri ran off. Naturally, Hanai thinks Harima hurt Mikoto and gets angry with her.
A scene in an early episode of Digimon Frontier has what sounds like the youngest of the main cast being beaten by the enemy Digimon of the week. When the rest of the team breaks into the room he appears to be held captive in, it turns out they're simply playing a fighting game.
Type A is a Stock plot in Disney Ducks Comics Universe comics: Donald gets a new job of responsibility, and starts to see abuse and attempted crimes everywhere he looks. Chaos ensues.
In Batman, social workers at school will occasionally notice Robin's various injuries and bruises, and with the truth locked down tight, who can blame them for thinking abuse?
During League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1969, Mina tries to get information out of Julia Gallion, wife of Oliver Haddo's current incarnation, by having sex with her. Apparently it was really loud and kinky sex, because afterwards, Mina's comrades ask about all the noise. In a variation on Type A, Mina lets them think it was some rough interrogation.
Allan: We heard that other girl screaming. D-did you torture her for information?
Mina: Oh.. yes. Yes, I can be quite ruthless when I have to be.
Though McGonagall says at the time her evidence is equivocal; Harry usually behaves like a well-adjusted boy, but sometimes behaves as if he were being abused. It's unclear whether Harry's irrational personality or his presumed partial possession by Voldemort is to blame.
A Sentinel fanfiction called "Intervention" has two of Blair's students kidnap him and try to get him to admit on tape that Jim has been abusing him. Blair's many injuries—all of which have perfectly innocent if rather bizarre explanations—had led them to think that this was happening.
In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Solitary Pinion, Dr. Remedial Oath has a teenage patient with fresh tissue over much of her body, signs of large numbers of broken and healed bones, no cutie mark, difficulties with walking and speaking and fear of unicorn magic. He interprets this to be the result of years of abuse at the hooves of a unicorn. The reality, which he has yet to discover, is that she's a human teenager recently transformed into a pegasus, who hasn't managed to adjust to her equine body yet.
The poor muscle control continuously caused her to fall down, to the point that she toppled, overcompensated, and tumbled into a lake, nearly drowning because of her difficulties moving her limbs. Everyone believes it might have been a suicide attempt because of the despair born of the horrible abuse she suffered through, and mistake gratitude towards her saviors as bonding with the first ponies to ever show her kindness - technically true, but certainly not to that extent.
In For His Own Sake, Naru sees a stranger teasing a woman he's walking with. Assuming the worst, she attacks. Turns out the guy was trying to convince his wife to play a fighting game at the arcade with him, and teasing her about how she wasn't good at them.
The same story also DeconstructsLove Hina's reliance on both types. Its title references how Keitaro has wisened up and is leaving the Hinata Inn after living there for three years in order to get away from its toxic environment, and explores what happens when the more violent girls' behavior is taken seriously.
In Shatterheart, Kurogane and R!Syaoran share a passionate kiss when Fai walks in on them. Since Fai doesn't know that Kurogane and Syaoran are together and Syaoran is actually 21 despite looking 16, he assumes Kurogane is sexually abusing him.
Films — Animated
At one point in Toy Story 2, Woody's friends believe he is being tortured when he is only being tickled.
Oliver & Company: When Dodger and the other plan to steal Oliver back from Jenny's house, they see Winston brandishing a rolling pin, thinking he's going to harm Oliver. It turns out he's watching a boxing match on TV.
Films — Live-Action
In The SM Judge, the ADA mistake the couple's BDSM sex-life for abuse. It's never made clear if he believed his own accusations, or if he merely used her bruises as an excuse to attack the judge.
In Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, the college kids and the police take for granted that Dale is doing terrible things to Allison. It doesn't help that the students overhear part of a conversation where he boasts of having "beat the crap out of" her, not knowing he's actually referring to winning a trivia game.
In G. I. Jane, Jordan and her crew are out celebrating at a bar when she goes to use the restroom. As she washes her hands, another female customer pauses as she passes by and, spotting Jordan's badly bruised face, remarks "Ain't really none of my business, but I say 'leave the bastard'." before exiting, which causes Jordan to laugh. (The abuse really happened, but it was part of her special forces training.)
