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Abuse Mistake

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This trope is under discussion in the Trope Repair Shop.

Ino: Oh god, Naruto's really hurting him in there!
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. When innocence is mistaken for abuse, someone is likely to suffer.

If Played for Laughs, the situation is almost always innocent and quickly corrected. When Played for Drama, however, 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 or people with poor coordination 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 Fetishized Abuser 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.



    open/close all folders 

  • 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 & 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. 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.
  • Nana & Kaoru. Tachi walks into the room shortly after Kaoru has tied up Nana. She then tackles him, thinking he is assaulting her until Nana makes it clear it was consensual.
  • 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 chasing 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 has 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 (rouge).
  • 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.
  • One chapter of SPY×FAMILY begins with Loid worried over Yor coming home late several nights in a row with her hands covered in cuts, suggesting he may be catching onto his wife Living a Double Life as an assassin. However, those injuries are just from her taking late-night cooking lessons and being horrible with a potato peeler.
  • Engage Kiss: Some of Kisara's classmates notice a bandage on her arm from the injuries from her previous mission, assuming Shu did it to her following an argument.

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics: In one story, Archie accidentally gets hit in the face by a doorknob. He spends the vast majority of the story getting lots of sympathy for getting beaten up because no one can believe he could run into a doorknob with his eye. Eventually, he gets fed up and bends over by a door to demonstrate how it happened...and manages to give himself a second black eye in the process.
  • 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.
    • Shortly after moving back in with his father, Tim gets called into his school counselor's office with a black eye. The woman tries to get Tim to accuse Bruce of having hurt him even though the injuries only showed up after Tim stopped having any regular contact with Bruce out of costume. He's getting them on patrol as Robin and her assumption doesn't even make sense with the timeline as it would if she'd suspected Jack.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: A stock plot in the comics. Donald gets a new job of responsibility and starts to see abuse and attempted crimes everywhere he looks. Chaos ensues.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: In 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.
  • Robin (1993): 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.
  • Spider-Man:
    • In Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Peter is a high school science teacher whose identity is made public after the events of Civil War (2006). The first time he returns to class, one of his students remarks that she noticed he always wore long sleeves to cover the bruises on his arms and assumed that Mary Jane was beating him.
    • In 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.
  • The Trouble With Girls: In one issue of the series (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 Fetishized Abuser kind of Fanservice turned out to be a simple consensual Casual Kink.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • In Black Canary: Rebirth, Laurel gains numerous injuries as the Black Canary, and has to keep thinking of various lies to explain them. Tommy and Billy Malone see them all for the lies they are and eventually conclude that she's being abused by her father (which would handily explain why she's lying). In a twist, she actually is being abused by Quentin; it's "just" that said abuse is emotional, not physical. At first.
  • 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.
  • In "The Bruise", the Scooby Gang (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) become concerned that Anya's in an abusive relationship when they see a bruise on her thigh. However, this is actually because she is now involved with Clark Kent (Smallville) after they fell in love while trapped in a wish-created reality ("More than a Memory"); the bruise was the result of Clark briefly forgetting that Anya's just human now after he was used to her being a vengeance demon in the other reality, and Anya assures all parties that it wasn't that big a deal.
  • A Case Study in the Sturdiness of the Rookie 9: Because Asuma encourages Ino to misuse her clan's Mind-Body Transfer to bully and control her teammates, Naruto and Kiba become convinced that she must be controlling Asuma as well. Their attempt to free him from her influence doesn't go well.
  • 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.
  • The Desert Storm: The 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.
