Who wants to date a domestic abuser?

The grisly tale of VH1 star Ryan Jenkins is the latest chapter in a dark history of reality TV's violent offenders

Topics: Reality TV, Broadsheet, Violence Against Women, Suicide,

Who wants to date a domestic abuser?This photo provided by TMZ, shows Ryan Alexander Jenkins and Jasmine Fiore's March 18, 2009 wedding in Las Vegas. Jenkins, a reality TV contestant, is charged with killing his wife, a former swimsuit model.

AP Photo/TMZ

This photo, provided by TMZ, shows Ryan Alexander Jenkins and Jasmine Fiore’s March 18, 2009, wedding in Las Vegas.

When the body of reality show contestant Ryan Alexander Jenkins was found hanging in the closet of a Canadian motel Sunday, it was the gruesome end of an astonishingly lurid tale. The recent VH1 star, who had fled to his native country to avoid charges in the grisly murder of his ex-wife, was no stranger to trouble.

He was charged in June with battery of his ex-wife Jasmine Fiore, whose mutilated body was discovered in a Dumpster on Aug. 15. He had also served 15 months of probation in 2007 for assaulting a woman in Canada. In other words, he was a ripe candidate for a dating show. The VH1 series with the soul-crushingly depressing name “Megan Wants a Millionaire” had begun airing earlier this month, and Jenkins was rumored to among the finalists. VH1 promptly pulled the plug on the show when the troubling story of Fiore’s murder broke and has been scrambling to distance itself ever since (yanking down related content on the show’s Web site).

51Minds, the production company that created the series, told TMZ, “Obviously, if the company had been given a full picture of his background, he would never have been allowed on the show. The company did have in place what it thought was a thorough vetting process that involved complete background checks by an outside company for all contestants on the shows.” The background check, apparently, didn’t include looking for an arrest record.

Jenkins is the just the latest and most grotesque in the reality show rogues gallery. Back in 2000, Rick Rogers, the ostensible multimillionaire of “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” blazed the trail when it was revealed his ex-girlfriend Debbie Goyne had a restraining order against him for domestic violence. In petition she alleged he “threw me around and slapped and hit me in the face” and “said he would find me and kill me.”



In 2007, “America’s Most Smartest Model” contestant Andre Birleanu was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct and aggravated harassment for allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman. When he’d appeared on “America’s Most Smartest Model,” he’d already racked up a slew of priors for assault, harassment, criminal contempt, criminal mischief and trespassing, and had spent six months at Rikers for harassment, contempt and assault. One of his alleged victims claimed he “pulled my hair once. He stopped. I crossed the street … I started running, and he screamed at me, ‘I’m going to break your f-ing legs.’”

After an incident with his girlfriend in February, Chad Tulik, better known to “A Shot at Love 2″ viewers as Wangbone, was arrested and charged with felony assault, vandalism and dissuading a witness. Could the producers of the Tila Tequila series have guessed that one of their own had a dark side? Perhaps the fact that Tulik was booted from the competition after punching and head-butting fellow contestant Bo Kunkle enough to put him the hospital was a clue. On his Web site, Tulik boasts of winning the Fox Reality Channel Really Award for “Favorite Throwdown” for his performance.

Of course, it’s not just the men of reality TV who are prone to outbursts. In March, “Real Housewives of New York’s” Kelly Killoren Bensimon was arrested in New York for punching her boyfriend Nick Stefanov.

The Domestic Violence Resource Center estimates that three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners every day in America. While no silly dating show can directly cause domestic violence, these shows and their spectacularly lazy screening criteria are going a long way to promote the glorification of it. It’s no secret that reality TV thrives on larger-than-life characters. If you want 2 million viewers to watch a bunch of gainfully employed individuals talk about their relationships, write a script and call it “Grey’s Anatomy.” If you want a dating show, find a pack of volatile personalities and put them together in a hot tub with some Wild Turkey.

Last week, a 28-year-old woman was strangled. Her killer removed her fingers and teeth and stuffed her body in a suitcase and tossed it in a Dumpster. That’s not TV, that’s reality. Being a hothead might make someone a compelling television character. But it could also make him or her a monster.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

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