God Bless America: In several scenes, the audience is led to believe that someone is about to accuse Frank of mistreating Roxy. Disturbingly, nobody ever get this wrong idea, not even when this little girl is covered in blood and alone in a car at night with an old man who shares no family resemblance with her. When someone finally gets the idea that the girl might be abused, it's a creep who asks because he wants to join in.
Titanic: When Rose tries to commit suicide, Jack talks her out of it. However... then she slips, nearly falling to her death. He manages to save her, but as he does so she's screaming for help. After he manages to drag her up to safety, some crewmen arrive and assume that he has assaulted her. Made worse by the fact that later in the film, we see evidence that Rose's fiance really does physically abuse her... and virtually no one knows it.
In National Treasure, when Ben, Riley and Abigail seek to evade Ian's hired goons, Abigail hides behind the meat counter at an open-air marketplace. The clerk at the counter initially tells her she can't stay, until Abigail, pointing out the large muscular Mook pursuing her, tells her she's hiding from her ex-husband. The clerk answers, "Honey, stay as long as you like," and then rudely shoos off the mook.
The third book of Slave World starts out with a female police officer getting raped by a corrupt male policeman. When caught, his violation is mistaken for consensual sex, so they both get in trouble for it. (She gets fired from the police force, and then hired by a government conspiracy trying to infiltrate an Alternate Timeline to steal their superior technology. But that's another story.)
In a Lena's segment of the The Joy Luck Club. Raised by an overprotective mother, Lena hears noises from their neighbors' walls and believes that abuse is going on it them. Fortunately, she's relieved to learn that they are only playing and later hears that there are clearly laughters of joy and love beyond the wall.
In I Capture the Castle, the Cassandra's father was sent to jail for 3 months for mock-threatening his wife with a cake knife, breaking his spirit and will to write anything past his first book.
In Protector of the Small, Keladry goes to the public baths one day to enjoy soaking in the warm water. Concerned women rush over to assure her that whoever he is, even if he's a noble, he'll be caught and tried and made to pay. Keladry is a squire, and her day-to-day injuries from combat training are apparently rather alarming out of context.
In one of the Temple Barr novels, Temple (a female public relations agent and private eye) had gotten beat up, and lots of people assumed it was abuse. (It was crooks who didn't like her nosing around.) Unfortunately she was then targeted by a serial killer who targeted abuse victims...
The Meaning of Liff defines "sluggan" as a bruise you got from walking into a door, but which everyone avoids commenting on because it's obvious you had a fight with your spouse.
A rather strange example in Warbreaker. About halfway through the book, Vivenna finds out that her companion Jewels is a Drab, someone who has had part of their soul removed to feed one of the local gods. Vivenna tries to express sympathy for Jewels only to have Jewels make it clear that: 1. She gave up her soul voluntarily. 2. She still is proud of having done so. 3. She worships the god in question. 4. The money she received as compensation kept her family from starvation after her father broke his back. 5. Her father subsequently made a full recovery, and his business is still doing well. She believes this to have been divine favor for her sacrifice.
In one episode a patient gets attacked by a woman, who tries to murder him by strangulation. Or rather, that's what the audience and the doctors believe at first. It turns out that it was just erotic asphyxiation. Safe or not is debatable, but at least it was consensual.
In another episode, a man tries to "rape" a woman before collapsing from an ailment, but everyone except the audience knows that it's just a game between a husband and wife. Inverted at the end when it turns out that the wife wanted to murder her husband by poisoning him; the team never finds out why, though.
Another episode had an infant who was extremely underweight due to a medical condition. The Hippie Parents, who fed the baby a vegan diet, were thought to be at fault and child protective services was contacted before they revealed that they consulted an actual nutritionist and House correctly diagnosed the child.
In one episode, a cop have a bad reputation as several other cops "know" that he used to beat his girlfriend. He even got arrested once. However, it turns out that he had nothing to do with her injuries. It wasn't even a consensual game, she was cutting herself because of a deep depression.
Another episode opens up with cops bursting into an apartment where a "rape" is occurring. However, it's revealed to just be actors and a cameraman making a film.
To clarify, they'd gotten a call to the building in question but the dispatcher had told them apartment B instead of D. It's mostly a fake-out on the audience, not other characters.
This is the central premise of the episode "Doubt", where the woman's ex-boyfriend/professor uses type A and it being consensual as his defense, with the woman alleging type B. Notably, this was one of the few episodes where the verdict was never given, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions..
Played for Laughs in one episode of the UK SitcomCarrie and Barry, Carrie walks into an open kitchen cupboard door and gives herself a black eye. When Michelle, her friend, visits she asks Barry, Carrie's husband, about her black eye and he tells her about the cupboard door and about how clumsy Carrie is. Michelle comments that "there are a lot of cupboard doors out there" and makes another insinuating comment about Carrie's clumsiness. It takes Barry a few of these to realise what she's getting at.
Jam plays this for Black Comedy in a sketch wherein a wife is upset about her husband's apparent affair and he's making stereotypical excuses, i.e. it was purely physical, the other woman didn't mean anything to him, it was an isolated incident. His wife is finally reassured of his fidelity after he reveals that he and the other woman weren't having an affair; he was just raping her.
This is used as something of an Establishing Character Moment in the pilot episode. Marshall accidentally hits Lilly in the eye with a champagne cork while celebrating their engagement. When they get in a cab afterwards, with Marshall still apologizing profusely, the cab driver indignantly says "Wait, did you hit her?" Marshall and Lilly both stare at him blankly for a minute, then erupt into hysterical laughter at the very idea. Lilly even goes into how she can't get Marshall to spank her, before realizing she is talking to a complete stranger.
In the Episode The Goat, Barney sleeps with Robin, Ted's ex, which is against the rules of "The Bro Code", so he hires Marshall as a lawyer to find a loophole in the book to stop him feeling guilty, though Barney mentions he needs Marshall because he slept with Robin before he mentions the Bro Code, leading to this exchange:
Marshall: Why are you doing this to me? Barney: Because I need you, Marshall, as my lawyer to prove I didn't do anything wrong. Marshall: How can I help you as your lawyer? (Beat) You didn't break any laws, did you? Robin knows that you slept with her, doesn't she?
An early episode of Flashpoint, has a cop beating his wife until her sister takes matters into her own and holds up the husband at gunpoint. While investigating the situation, SRU officers quickly discover that the cop's partners and friends on the force knew, or at least strongly suspected, that the cop was beating his wife, but looked the other way out of misguided respect, writing it off as something else.
Type A in an episode of Frasier. When Martin reflects on raising his sons, he mentions that they were so bad at riding bikes they would be covered with bruises. He eventually gave up teaching them how to ride bikes, thinking that his sons' doctor was suspecting him of child abuse.
In the episode "Driven" of NCIS, Team Gibbs brings in a suspect for questioning after watching security footage of him sexually assaulting the victim shortly before her death. As it turns out, they were dating, and the "assault" was an entirely consensual expression of Casual Kink.
In one episode, Boulet is treating a pre-teen girl, and notices a number of old injuries that would indicate a history of being abused by her father. It's revealed that her father never abused her; the two of them enjoy attempting to establish world records in physical challenges (most consecutive jumping-jacks, most consecutive hours skipping rope, etc.) and are even pictured in a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records. Boulet ends up joining them in their attempt to break the record for most consecutive hours jumping on a trampoline.
Another episode had the doctors dealing with a little girl brought in with a transected hymen, who said it had happen when she was playing with her father, and a boy with a worrisome number of old fractures, whose parents said he fell down a lot. By the end of the episode, it's revealed that both situations were perfectly innocent (the girl had been playing a highly athletic game and stretched a bit too far, the boy had osteogenesis imperfecta, leading to fragile bones, compounded by a high energy level and really lousy coordination). Notably, in both cases the ones saying "We should contact CPS about these kids," are treated as sensible and reasonable, and the one who wanted the children taken away right that second is treated as a hysteric. The CPS workers are also treated sympathetically.
A different episode featured a kid with several old fractures, and a fresh fracture, coming into the ER. The immediate idea is that the father, who got divorced from his wife a while ago and is working long hours, is abusing and beating the son. It's later revealed that the injuries are deliberate - the kid injures himself so that dad can take a day or two off from work and spend the whole day with him, eating ice cream and other junk food while watching TV.
An episode of Strong Medicine had a doctor noticing odd bruises on her patient, who happened to be the wife of the Chief of Staff. That, coupled with her odd reaction and vague responses, had her convinced there was domestic abuse going on, and when the woman was rushed to the hospital a few days later after "falling down the stairs", she was even more certain. Eventually she learns that the woman really had fallen down the stairs. This and the bruises were the result of her bumping into things because she was developing multiple sclerosis.
In the 2000 remake of the The Fugitive, the already suspicious Inspector Gerard becomes convinced that Richard Kimble is his wife's murderer when witnesses who saw them jogging in the park the day she was killed claim to have seen him grab her and throw her to the ground. They didn't—the Happily Married couple was playing and goofing off.
A variation in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates has Hetty sustaining some bruises after falling down the stairs while wearing high-heels (Hettie is more comfortable in sensible shoes). A police detective who had worked with Hetty on some cases before sees this as an opportunity and asks Hettie to go undercover at a shelter for abused women; someone had apparently revealed the center's location to the husbands of some of the tenants, possibly leading to one woman's death.
Veronica Mars In the season 3 premiere, a main character girl, Mac, has just moved into her new college dorm this episode. Veronica, her close friend also going to the college but living at home for monetary reasons, comes up to Mac's room, hoping to go out somewhere for a night of fun, but Mac is already sitting on the floor in the hallway outside the room because her new roommate (still a stranger/new acquaintance since this is the first episode of the college season), Parker, is "in there with some guy." Unfortunately, however, the tickets Mac & Veronica need are still in the room, so Veronica takes Mac's keys and braves going in and interrupting whatever Parker and the "some guy" might be doing. She walks in, and it's dark, with music playing, and she hears some "sex noises" from the guy - moaning or something similar. Veronica rolls her eyes and then says quietly (more to herself than anyone), "Don't mind me," grabs the tickets, and then runs out of there. After Mac & Veronica return, too drunk to drive home so Veronica plans to sleep on Mac's couch, they comment "and we're dude free" before actually entering. The last second of the episode is Veronica and Mac waking up to Parker's screams - she had been drugged, then raped and her hair completely shaved off her head. This grievous mistake is explored more in the next episode as well.
Greys Anatomy: A girl who is unable to feel pain comes in with major injuries and her foster parents are suspected of beating her. It turns out that she thinks she's a super hero and was hurting herself and encouraging other kids to hit her so she could show off.
Bones: In the episode "The Salt in the Wounds", the remains of a young woman bore signs of previous injuries. Booth and Brennan ask the victim's parents about the injuries mainly to rule out the likelihood of abuse. Her injuries are merely the result of her being an athlete (she was in the school volleyball team).
One episode of Untold Stories Of The ER (all based on Doctor's true stories) had a boy with a mild case of Brittle Bone Disease that has a Case A of this trope. The Hysterical parents response to the accusation, up to and including Kidnapping the child from the ER, did not help things.
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Suddenly Human" has the Enterprise rescue some Talarian youngsters from a derelict ship, one of whom is a human raised by the Talarians. Dr. Crusher identifies several old injuries in the human, Jono, as signs of child abuse, but when Jono's adoptive father turns up he says they were normal (for his people, or for humans a few centuries ago for that matter) childhood injuries, e.g. his son fell off a horse analog.
Call of Cthulhu supplement Dreamlands adventure "Pickman's Student". When the investigators go to the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Briggs, they find a man tied to a chair with a bathrobe thrown over him. If they rescue him they discover that he's playing bondage games with his wife.
GURPS Goblins, adventure "The Horse Swapping". The ladies are playing Blind Man's Buff inside a house with some male customers while the PCs are outside waiting for them. While wearing the blindfold, one of the customers accidentally strikes one of the ladies. She lets out a scream that can be heard by the PCs, which may result in them rushing in to see what's wrong.
A pivotal moment in the play A Steady Rain involves the two cop characters returning a naked Vietnamese boy to the serial killer the poor kid was trying to escape from. (Directly inspired by the Jeffrey Dahmer incident described below.)
This is essentially the premise behind Clarissa's public life. It doesn't really help that the only way she shows it is through risque pictures.
Slave Maker: The noble & religious people who try to rescue mistreated slaves are horribly bad at misjudging if a slave is actually mistreated or not. This works both ways: They will let real abuse go unnoticed, and they will mistake healthy happy relationships for abuse. See also the Activist Fundamentalist Antics example.
In Ansem Retort, Aeris gets a black eye from a moment of clumsiness, and her husband Axel tells her to make up a less embarrassing excuse.
On WTFIWWY one of Tara's running gag on the show is the amount of childhood injuries she has had to endure, either at her own hands or her sister's hands. Her poor mother had to rotate emergency rooms with all three of them for fear of Type A of this trope happening.
The very first episode of King of the Hill had a misguided social worker suspect Hank of beating Bobby. His "evidence" included a black eye on Bobby (actually caused by a Little League accident) and an overheard conversation where Bobby and Joseph imitated Hank's tendency to deliver blustering, exaggerated threats when angry. He immediately moves to have Bobby taken away, only to have his supervisor chew him out for not getting anything more than circumstantial evidence and not even questioning the little league coach who could have cleared this entire thing up at the very start, and has him Reassigned to Antarctica.
The episode "Rough Trade" had this happen to Stan. The neighbor sees him drunken and slovenly (he was under house arrest for DUI (Roger's fault) and agreed to do a Swapped Roles with Roger, who does nothing but drink and watch game shows all day) and Francine has a black eye (a stressed-out Roger slapped her) which she excuses by saying she walked into a doorknob (a common excuse). When the police come by, they find pictures of an underage boy in his underwear (Steve, he took the pictures himself on Roger's advice to impress a girl) and a basement full of monkeys (Hayley was looking after them for her animal rights group, Roger forgot to feed them), and they hear Stan angrily yelling "I'm gonna kill him!" (Roger, of course) and come in to see Francine on the floor with another black eye, saying, "It was my fault for leaving the mop out." (She tripped on the mop and did run into a door).
In the episode "Let Me be Frank With You", Francine dresses as a man to spend more quality time with unknowing Stan. The two become best friends, but a suspicious Bullock gets jealous and finds out the real Frank is in another state. He then orders Stan to kill him. While Stan is about to, Francine/Frank lets something about Francine slip, and it causes Stan to think Frank did something with Francine. He then beats Francine/Frank mercilessly while Francine is more focused and romantisized by his loving monologue about her. Eventually he realses the truth and they share a romantic hug. Moments later, a man sees Stan hugging his beaten wife, apologizing for attacking her, and with a gun in his hand. He thinks something is up, and Stan threatens to shoot him. Jon Hamm then appears to give a very special message about butting into other peoples business and how something you think could be something entirely different.
Don't Be a Hero
An early episode of The Simpsons ("Home Sweet Home-Dum-Diddly-Doodily") features Bart and Lisa getting placed into foster care when Lisa has no shoes (because bullies took them to play Keep Away) and Bart has a case of head lice, and a social worker is called to investigate. They find the house a mess (because Marge went with Homer to a day spa instead of her usual housework), Maggie drinking out of the dog's water bowl (because she could), Grampa asleep on the couch, and the toilet paper hung in the "improper" overhand position. Marge and Homer didn't actually neglect the kids, but to the social workers, they looked like unfit parents, and had to take parenting classes in order to get their kids back from their foster parents, the Flanders family.
Invoked hard in the Western Animation/Sealab2021 episode "Bizarro," in which Captain Murphy reacts as though Bizarro Debbie were brutally torturing Quinn when it is obvious to absolutely everyone else that they're having enthusiastic sex.