August 25, 2009

The Invisibility of Jasmine Fiore

Posted in Current Events, Intimate Partner Violence, Popular Culture, Victim Blaming at 10:32 pm by sacetalks

Jasmine Fiore’s death (allegedly) at the hands of her husband, Ryan Jenkins, has been one of the top news stories for days. Or has it? Most media reports have focussed not on Fiore herself, but on Jenkins, the man who appears to have killed her. We know little about her other than her career as a swimsuit model, her “Las Vegas lifestyle” and the fact that she had breast implants—revealed because that’s how police identified her body. However, we know all about Jenkins: where he went to high school, what he did in college, his reality TV show appearance, and his history of violence against women (although that last one doesn’t show up in most stories).

Jenkins has become the focus, even though Fiore is the victim, her body mutilated so badly that she had to be identified using the serial numbers on her breast implants. That’s become a joke for some, a joke that forgets what it means when police say that her fingers and teeth were destroyed, that her body fit into a suitcase. Instead, those implants are one more sensational detail that dehumanizes Fiore, turning her into the object on which Jenkins enacted his hate.

When it comes to Jenkins, stories are full of details about his life. They’re also full of people denying that he could ever hurt anyone. His father, architect Dan Jenkins, stated, “The boy we knew was not capable of anything remotely close to this act. You talk to everyone here who knew him before he went down there and they’ll talk about a wonderful young man, a thoughtful man.” Friends commenting on the Calgary Herald’s website describe him as happy, goofy, a good man, not someone who would kill another person. In one story, Herald reporter Robert Remington claims that “Around the world, reality TV has caused humiliated contestants to either kill others or kill or injure themselves.”

But Jenkin’s past shows a different pattern. Well before he moved to California and appeared on Megan Wants a Millionaire (his first reality TV appearance), Jenkins was violent towards women in his life. In 2007, Jenkins pled guilty to assaulting a girlfriend and served 15 months probation as well as being required to participate in a domestic violence counseling and anger management program. Ex-girlfriends have said that he was sexually controlling, becoming angry when he could not get what he wanted, as well as being physically violent.

In June 2009, Jenkins was charged with hitting Jasmine Fiore at a Las Vegas hotel. He was scheduled to appear in court this December. It’s unclear whether the production company, 51 Minds (which made both shows) knew about this charge, but Jenkins competed on I Love Money 3 (which was due to air later this year).

One questions how a man with a history of violence against women ends up as a contestant on a reality dating show. 51 Minds states that they screen their participants, using a company called Collective Intelligence for Canadian competitors. That company claims a court clerk’s error led to Jenkins’ history slipping through their screening. However, reality shows have had a history of missing out on violent histories. Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? featured Rick Rockwell, who was later revealed to have a restraining order against him. Big Brother contestant Justin Sebik had an assault conviction well before he held a knife to fellow contestant Krista Stegall’s throat.

The question is not so much “why do reality show contestants do such violent things?” as “why are reality show producers not requiring criminal records checks or vigorously screening their contestants?”  Violent participants seem to have a history of criminal behaviour well before they ever make it into casting, let alone onto the screen. The race for ratings and dollars seems to supersede concerns over participants’ safety. While blaming reality TV for participants’ violence ignores those participants’ histories, there is a need for production companies to make sure that violent offenders aren’t getting a starring role on their shows.

While news reports place blame for Jenkins’ actions on reality television and his friends and family deny his violent past, media coverage has also minimized the violence in Fiore and Jenkins’ relationship and sensationalized Fiore’s life. Headlines call their relationship “rocky” or “volatile” when the reality is that things were flat-out abusive. There are reports of physical abuse, screaming arguments, and controlling behaviours. Fiore left the relationship and applied to have their marriage annulled over “trust and boundary issues” (including infidelity, according to her mother) but the couple got back together later. Lisa Lepore, her mother, says she was a young woman in love.

Most reports show Fiore as nothing more than a swimsuit model who had worked for Playboy and loved to party. Photos of her accompany every article. Her looks and lifestyle are tacitly blamed for what happened to her—the wild, sexy girl who drinks and parties and dates dangerous men. Few stories talk about her financial savvy (she opened a retirement account at age 16 and had worked in banking and real estate) or her dream of opening a gym and selling her own body-care and clothing line.

In one rare story that talks about Fiore’s life, her mother describes her: “She was kind-hearted, she was thoughtful, she was adventurous, she was strong. She went out of her way to look after her friends and her family. She was a delight. … She was a shining light. She just had this exuberance and this vibrancy around her. She was a very powerful and beautiful woman.”

But most people don’t know about that girl. They just know about the “tragedy” of Ryan Jenkins. Abusers aren’t tragic. The tragedy here is that a young woman is dead, and those dreams she had will never be fulfilled.

Strip away the glamour, the Hollywood connection and Vegas decadence, and the story becomes one that’s all too common. A man gets into a relationship with a woman, moving far too fast (one major sign of an abuser). She tries to leave, is drawn back in. He controls her, manipulates her. Eventually, he becomes enraged and kills her. Every day, men like Jenkins abuse and even murder women, but most of the time, nobody notices. Men’s violence against women becomes invisible, and the women who are victims of that violence vanish, much as Jasmine Fiore has in the story of her own death.

Bridget Stirling, SACE Public Educator

Some of the news articles used in preparing this post:,0,7935682.story


1 Comment »

  1. Sister Wolf said,

    You’re absolutely right. Thanks for making me think.

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