  • 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 lying 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Doesn't help that Zero says that Suzaku belongs to him and is 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 Suzaku and drop him back on Brittanian soil. However, it turns out that Lelouch was merely keeping him 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.
  • 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.
  • Horde Champion: "The Gathering" features this as a major conflict, with the Alliance believing that Sylvanas beats her wife. In reality, the two are simply prone to rough sex.
  • Miraculous Ladybug fics:
    • In Aftercare, Marinette discovers an aching bruise on Adrien's stomach and doesn't believe him when he says it was an accident. Adrien suspects this trope is in effect and quickly assures her his father wouldn't hit him. In actually, Marinette knows where the wound came from, because she saw him get it from an Akuma while he was Chat Noir.
    • 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.
    • Crimson and Noire: When Plagg states that all he wants is cheese instead of a proper meal after their first Akuma battle, Marinette asks if anyone had hurt him in the past if cheese is the only thing he desires. Confused by the question, Plagg bluntly answers that cheese is all he needs.
    • In Son Histoire, Quel Étrange!, Alya and later Nino notice that Adrien has been gaining injuries that he is usually evasive to talk about, which lead them to fear that Gabriel is physically hurting him. They bring up their concerns to the school counselor, which leads to a police investigation that reveals Gabriel is Hawk Moth and leads to his arrest. Afterwards, Adrien confirms to them that while his father didn't hurt him as a civilian, they were right indirectly as the various injuries he had were from when he got hurt as Chat Noir fighting Hawk Moth.
  • 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.
  • The Most Evil Trainer: Max's Combat Pragmatist style of Pokemon battling means making use of "mutual-kill" moves like Explode, Curse, and Destiny Bond; this leads to the mistaken belief that he mistreats his Pokemon by forcing them to self-harm to give him victory. In reality, such moves don't work very well if the Pokemon doesn't want to use them, and the harm isn't any worse than what a Pokemon normally receives in battle. Veloce, Max's Electrode, is actually furious when the League tries to ban such moves, viewing it as an insult to his speciesnote . Anyone who sees Max with his Pokemon can see how deeply he cares about them.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Domestic Abuser; she doesn't have it in her to falsely accuse him.
  • In The Undead Schoolgirl: Dead Pulse, Shoto's own history with his abusive father causes him to assume Bakugou is a Domestic Abuser 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 is asked if Inko is abusing him, though the doctor accepts his vehement insistence that she isn't.
  • Downplayed in A Visit to the Pet Shop, where the owner of a specialty reptile shop thinks that Aziraphale is a neglectful pet owner. Aziraphale can't name the species of his snake, only feeds it table scraps so it has to break into the fridge, and has a snakebite on his neck. Aziraphale's "pet" is actually the snake demon Crowley, who is capable of fending for himself, and bit Aziraphale with consent.
  • 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 that think his sisters are abusing him, but it's just normal sibling rivalry.
  • In The Untamed fanfic In Your Hands, Yanli stumbles while getting to bed and Jin Guangyao catches her. As she bruises easily, her wrist has a bruise the next morning. Madame Jin assumes he's hurting her since she already has a low opinion of him.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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 others 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 WALL•E, 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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).
  • Scarface (1983): When exiting the restroom after slapping Gina in the restroom, Tony is met by a bunch of shocked faces.
    Tony: What the fuck you want? You want something?
  • 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.
  • In Miracle Run, the twins' teacher thinks their autistic behaviors are signs of abuse.
  • Girlfight: Diana's father, unaware that she's secretly boxing, thinks her boyfriend struck her when she comes home with a black eye and confronts him over it despite Diana saying it was just from another fight that she got into.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's (2023): At the beginning of the film, Mike sees what looks like a man abducting a small child in public, and due to having PTSD over his little brother being kidnapped years ago, immediately chases after the man through the mall before knocking him into the fountain and beating him senseless while everyone looks on in shock. Turns out the man was the little boy's father. Not only did Mike lose his security job, but he inadvertently traumatized the poor boy by beating up his father right in front of him.

