Sasuke: No. He's not. He's having sex with me.
Failing to see the difference between playfulness (or similar) and abuse can be annoying at best and disastrous at worst.
This can take two forms:
- It looks like abuse but has an innocent cause.
- A sign of abuse only appears to have an innocent cause.
In both cases, someone is likely to suffer.
If Played for Laughs, the situation is almost always innocent and quickly corrected. When Played for Drama, however, a real victim might be denied help, an innocent person might get his life ruined with unfair accusations of abuse by a Wife-Basher Basher, or the designated "victim" gets stalked or outright oppressed by unwanted "rescuers". These helpers might even go to great lengths trying to force her to "realize" that she's a victim of abuse. And no, not the actual abuse that they are subjecting her to.
This is not a matter to take lightly — but it's worth noting that such mistakes are possible in real life. For instance, people with very pale skin can, and often do, get random bruises from going about their daily business and not even notice it.
See also Help Mistaken for Attack, Friendly War, Casual Kink, and Safe, Sane, and Consensual for non-abusive stuff that can be mistaken for abuse. Compare You Just Ruined the Shot, for cases where the "victim" was an actor in a movie rather than a participant in a sexual game. Contrast Romanticized Abuse (with the subtropes Bastard Boyfriend and Bastard Girlfriend) as well as Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male for situations that are clearly abusive but the audience isn't really intended to care. Also compare Not What It Looks Like and Accidental Pervert.
Warning! Expect unmarked spoilers, since this trope is about situations being revealed to be different than what they looked like.
Innocent mistaken for abuse
- 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.
- 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. This leads to a scene where several people follow her (completely innocent) father around and interpret everything he does as an indicator that he's abusive to her.
- Love Hina. The girls of the house will think that Keitaro, being extremely unlucky and clumsy, is trying to molest/abuse them, and respond with vicious revenge.
- 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 meets 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 him.
- 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.
- In Ranma ½
- Nabiki tries to explain to Kuno that in regards to the cute girl he's in love with (Ranma's girl self) and his school rival (Ranma's boy self), "Her body? Her soul? Both belong to Ranma." Kuno promptly comes to the conclusion that female Ranma is being held prisoner by a brutish, abusive male Ranma. It's implied by Nabiki's tone, expression, and personality that she gave a poor explanation on purpose to make the situation worse.
- Another story has Ryoga catching Ranma and Akane in a compromising position. Because Ranma needs Ryoga to be in a massive rage, he gets Ryoga even more worked up by pretending that he forced himself onto Akane.
- A scene in Asobi Asobase features Kasumi and Olivia practicing using make-up (which their school forbids) on Hanako. Since neither of them have much experience doing make-up, they fail disastrously and a teacher walks in to see the girls standing over Hanako with a black eye (eyeshadow) and a bruised cheek (rougue).
- Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL: Orbital 7 falls in love with Lillybot and follows her back to Yuma's house. Due to finding a note that Lillybot dropped that reads "save me" (not understanding it was actually a shopping list Lillybot made), he believes that Yuma is abusing Lillybot and challenges him to a duel for her freedom.
- In one episode of The Trouble with Girls (a James Bond parody about a reluctant Marty Stu named Lester Girls), our hero rescues a man from getting tortured by a beautiful woman. However, the "victim" gets mad at him for ruining the scene. What first looked like the Bastard Girlfriend kind of Fanservice turned out to be a simple consensual Casual Kink.
- A stock plot in Disney Ducks Comic 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? Bringing your adopted kid along to fight dangerous criminals is not something social workers would be happy about either.
- During The 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, 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.
- In Robin, when Tim's friend Ives is working as the mascot at a Suck E. Cheese's, he comes to school so bruised that Tim suspects he is being abused.
- Untold Tales of Spider-Man: After receiving the beating of his life at the hands of Sandman, Peter is so sore that he can barely make it to school in the morning. After being shoved by Flash Thompson, he passes out from the pain and wakes up in the nurse's office. She tells him his whole body is horribly bruised and he's to be sent home right away. To keep his identity secret, Peter has to beg her not to send him home or phone Aunt May. After he leaves, the nurse notes that it's only because she knows the elderly May isn't capable of causing injuries like that that she doesn't report child abuse. She concludes Peter just has a tendency to get into fights and doesn't want a bad reputation to sully his academic record.
- In one story arc in For Better or for Worse, Connie has plastic surgery to remove the bags on her eyes, which causes her eyes to be all bruised. When she walks through a store, one man sees her bruises and says, "Excuse me, Miss? I know it's none of my business, but I hope the guy who did that to you goes to jail." Connie implies to Elly that this is also the reason why her husband isn't willing to be seen in public with her until the bruises heal, because of the possibility of him being mistaken for abusing her.
- The Desert Storm: This entire Fallout arc is about how the other Jedi at the Temple wind up mistakenly believing that Ben is abusive towards his Padawan Obi-Wan. Following the events of the Ruin arc, Obi-Wan has been traumatized by his experience with the baby-eating Yam'rii and starts to regularly have nightmares from it. This eventually leads to him breaking down crying in front of his master. Unfortunately, the other Jedi witnessing this believe that Obi-Wan's breakdown was due to the Training from Hell that Ben typically puts him through. Not long after this, Ben gets accosted by a pair of Jedi who accuse him of abusing his Padawan.
- Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Harry is extremely upset when McGonagall automatically falls into the cliché that adoptive parents are evil. Harry is Happily Adopted, and to both of their credit, they resolve the misunderstanding quickly and relatively reasonably. 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 the Cardcaptor Sakura Continuation Fic Shadow of the Dragon, Sakura gets her face slammed into a locker door by the vengeful spirit of Reiko Ichimai, who blames Sakura for her death, leaving a bruise on her forehead. Since ghosts are Invisible to Normals and Syaoran was the only other person present at the time, Teikei, the school disciplinarian, initially assumes that Syaoran attacked her until Tomoyo provides proof that he is innocent.
- 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 Deconstructions Love Hina's reliance on both types. Its title references how Keitaro has wised 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 comes to the not-unreasonable-given-the-circumstances conclusion that Kurogane is sexually abusing him.
- Miraculous Ladybug fics:
- In battle wounds, Adrien is horrified when he sees scars on Marinette's legs and she stubbornly refuses to tell him what caused them. They're actually from her fights as a costumed superhero.
- Bruises has a similar dynamic. Alya notices that Marinette claims to have a new boyfriend, about whom she refuses to provide any details, and that she all of a sudden is covered in bruises that she claims are the result of her own klutziness, and draws the obvious conclusion. The bruising is actually from her fights as a superhero, and the reason she refuses to provide any details on her boyfriend is that he's her superhero partner, and revealing that fact would give away Marinette's secret identity.
- In Birds of a Feather, Laurel has come up with various lies to explain the injuries she got as a vigilante. Oliver quickly recognizes them as lies and concludes "someone's hurting her". Technically he's right, but not in the way he thinks.
- Not exactly innocent, but in Ultimate Danny Phantom, Valerie's dad discovers her and Danny's secret identities this way; he sees her injuries after one of their battles, takes her explanation of how she got them out of context, and assumes that Danny is Valerie's Bastard Boyfriend; she doesn't have it in her to falsely accuse him.
- Izuku initially mistakes Inko's refusal to talk about his father and trauma in Conversations with a Cryptid for signs of past domestic abuse until she clarifies that Hisashi never directly harmed her - their marriage was very happy until he up and vanished on her, and currently she's stressed out because he's her only source of income, and she can't even divorce him for his abandonment. This gets even worse when the option is brought up that he's a criminal, and thus might not have even used his real name. Hisashi was indeed a criminal, but the lovestruck dork did, in fact, use his real name and never intended to abandon his family. He's horrified when Izuku spells out what his leaving meant.
- Mr and Mrs Gold: Given Rumpelstiltskin's/Mr. Gold's intimidating reputation, many believe that Belle/Rose is a victim of abuse, with Jefferson (already off of the deep end) trying to keep her in his house under the assumption that Mr. Gold is keeping her against her will.
- In RWBY: Scars, Melanie and Militia see a bruised-up Yang and ask her what happened. When Yang replies that it's related to her dad, the twins relate to her having Abusive Parents. Yang quickly clarifies that she just got into a row with her dad and went Fight Clubbing to let off steam.
- In The Undead Schoolgirl: Dead Pulse, Shoto's own history with his abusive father causes him to assume Bakugou is a Bastard Boyfriend towards Izuku. While Bakugou is a former bully, he's also Izuku's best friend and is concerned both by how casually she harms herself and that she's so painfully naive that she attempts to befriend everyone she meets, including those she really shouldn't.
- A milder and more realistic example in Viridian: The Green Guide: when Inko brings Izuku into the hospital with several bruises and a broken arm, both give a different story to the doctor. After his x-ray, Izuku's asked if Inko is abusing him, though the doctor accepts his vehement insistence that she isn't.
- Grumpy asks Snow White in Wicked Wiles if her husband beats her. While he doesn't physically abuse her, he treats her like an innocent child and cheats behind her back.
- In The Loud House fanfiction The Nightmare House, Lincoln's Nightmare Sequence has his sisters replaced by supernatural entities which think his sisters are abusing him, but it's just normal sibling rivalry.
- In Bad Idea, Wally arrives with a broken nose from trying to vibrate through a wall, but Artemis (who had an abusive father for much of childhood) believes he received it from one of his parents.
- The Flash Sentry Chronicles: In the Season 6 chapter "Spike's Heartbreak", Spike arrives at Carousel Boutique hoping to spend his day off with Rarity. He quickly realizes something isn't right when the door is unlocked, Rarity doesn't seem to be around, and a lot of furniture seems to have been knocked over and lazily put back. He hears a noise coming from Rarity's bedroom and what he thinks is Rarity screaming in what he assumes to be pain and quickly rushes to "save" her. He bursts into her bedroom and finds her laying on her bed with Lightning Blitz on top of her, kissing her neck, with both of them shocked by his sudden appearance. Spike tackles Lightning off of Rarity in anger, thinking that he was trying to rape her, and attacks him. Rarity quickly pulls Spike off him though and explains he wasn't doing anything she didn't want him to do, and that the two of them are a couple.
- A somewhat Played for Laughs example in Give'em Something to Talk About, where after Zero wins Suzaku in his chess match against Schneizel, the Black Knights fear Zero is keeping Suzaku as a sex slave, stating that Suzaku belongs him and keeping him at his side in chains or having him chained to his bed, with his shirt lifted up and his lips covered in red. It's enough that the Black Knights decide to drug him and drop him back on Brittanian soil. However, it turns out that Lelouch was merely keeping him as company, while the chains were meant to stop him from rolling off of the bed. Once Kallen (who knows his identity) tells him that he and Suzaku can start a romantic relationship after the war instead of Lelouch controlling him, he yells in pure shock.
- 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.
- In WALLE, EVE is taken away for repairs and maintenance. WALL-E sees the process through frosted glass, and from his perspective, it looks like she's being torn apart painfully... even though the process is actually quite pleasant for her.
- In The SM Judge, the public prosecutor mistakes the couple's BDSM practice 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 gets this 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 (1997): 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 fiancé really does physically abuse her... and virtually no one knows it. It's likely that at the time nothing would have been done even if they did.
- 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, claims to be hiding from her ex-husband. The clerk answers, "Honey, stay as long as you like," and then rudely shoos off the mook.
- Played for laughs in The Man Who Knew Too Little. Wallace is warned of an impending visit from Torture Technician Dr. Ludmilla Kropotkin. He escapes before her arrival, then stumbles upon an elderly couple experimenting with BDSM on their anniversary—so he concludes that the dominatrix must be Dr. Kropotkin. So Wallace takes her hostage to escape from the bad guys (including the real Dr. Kropotkin).
- Near the end of Sweet Smell of Success, Falco stops Susan from completing her suicide attempt, but J.J. walks in just as he's reassuring her on the bed. J.J. assumes that Falco tried to assault her (which she initially does nothing to dissuade), leading to Hunsecker inflicting a bit of a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
- in Dark Touch, Niamh sees abuse everywhere as a result of her history, and does her best to stop it by any means possible.
- Seen in 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. Fortunately, she's relieved to learn that they are only playing and later hears that these are clearly laughs of joy and love beyond the wall.
- In I Capture the Castle, 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) has gotten beat up, and lots of people assume it was abuse (it was crooks who didn't like her nosing around). Unfortunately, she's then targeted by a serial killer who targets abuse victims...
- Seven-year-old Brandon Stark accidentally stumbles across a man and a woman making love in A Game of Thrones, and because of the noises the woman is making, he thinks the man is hurting her. Unfortunately, he never gets much chance to correct his error. Ironic, in that in almost all cases, one would be correct to assume abuse in that setting (especially as the couple in question are siblings).
- 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 she gave up her soul voluntarily, she still is proud of having done so, she worships the god in question, the money she received as compensation kept her family from starvation after her father broke his back, 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.
- Used hilariously in Dan Savage's book The Commitment, which chronicles his getting legally married to his husband Terry. During a family vacation with their then-four-year-old son DJ, they stopped at a hotel in Billings, Montana, a state not known for being the most queer-friendly. The long travel left poor DJ with a nasty case of "diaper rash" despite being 2 years out of diapers. So, he suddenly started screaming "MY BUTTHOLE HURTS DADDY!! IT HURTS IT HURTS!" He continued to scream as the two men take care of... that, all the while Dan and Terry worried that the neighbors would overhear it and send a SWAT team after them. Once DJ was properly bathed and calmed down, Dan was relieved that the police weren't called... then thought about it and was vaguely disturbed that nobody did anything at all despite the fact that a child could have been getting raped for all they knew.
- Multiple times in the Mercy Thompson series, Mercy is recovering from the latest round of injuries she's received from fighting a supernatural threat and gets told a variation of "whoever that boy is, you should dump him" by random strangers.
- In the Modesty Blaise story "The Soo Girl Charity", Modesty and Willie interrupt a suicide attempt by a young woman. After seeing various marks of violence on her body they assume that she was a battered wife desperately trying to free herself, but when she tells them her story it turns out the marks were from consensual BDSM and the problem driving her desperation was something else entirely.
- Animal Planet Heroes occasionally has cases where the animals weren't actually being abused. Usually, they're shown for breathers after enough of the real abuse stories.
- One call was about a severely skinny horse. The horse was indeed skinny, but it's because he was a recent rescue. The previous owners were the ones neglecting the poor thing.
- Another call was about a woman who had dogs whose fur was falling out. The dogs were actually perfectly healthy Chinese Crested dogs, a breed that is naturally mostly hairless.
- A common culprit for this trope is cats with hyperthyroidism, a condition that causes them to look thin as rails even when well-fed.
- House has several of these.
- 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 has an infant who is extremely underweight due to a medical condition. The Hippie Parents, who feed the baby a vegan diet, are thought to be at fault and child protective services are contacted before they reveal that they consulted an actual nutritionist and House correctly diagnosed the child.
- Call the Midwife has an episode where a baby keeps getting broken bones all the time, and a doctor suspects that the baby is being abused. However, in the end, it is realized and revealed that the baby is not being abused; rather, he has a medical condition known as osteogenesis imperfecta, causing his bones to be brittle and fragile.
- Criminal Minds:
- Played with in one episode. A teen girl has bruises and remembers her boyfriend on top of her and believes he raped her. He claims that the sex was consensual and the bruises came after, when she freaked out and he tried to calm her down. The girl (along with several other residents of town) had been dosed with LSD and, while the boyfriend isn't the one who drugged her, it isn't clear whether his version is accurate or whether he actually did take advantage of her in her compromised state. Since the BAU is only investigating the LSD, they ignore the girl once he's ruled out as their culprit.
- One episode has the BAU apprehend the unsub as he's about to rape and murder his next victim... only for her to declare that he's her boyfriend, and they were actually just about to engage in some consensual, kinky, outdoor sex.
- One episode features an unsub who believes himself to be a vigilante. It turns out he's delusional and convinced that abuse is happening even where it isn't. A (black) student out for a walk with his (white) teacher looks like mugging; a couple making out outside a club looks like a rape attempt.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
- In one episode, a cop has 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. It turns out they'd gotten a call to the building in question, but the dispatcher had told them apartment B instead of D. The actual case, a woman who had been found dead, was in another apartment.
- Played for Laughs in one episode of the UK Sitcom Carrie 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 implying.
- 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.
- How I Met Your Mother:
- This is used as something of an Establishing Character Moment in the pilot episode. Marshall accidentally hits Lily 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 Lily both stare at him blankly for a minute, then erupt into hysterical laughter at the very idea. Lily even goes into how she can't get Marshall to spank her, before realizing that 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. 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?
- 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 has the doctors dealing with a little girl brought in with a transected hymen, who says it had happened 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, and 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 wants the children taken away right that second is treated as a hysteric. The CPS workers are also treated sympathetically.
- A different episode features 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 his 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 has a doctor noticing odd bruises on her patient, who happens to be the wife of the Chief of Staff. That, coupled with her odd reaction and vague responses, has her convinced there's domestic abuse going on, and when the woman is rushed to the hospital a few days later after "falling down the stairs", she's even more certain. Eventually, she learns that the woman really did fall 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 simply playing and goofing off.
- A variation in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates has Hetty sustaining some bruises after falling down the stairs while wearing high-heels, as 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.
- The League: Jenny's young daughter Ellie catches her recording a video of herself smack talking about her husband Kevin and thinks she's threatening to beat him up. When Ellie sees Kevin's black eye (which he got from slipping and smashing his face into the table) she freaks out and calls the police. When Kevin comes to the door, he mentions to the cops that Jenny beat him (they play fantasy football and her team beat his), and they almost arrest her. He has to explain that she actually didn't give him the black eye, and he thinks the very idea is amusing because he's a man.
- Grey's 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 superhero and was hurting herself and encouraging other kids to hit her so she could show off.
- In the episode "The Salt in the Wounds", the remains of a young woman bears 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 in the school volleyball team.
- Another episode has Brennan declaring that the victim was abused, and she only slightly changes her opinion when she discovers that the healed bone fractures were due to childhood obesity and not beatings.
- One episode of Untold Stories of the E.R. has a boy with a mild case of Brittle Bone Disease. The hysterical parents' response to the accusation, up to and including kidnapping the child from the ER, does not help things.
- In one episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, an injured Spock instructs Nurse Chapel to hit him—he's been in a coma and Vulcans need physical pain to come out of it. After a few reluctant attempts, she gives him a proper slap, only to be dragged away by Scotty who thinks she's gone nuts. Fortunately, Dr. M'Bega arrives to complete the "treatment" and belts Spock across the face several times.
- 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.
- Subverted on Glee: Coach Beiste walks by with a black eye and a few girls make some tasteless jokes about how she must have been punched by her husband. She says that in reality, she dropped a weight on herself when she was working out and the issue is dropped. Later in the episode, however, she confesses that it was, in fact, her husband that hit her, starting her domestic abuse arc.
- Played for Laughs and lampshaded in the I Love Lucy episode, "The Black Eye". Fred gets a black eye when a door hits him in the face. Lucy and Ricky note how no one ever believes the real story behind black eyes, reminding them of how they refused to believe the truth when Lucy got one herself. Ricky tried to toss a book to her and they were convinced that he hit her.
- Sisters. Second-youngest sister Georgie's therapist queries whether she had been molested by anyone, citing that it is frequently a cause of the depression and anxiety that she's been battling. That very night, Georgie apparently has a flashback of her father touching her inappropriately. Within weeks, she's not only convinced that her father repeatedly molested her, she accuses her mother of turning a blind eye to it and her sisters of being in denial as well (when they repeatedly deny being similarly abused), claiming that it would explain the myriad of problems that they've had, accusing her husband of being unsupportive, and ultimately cutting them all out of her life, all with her therapist's encouragement. Only months later, watching one of her sisters, a doctor, examining her ill son, does she realize that what she remembered was not her father abusing her, but examining her, as he was a doctor as well. She's horrified to realize that the whole thing was a ploy by her therapist to isolate her from her loved ones and ultimately seduce her.
- Stranger Things: When Steve goes to apologize to his girlfriend Nancy for how he's been treating her, he's surprised to find her hand bleeding. He forces his way into the house to find Nancy's other love interest, Jonathan, holding a bloody knife and sitting next to a baseball bat stuck with nails. Steve understandably thinks Jonathan is abusing Nancy and tries to fight him. He's shocked when Nancy pulls a gun on him, and even more shocked when a monster comes out of the ceiling. Nancy and Jonathan had been setting a trap for it, and they needed the scent of blood to draw it out.
- Curb Your Enthusiasm has an early episode where Cheryl's massages have been giving her weird bruises. Later, Larry pretends to hit her as a joke in the car, but, due to the angle, one of their friends doesn't notice he's just faking it (the slaps don't even touch her). The episode ends with policemen at their door, asking if she wants to press charges. Played for Laughs.
- Nip/Tuck has social services pay Sean a visit after his patient/lover claims he took advantage of her. The social worker notices Sean's daughter has bruises on her legs, from playing soccer. Played for Drama.
- In Kim's Convenience, Janet's professor thinks that she's being abused by her parents when she finds out that they flicked her as a child (and still do even though she's now an adult). Every time Janet tries to explain it as a cultural thing (her parents are Korean immigrants), the professor thinks that she's just rationalizing it.
- Rake: Cleaver accidentally injures Felicity three times in a row, making the police understandably suspicious, though she assures them he didn't do this on purpose.
- CSI: NY's episode "Unspoken" dealt with a grade school teacher who'd been fired from one school for "inappropriate touching" and spent a year trying to get accepted at another one, all because the principal at the first school saw him helping a little girl up who'd been pushed down by her classmates, and the lady thought he was fondling the child.
- The Middle: In "The Scratch," the Heck family quickly throws their garbage together to get to a passing garbage truck in time, and Frankie accidentally scratches Brick's arm with a beer bottle. At school, Brick innocently informs a hall monitor that his arm is scratched is because mother hit him with a beer bottle, and soon Frankie and Mike have to explain themselves to the police. The police send a social worker to the house, and the family desperately tries to look wholesome (and teach Brick not to be so Brutally Honest).
- 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.
- The Unspeakable Oath magazine #18 scenario "Dog Will Hunt." If the investigators investigate the Owl's Brotherhood Lodge, they may happen upon a ceremony which appears to be the Human Sacrifice of a nude woman using a scimitar. It's actually just a harmless ritual the members carry out - the woman isn't actually killed.
- 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.
- Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven has a scene where Ayame overhears Tajima telling a captured village girl "What a nice pair you have, now let me show you mine!" which leads to her believe the young woman is about to be sexually assaulted, but when she bursts inside to save the girl in a Big Damn Heroes moment, she sees the two were actually just playing poker.
- In Persona 5, Sojiro Sakura is mistaken for being abusive towards his adoptive daughter, Futaba. While there is some troubling evidence (the fact that Futaba doesn't go to school or leave the house), and the Phantom Thieves briefly wonder if he's abusing her, they realize that there's no truth to it. While he is somewhat distant and only caters to her wants on the surface, he wants what's best for her out of respect for Futaba's mother, Wakaba. In fact, he's the absolute best guardian for Futaba, as her relatives are horribly abusive towards her.
- In Nancy Drew: The Haunting of Castle Malloy, one of the people suspected of Matt's kidnapping has an obvious black eye. It later comes out that he was arguing (very loudly) with Matt a day before the latter disappeared, and has feelings for Matt's fiancee...but he still insists that his injury was from an accident. Because it was- before he and Matt argued, they were tramping around in the nearby bog to play a prank on someone, and a stray branch whacked him in the face. He has nothing to do with Matt's kidnapping.
- 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.
Aerith: Axel hit me!
Axel: [genuinely horrified] WHAT?!
- In Think Before You Think, two characters are in group counseling. One of them, Selene, confides to the other, Benson, that she likes to be dominated. He thinks she's coming on to him and inviting him to dominate her. She wasn't, and one of the counselors walks in on them and thinks he's trying to rape her. Fortunately, the main character of the comic is a mind reader and is able to tell what was really going on.
- In Girl Genius, Bangladesh DuPree has a bit of an obsession with Tarvek, apparently dating from when they were both in Paris and Bang had kidnapped him. It seems to be Played for Laughs at the start but when you start thinking about what she's actually saying — "Hey, do you still have those little scars?" — Fridge Horror starts to set in. It's recently been confirmed that yes, Bang did physically torture him, and the fact that Gil has now set her to work as his bodyguard whilst he's asleep is more than a little worrying.
Bang: I wanna see if he's still got those beautiful scars!
Gil: I told you — the chrono spillage healed everything.
Bang: Nooo! I worked hard on those!
- In Namesake, both Emma and a concierge end up fearing she may have been date raped after she woke up in a hotel she didn't recognize with ripped clothing, a note thanking her for a fun night, and no clue what happened.
- Briefly teased in Selkie when the titular character mentions that she's wearing sunglasses because her adoptive father told her to so that no one sees what happened to her eyes. Thankfully, Miss Lillian is savvy enough to not immediately jump to conclusions.
Lillian: I'm sure that statement isn't as much of a red flag as it sounds, but maybe I should go say hello to Mister Smith all the same.
- Discussed and played with in Crap Shot ep. 40: The Explanation. It's not abuse, but abuse is apparently less embarrassing, so they're prepared to go with that.
- In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Goku accidentally implies that he's a wife beater when he mentions how he beat her at the martial arts tournament. It should be noted that Chi-Chi is largely the one that drives their roles in their marriage, not Goku.
Goku: It really wasn't much of a fight... One hit and she just went down. Then we got married, I put a baby in her, and now she just stays at home, cooks my dinner, and raises our kid!
Chi-Chi: Y'know, when he puts it that way...
- In Not Always Working, this happens occasionally.
- One story has a waitress think that a customer's long sleeves and arm bruises are from abuse. The customer was actually recovering from chemotherapy.
- This also happens a lot because of racism, as people assume that if a non-white is in a relationship with/accompanying a white person, then the non-white person must be abusing the other. See this story, this one, this one, and this one.
- This dog owner gets this from a veterinary technician. The dog in question was a Puli, a rather rare dog breed whose coats naturally form into long cords, and was a puppy during the process of forming the cords (during which time they look bad even if they're in perfect condition). The vet tech assumed that the dog was a doodle being unwittingly neglected because the puppy farm lied about how the fur works. The tech then started to give the dog a haircut... without consulting the owners. The actual vet is furious and immediately fires the tech once she finds out what happened.
- Also seen in one story on sister site Not Always Learning, where a teacher with a black eye has to assure her students (a group of teenage boys who ask if she has a boyfriend they "need to talk to") that she really did just have an accident.
- On What the Fuck Is Wrong with You? one of Tara's running gags on the show is the number of childhood injuries she has had to endure, either at her own hands or her sisters' hands. Her poor mother had to rotate emergency rooms with all three of them for fear of this trope happening.
- In Red vs. Blue season 7, Donut goes over to Blue base to give Caboose a message from Tucker, but collapses from dehydration. While Caboose takes care of him until he wakes up, the rest of Red team comes over to the base looking for Donut. Caboose tells them he has Donut and is keeping him comfortable until he tells him some things, but Sarge interprets all this as him holding Donut hostage and torturing him for information.
- The very first episode of King of the Hill has a misguided social worker suspect Hank of beating Bobby. His "evidence" includes 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.
- American Dad!:
- The episode "Rough Trade" has 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 an 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 romanticized by his loving monologue about her. Eventually, he realizes 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 people's business and how something you think could be something is something entirely different.
Don't Be a Hero
- An early episode of The Simpsons ("Home Sweet Home-Dum-Diddly-Doodily") features Bart, Lisa, and Maggie 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 is wearing a potato sack (because he let a monkey climb on top of his head and the school had to burn his clothes), 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) and wearing a sign that reads "I'm a stupid baby!" (because Bart stuck it on Lisa as a prank and it somehow found its way on Maggie), 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.
- The episode "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind", Homer wakes up with no memory of the night before and sees that his family is missing and Chief Wiggum came over due to a domestic disturbance and that Marge had a black eye. Homer soon remembers seeing Marge on the couch with Duffman and believes that she was having an affair and he had hit her in retaliation. As Homer is about to commit suicide, he remembers the whole story, which was Marge planning a surprise party for Homer with Duffman as hired entertainment, and the black eye was the result of trying to open a champagne bottle and the cork flying into her eye.
- Invoked in the Sealab 2021 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.
Abuse mistaken for innocent
- A.I.: Artificial Intelligence: Gigolo Joe thinks the horrible bruises on Patricia, a first-time client, are the result of sexual "passion," although she has clearly been abused.
- Spawn has two little boys (one of whom would grow up to become the Redeemer) whose abusive father claims to the other churchgoers that they play a lot of tackle football. Until Spawn violently murders him, that is.
- In A Brother's Price:
- Keifer Porter abused his wives, psychologically as well as physically, and managed to convince the eldest wives, who could have divorced him, that it was all in good fun (or, in one case, that the thirteen-year-old he tortured and raped provoked him).
- Possibly, Balin Brindle is a victim of this. He is rumored to have sex with his mothers (actually aunts, who fill the social role of mothers), which is seen as damage to his reputation, but no one does anything about it, like investigate whether he is forced to do it.
- In the Hurog duology, Garranon is introduced as the evil king's courtesan, and an antagonist of the heroes. Later, we learn that he had been sexually abused by the king ever since he was a child and hated the king all this time, but didn't dare fight back because the king would have killed all his friends and relatives if he had.
- 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.
- The Joy Luck Club: In An-Mei's backstory, her mother was disowned by her family for being a whore and running off to be a wealthy man's concubine. It's revealed that the husband raped her mother after the man's second wife arranged for it (abusing the mother's trust in the process) and that the mother is now in a loveless marriage and not only was forced to give her birth son to the second mother and pretend that he's her kid, but is not allowed to put any distance between herself and the family she married into and hates, because the second wife wants her around for practical and manipulative reasons.
- One episode of Criminal Minds has the team looking for a missing woman whose boyfriend had put her in the hospital. When they talk to her father, he says he thought those injuries had been caused by a car accident (though his demeanor indicates that he at least suspected the truth, but was in denial and clinging to the excuse she gave him).
- 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.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: This is the central premise of the episode "Doubt", where the woman's ex-boyfriend/professor uses it being consensual as his defense, with the woman alleging abuse. Notably, this was one of the few episodes where the verdict was never given, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.
- Veronica Mars In the season 3 premiere, Veronica and Mac need to get tickets from Mac's dorm room, but Mac's roommate Parker is "in there with some guy". Veronica walks in, hears some "sex noises" from the guy, quietly says "Don't mind me", then leaves with the tickets. After Mac and Veronica return, they are too drunk to drive home so Veronica sleeps on Mac's couch. The last second of the episode is Veronica and Mac waking up to Parker's screams as she had been drugged, then raped, and her hair was completely shaved off her head. This grievous mistake is explored more in the next episode as well.
- A pivotal moment in the play A Steady Rain involves the two cop characters returning a naked Vietnamese boy to the serial killer from whom the poor kid was trying to escape. This scene was directly inspired by an incident when police returned one of Jeffrey Dahmer's victims to him.
- This is essentially the premise behind the incredibly dark Clarissa's public life. It doesn't really help that the only way she shows it is through risqué pictures.
- In To Boldly Flee, Film Brain overhears what he believes to be Nostalgia Chick and Linkara having sex. In actuality, it was Mechakara impersonating Linkara, who was subjecting the Nostalgia Chick to an Unwilling Roboticization and making her Brainwashed and Crazy.
- Family Guy: In one episode, Brian sees a battered woman leaving Quagmire's house and, in an attempt to bond with Quagmire, compliments him on the rough sex he must have just had. Quagmire coldly informs Brian that the woman is his sister, who's visiting him to get away from her abusive husband.
- Implied (and Played for Laughs) in a quick Robot Chicken sketch. A man and bruised woman are at a councilor's office and she explains that she "Uh... ran into a door." The councilor happily offers her a catalogue of Nerf doors. The man then menacingly says that she's going to need some Nerf stairs too.