  • Seen in Lena's segment of 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, 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.
  • In Spellbinder (1996), Thea tells Eric's little sister Roz the story of Hellewise Hearth-Woman and the witches' origins to cheer her up; although she's forbidden to tell humans the witches' history, she figures that Roz will just think of it as a fairytale. However, when Thea realizes Eric and his mother overheard, she flees from the house in a panic. When Eric persuades her to return, Mrs Ross is deeply concerned, asking if Thea's grandmother is saying things to "scare [her]" and says she can stay with them if she has problems at home. Thea is able to handwave it away but realizes that Mrs Ross likely thinks her grandmother is part of some kind of cult and has more than a few screws loose.
  • Underground: The number of injuries and the various states of healing they are in, combined with Robyn's terrible excuses lead Dr. Alexander to believe she is being abused. It's only after realizing some of her injuries aren't defensive and Robyn telling him "you should see the other guy" that he realizes she's probably not being abused and is actually a street fighter. Turns out she is being abused by her bookie, but those injuries are usually disguised by the ones she gets in her fights.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: In protest to the events from the end of Part 4, Elvira, Rozemyne's public noble birth mother who is also a major Ferdinand Fangirl, writes a story based on the events of Ferdinand's life in which Ferdinand's counterpart is female. After the story is published, people notice that the story reads like a thinly veiled version of what they know of Rozemyne's life. This notably gets the counterpart to Ferdinand's Wicked Stepmother mistaken for Rozemyne's noble adoptive mother, which is not helped by the fact that Rozemyne's adoptive parents are Ferdinand's half-brother and his sister-in-law, resulting in both women having the same title. This makes the book even more readable as a birth mother denouncing the bad treatment her daughter is getting from her adoptive family. Meanwhile, Rozemyne's Delicate and Sickly nature has resulted in her retainers and both her noble families being a little too used to seeing her suddenly faint in the eyes of her acquaintances from other duchies. Among said acquaintances from other duchies, there are men who have a crush on Rozemyne and have their minds very open to any information that will keep them from feeling bad about making her cancel her existing engagement in the process of making her their wife. Partially conflicting purposes cause Rozemyne's input to be summed up as "that character isn't based on me, she's based on someone else I know, whom I won't name." Cue all those facts pooling together to create a rumor that Rozemyne is being abused.
  • Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai: In volume 1, Tomoe Koga sees protagonist Sakuta trying to help a young girl who got separated from her mother at the park, and kicks him in the ass, thinking he's a child molester. Once convinced to the contrary, she demands he kick her ass as payback, which gets them both hauled to the nearest police substation: they spend the next hour and a half trying to convince the police they weren't acting out some fetish in public, making Sakuta late for his date with Mai. Fortunately the little girl's mother had also contacted the police so that part resolved itself.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Animal Planet Heroes occasionally has cases where the animals weren't actually being abused. Usually, they're shown as a breather 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 is cats with hyperthyroidism, a condition which puts their metabolism into overdrive and therefore 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.
  • Doc Martin had a middle-aged husband who kept coming in for bruises and started hiding oil burns. When Martin finally tried intervening by bursting into his bedroom, it turned out to simply be a couple trying out BDSM, and the good Doctor was forced to help him get untangled from the harness.
  • Law & Order:
    • In one episode, a victim's husband is suspected of her murder because of her facial injuries at the time of her death. It turns out he wasn't abusing her, and his story that she sustained these injuries in a minor car accident is true.
    • In episode "Fixed", Draper undoubtedly believed that Emily's broken arm was the result of abuse by Lowenstein, who had previously been in prison for being an Abusive Parent; however, it was caused by her falling off her bike.
    • In episode "Betrayal", Cathy Waxman hears her husband going on about someone named "Meredith" and fears that he's preying on a young girl the way he did on her when she was only 15. It turns out that he wasn't and that Meredith is the name of the town where they had an interlude.
  • 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.
  • God Friended Me: The team suspects their latest friend suggestion is being abused by her new boyfriend. It turns out the boyfriend was training her in MMA fighting, and she was injured in competitions.
  • 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 from 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 that 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.
  • ER:
    • 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.
  • Rules of Engagement: Jeff and Audrey try switching sides of the bed, when the alarm clock goes off Jeff, by force of habit, slams his hand down on Audrey's eye because it is now where the snooze button usually is. This causes the staff at the emergency room to suspect Jeff of abuse.
  • 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 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.
  • Bones:
    • 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 on 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.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: Used in the pilot episode to show how the human explorers will have to get used to aliens being different from them. When Trip sees an alien boy wearing a gas mask, which his mother keeps putting on and taking off, he thinks she's suffocating him. However, it turns out that their species' children breathe different gas until they're four, so she was just "weaning" him onto oxygen.
  • 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 who 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.
  • Played for Laughs in The Story of Tracy Beaker. Cam is preparing lunch for herself and Tracy when she accidentally gets tomato sauce on her shirt. Tracy's social worker Elaine happens to stop by at that moment, and Cam answers the door with the red stain still on her shirt and holding a knife that's also covered in tomato sauce. A shocked Elaine has an Imagine Spot of Cam going after Tracy with the knife, and Cam has to quickly (and with audible annoyance) clarify the situation.
  • 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 because his 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).
  • In an episode of Total Divas: Eva Marie was dining out with her boyfriend wearing a sleeveless top that revealed bruises on her arms and back (from wrestling and training). When she excused herself to the ladies' room, she was still wearing a wireless microphone which caught a conversation between her and a concerned woman who thought the bruises were signs of abuse. Eva Marie later told the confession-cam that the woman was very adamant, and had to be shown YouTube clips of her wrestling to be dissuaded.
  • Two Fathers: Ms Fang accuses Mr Tang of "taking advantage of me." Her brother freaks out upon hearing this, but they both quickly assure him it's fine—she means taking advantage of her financially, not sexually. Mr Tang's car was hit twice (once by Ms Fang, once by someone else) and he's trying to get her to foot the bill for both repairs.
  • Into the Dark: In "Blood Moon" the police naturally believe Esme is abusing Luna after they find him in their basement inside of a cage. Her insistence on him being dangerous and demand he be locked up in a cell after they get into the police station only make her look worse. She's actually doing it to protect them from Luna, whom she dearly loves but is a werewolf and the full moon's near.
  • She-Hulk: Attorney at Law: After getting in a nasty car wreck, Jen stumbles into the bathroom of a bar, where she's found by four women who, upon seeing her bruised face, torn clothes, and disheveled hair, assume she was assaulted by a romantic partner. They immediately rush to her aid, helping her clean up, with one giving Jen her coat and another saying, "Whoever did this does not care about you," before they all offer up their phones so Jen can call for a ride home.
  • In an episode of Person of Interest, the team receives the number of a young woman who looks as if she's had the absolute shit beaten out of her. Their first assumption is that she's in an abusive relationship and might be about to be murdered, or that she might be the perpetrator and decide to fight back. It turns out she's an MMA fighter.
  • In The Unit, Mack accidentally injuring himself is mistaken for him hitting Abby, in large part because he'd done it for real before.
  • Lie to Me: In one episode, Cal intentionally invokes this trope, apparently verbally abusing his daughter over the phone in front of a horrified couple. In fact, it was a pre-arranged call from one of his colleagues and he behaved this way while his other colleague observed the couple's reactions in order to determine if they treated their own daughter this way - had that been the case, this behavior wouldn't have seemed out of the ordinary to them.
  • Preacher (2016): Jesse and Betsy Schenck's son Chris think that her bruises and such indicate spousal abuse inflicted upon her by her husband Donnie. As it turns out, it's from their fully mutually consensual BDSM sessions, which Betsy often initiates and directs.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 that 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Idol Manager: One possible event consists of an idol taking an Internet challenge, failing it in a way that leaves her badly bruised, not releasing the video out of embarrassment and some fans getting the idea that she's the victim of domestic abuse.

  • 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!
  • One Sixth Sadako In My Home: The nameless protagonist accidentally summons The Ring's Sadako by watching the cursed video... on his smartphone, meaning she's 1/6th the isze of a huiman. As he collects action figures and anime figurines, he hits on the idea of posting pictures of her cosplaying, which attract the attention of a magazine editor. However, when the editor wants a photoshoot with her, the guy thinks They Would Cut You Up and flees, leading to the editor picturing Sadako as a Bunker Girl held captive and raped by a loathsome degenerate, leading in turn to a rescue attempt.
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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.note 
    • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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!:
    • "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, who 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 "Can I 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
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily" features Bart, Lisa, and Maggie getting placed into foster care because 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.
    • In "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.


Video Example(s):


Oh, it's horrible!

Mr. Potato Head mistakenly believes Jessie and the new gang are torturing Woody; really, they're just tickling him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / AbuseMistake

Media sources: